It was once believed that brain regeneration was impossible, that injury, illness and age would always steal brain tissue and function away from us forever. This belief persisted throughout the 20th century, even after research in 1962 found that the brains of adult mammals could produce new cells. Now, with an increasing amount of research and books such as The End of Alzheimer’s and The Brain’s Way of Healing, both practitioners and patients alike can become aware of greater possibilities, and demand more of the healthcare industry. While treatment protocols that heal the brain from clinical levels of damage are relatively new and experimental, here are several ways that you can boost your natural healing ability to help guard against everyday wear and tear.
Engage Your Brain!
Hobbies and interests with a strong mental component may help prevent mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which is commonly a precursor to dementia. A study of 1,321 volunteers found that reading books, playing games and craft activities such as quilting or pottery reduced the risk of MCI by one third, while computer activities and watching less TV halved their risk. Besides firing up neuroplastic and possibly regenerative processes, these hobbies can also make great stress relievers. Excessive stress decreases the number of receptors in the hippocampus (largely responsible for long term memory) for the “stress hormones”, which can be damaging over time.
Eat Your Vegetables
To be specific, the cruciferous vegetables (family Brassicaceae). These contain a substance called sulforophane, which incorporates sulphur into its structure. Laboratory research shows that it may protect the brain’s stem cells against processes commonly found in neurodegenerative diseases, such as inflammation and oxidation (you see these when you get sunburnt). What’s more, it increased the growth of these stem cells and the number of them that became neurons. Sulforophane travels well in fatty tissue, and could therefore enter nervous tissue. While the researchers were interested in using it as a supplement or “drug”, the best food source of sulforophane is broccoli sprouts.
And Add Turmeric
Most research on turmeric seems to focus on curcumin, but ar-tumerone, another phytochemical in the spice, could help stimulate our neural stem cells too. This lab study demonstrated that ar-tumerone could boost the proportion of actively growing stem cells from 50% to 80%, significantly increasing their numbers. A larger percentage of them turned into neurons, instead of supporting cells that can play a role in brain inflammation. In rats, it increased brain tissue growth. Previous studies found that ar-turmerone can calm the nervous system’s inflammatory response, which contributes to Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and the severity of traumatic brain injury.
Drink Your Green Tea
Finally, green tea, which I am drinking as I type this, can significantly increase survival of neural stem cells and reduce deaths. It helps to boost growth of new neurons in the hippocampus through this and by aiding their progression towards becoming neurons, and increases the number of branch-like projections known as dendrites that are necessary for communication between neurons. To be specific, the researchers were studying a substance in green tea abbreviated as EGCG; this is much higher in matcha than “regular” green tea. EGCG can also reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, as well as help to remove heavy metals that may be neurotoxic, giving it protective abilities too.
There seems to be as many ways to protect and heal the brain as there are things we can do with it! The list above only describes diet and lifestyle interventions that may aid in prevention and health maintenance; for a more targeted approach, it is best to consult a qualified health professional such as myself.