Growing New Brain Cells
Your brain health is within your control. Thanks to the work of Dale Bredesen, MD and his book “The end of Alzheimer’s” and MEND protocol he has proven and documented in over 200 studies how you can not only halt Alzheimer’s with food and lifestyle, but reverse it. This is the first cure for Alzheimer’s! No pill seems to help this condition. Just a side note … this is the second major disease that food and lifestyle has proven to be most effective, and accepted by allopathic medicine protocols. Remember last week I mentioned Terry Wahls, MD and her Wahl’s protocol for MS, and now Alzheimer’s.
It was only in 1998 that human’s realized they grow new brain cells. Remember as a child learning our brain cells developed until your late teens, aaand … that’s all ya got, it was downhill from there … I remember! It’s not true.
Growing new brain cells, neurogenesis, can occur in our adult years — and in fact is what protects our cognitive health as we age. Earlier this year there was a study done on rats where scientists looked at the hippocampus area of the brain, our brain area for learning and memory and found that certain rats were better at neurogenesis than others.
According to the rats they concluded in humans as well, preserving brain health as we age is dependent on neurons developed in our adult years specifically through exercise and food.
This is not just random, what we do in our life makes a difference in whether we grow more brain cells or not. Here are a few of the ways the researchers discovered were best at helping our brain with neurogenesis.
#1 Physical Exercise! We have known exercise is good for the brain because it amplifies our production of what is called BDNF — or brain derived neurotropic factor — BDNF enhances neurogenesis as well.
Furthermore Yoga has also shown to be very effective at neurogenesis in several areas of the brain. Perhaps due to the addition of breath and meditation in the practice of yoga — as long as these items are given as much importance as the physical asana practice.
Outside of these studies was another one recently released December 2019 on brain plasticity:
(https://content.iospress.com/articles/brain-plasticity/bpl190084 Neha P. Gothe, Imadh Khan, Jessica Hayes, Emily Erlenbach, Jessica S. Damoiseaux. Yoga Effects on Brain Health: A Systematic Review of the Current Literature. Brain Plasticity, 2019; 1 DOI: 10.3233/BPL-190084)
The study looked at regular yoga practitioners — defined as 3 or more years of yoga practicing for at least 45 minutes 3-4x per week and compared their brain scans to the “yoga naive”.
The yoga group showed a positive effect on the structure and or function of the hippocampus (learning and memory), amygdala (stress and emotions), prefrontal cortex (decision making and our active thinking part of our brain)— particularly helping this part of the brain be more “dense” by increasing cortical thickness and a few other brain systems such as the default network mode (being aware of our subconscious behaviors).
Consistent yoga over a period of years correlated to better cognitive tests scores and improved emotional regulation —these types of degeneration are usually associated with age related decline, yoga reversed the effects of aging.
Really … yoga is more about the mind than it is the body. I had to take the tour through the body though to start to grasp the mind-stuff. This depth of time and experience in my yoga practice and teaching has led me to understand how the mind, breath, and nervous system effect our health and to keep a better balance between the physical and mental practices of yoga.
#2 Certain Foods
This study found Lions Mane mushrooms (Hericium erinaceus) and Whole coffee fruit extract (not coffee) protected brain cells and increased BDNF. The coffee fruit is called a coffee cherry. It is a red fruit that houses the coffee bean — and is quite tasty to eat! Coffee (Coffea arabica) trees grow here in Maui, when the cherry turns red it is quite tasty to pick and munch on. It tastes a bit like cherry but not so much coffee. In the study they used an extract of the coffee cherry by soaking the coffee cherry in a liquid until it became syrupy.
Lions mane mushrooms are very tasty, just chop and sauté in butter, they taste like crab meat. Mushroom growing kits are popular now, here is a link to purchase a lions mane table top mushroom kit.
Apple skins due to Quercitin has also been shown to increase neurogenesis in the hippocampus area of the brain. In addition Turmeric and DHA/Omega 3 fats have all been shown to increase BDNF.
And lastly diet, specifically a ketogenic diet can be helpful in triggering the growth of new brain cells. While the ketogenic diet is popular, it is not a long term diet, a better option for a preventative diet may be a paleo or “pegan” type of diet.
Instead of using the ketogenic diet preventatively I would reserve the ketogenic diet to use as a medicine to treat a cognitive disease already starting or developed, and only for a specific amount of time. A ketogenic diet makes your body burn fat as fuel instead of sugar, when fat is your fuel source your “engines” burn cleaner. Sugar as fuel creates more “exhaust” in the body in the form of inflammation.
It is not an easy diet to maintain, and you need to calculate everything you put in your mouth. When using diet as medicine there is also no room for a cookie or a piece of pizza or an extra glass of wine!
Cycling in and out of the ketogenic diet is important, if you stay in ketosis too long you actually lose the ability to go back to burning sugar as fuel. The healthiest metabolism is metabolic flexibility — the ability to switch back and forth between fat as fuel and sugar as fuel. Ideally we do want to be in a fat burning state more often.
Getting back to the rat study on brain neuorgenisis Dr. Perlmutter blogged about this research here.