Science says these Super Foods and Adaptogens will increase brain function, brain cognition, and neurogenesis, while lowering brain inflammation.
Although it was originally believed that new neurons didn’t grow in adult brains, this theory has since been debunked and the process whereby the brain generates new neurons is known as neurogenesis.
Neurogenesis takes place in the adult human brain in two areas: the subventricular zone (SVZ) and the hippocampus. Not much is known about how the SVZ works in humans.
For neurogenesis to take place, both precursor cells and stem cells are needed. Precursor cells, although similar to stem cells, have more restrictions in terms of what they could turn into. These cells can be seen as “blank slates” that can develop into neurons or other things.
The part of the brain that plays a key role in memory and learning, emotional control and spatial navigation is called the hippocampus. This part of the brain assists with converting short-term memory to long-term memory.
Alzheimer’s disease, seizures, stroke and head trauma can all cause damage to the hippocampus, as well as inflammation, infections and oxygen deprivation.
When the size of the hippocampus is reduced, it could lead to epilepsy, depression and schizophrenia. One way to combat this is by increasing neurogenesis in the hippocampus.
The link between the formation of long-term memory and the hippocampus was revealed in 1953. Surgery was performed to remove parts of an epileptic patient’s hippocampus and after the surgery, the patient developed severe amnesia.
Since then, it has been confirmed that the hippocampus assists in creating new memories and ensures their survival over the long term.
One of the first areas of the brain that is affected by Alzheimer’s disease is the hippocampus. When cells in the hippocampus are lost, it leads to memory loss and confusion.
When neurogenesis is increased in the hippocampus, it may treat:
· Alzheimer’s disease
· Parkinson’s disease
Neurogenesis could also be effective when traumatic brain injury (TBI) and stroke is treated. In studies of animals with TBI, post-injury brain function was improved by increasing neurogenesis.
There are a number of compounds that play a role in adult neurogenesis:
1. Neurotrophic molecules (like BDNF) protect neurons while also helping new neurons grow and mature
2. Morphogen molecules regulate the maintenance, development and survival of precursor cells
3. Transcription factors (such as Sox2 and TLX) are involved in the division of precursor cells and both the development and organization of neurons
4. Neurotransmitters, including dopamine, GABA, serotonin and glutamate
Ways in which Neurogenesis can be increased
1) Mental Exercise
Learning a new skill, especially a challenging one, helps new neurons survive in the hippocampus. The hippocampus gets smaller as we age, and engaging in complex mental activities helps delay the shrinkage.
2) Physical Exercise
Aerobic exercise and balance-oriented exercises like Yoga help to increase the number of new neurons in the hippocampus. In studies done with mice, running doubled the number of new cells in the hippocampus.
In the adult brain, neurogenesis is decreased by stress, both social and physical. Research has shown that meditation increases the size of the hippocampus. This is probably due to reduced stress leading to increased neurogenesis.
Neurogenesis is not affected by sleep deprivation over a short period (less than one day). Chronic sleep deprivation does however reduce neurogenesis due to increased levels of stress hormones. Enough sleep will increase neurogenesis by reducing stress hormones and TNF-α.
Diet & Nutrition
5) Omega-3 Fatty Acids
In gerbils, DHA, the omega-3 fat, increases the forming of new connections in the hippocampus. It has been proposed that PTSD may be prevented by increasing hippocampal neurogenesis with omega-3 fatty acids.
Most fruits and vegetables contain the compounds known as flavonoids.
In experiments on animals, it was shown that flavonoids found in cacao build up in the hippocampus and protect the brain against stroke, dementia and aging.
Gynostemma and green teas, as well as blueberries and blackberries are rich in flavonoids that can increase neurogenesis in the hippocampus.
Research shows that various flavonoids could have beneficial effects on brain health including:
· Increasing BDNF
· Preventing the death of neurons
· Increasing brain blood flow
· Increasing precursor cells
· Reducing depression
Adaptogenic Herbs Good For Brain Function and Brain Cognition
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an herb that promotes balance in the body and one of its compounds, Withanoside IV, prevents loss of neurons caused by amyloid beta plaques in the brain cortex and hippocampus. This could mean that ashwagandha may be used to treat Alzheimer’s patients.
Curcumin is a constituent of Turmeric root. Using curcumin in the long term increases neurogenesis in mice that are stressed. It also prevents BDNF and serotonin receptors in the hippocampus decreasing due to stress, while increasing the number of new cells in the hippocampus.
The lipid phosphatidylcholine is a key component of cell membranes. In studies on mice, phosphatidylcholine decreased TNF-alpha, thereby preventing the decrease of hippocampal neurogenesis. One of the richest sources of Phosphatidylcholine is Sunflower Seeds.
4) Lion’s mane Mushroom
Lion’s mane mushroom is a very powerful brain food. The reason is because Lion’s Mane has been shown to stimulate nerve growth factor (NGF) production (1). NGF is a neuropeptide produced by the brain to maintain the integrity of neurons. Neuron cells are responsible for helping the brain process and transmit information. Therefore, Lion’s Mane may help us focus better, improve creativity and allows us to solve complex problems. Scientific studies have shown that Lion’s Mane significantly improves memory(2) when consumed regularly and restore brain function in those who have experienced cognitive impairment due to degeneration or brain injury(3).
Polygala root contains compounds which have been classified as both neuroprotective( 3,6-Disinapoylsucrose) and anti-inflammatory (Tenuifolisides) compounds. In a study where 48 young healthy individuals were given Polygala, it was observed that those consuming Polygala performed better on memory tests compared to those not taking this herb(3). Polygala was also able to enhance cognitive function in elderly individuals(4), as well as alleviate depression and reduce anxiety.
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