Life Hacks: Grow New Brain Cells With Blueberries
If you’re anything like the rest of us, you’re probably looking for a quick and easy fix to improve your memory and boost cognitive flexibility. Brain exercises take a lot of time and effort, meaning that they are probably not the answer. Growing new brain cells on the other hand, may just be exactly what you’re looking for. Many people don’t know that growing new brain cells is even a possibility and for a long time scientists didn’t think so either, but over the past few years new research has come to light and things are looking up.
Do Brain Cells Regenerate?
Do brain cells grow back is an obvious question. For me, it was especially valid during the good old high school and college years, when we were drinking, drugging and partying ourselves into carefree oblivion and mental incapacitation. At that time, however, we were still being taught the worrying notion that our brain cells do not regenerate. Everyone believed that what you got was what you were stuck with and that the more damage you did, the dumber you’d become with no hope for revival. Adult neurogenesis (i.e. the growth of new brain cells) had apparently not yet been brought to the forefront of science and we shook in fear at the thought of what our brains might look like 30 years from now if we didn’t let up on our antics. Luckily, that was just a few years ago and since then scientists have discovered some pretty bomb facts about the adult brain’s ability to grow new brain cells (i.e. offset the damage of earlier years).
That’s where blueberries come in.
Blueberries and other fruits contain flavonoids, which are known to possess antioxidants that counteract the effects of oxidative damage. Scientists link oxidative stress in the brain to the age-associated cognitive declines in neural plasticity and cell proliferation that can often be observed in older adults. However, while flavonoids are known to possess antioxidative properties, not all flavonoids are able to pass through the blood brain barrier (BBB), which blocks the entry of certain substances into the brain. Furthermore, penetrating the BBB does not guarantee entry into neurons, where flavonoids are believed to exert their protective effects.
Blueberries are rich in anthocyanins, which constitute a class of flavonoid compounds that give blueberries their blue color. These flavonoids found in blueberries are not only able to pass through the BBB to help reverse oxidative stress and prevent neuronal damage, but have also been linked to increased stem cell proliferation and adult neurogenesis in the brain’s hippocampal region. This superfruit induced burst of hippocampal brain cell growth is of mighty import, because starting in our late twenties, the adult human hippocampal region begins losing about 1% of its volume per year and its innate abilities to grow new brain cells begin diminishing. The hippocampus is involved in several crucial functions including emotional responses, navigation, spatial orientation and perhaps most notably in the formation, organization, storage and retrieval of memories. Keeping the hippocampus alive, well and growing is thus integral to optimal brain function and healthy memory processes.
Fortunately, the research investigating brains on blueberries now provides evidence for diets high in blueberries having the potential to both halt and reverse the damage from oxidative stress and hippocampal shrinkage by way of spurring brain cell regeneration. Unsurprisingly, studies examining the dietary effects of blueberries on the brain have found them to improve cognitive flexibility and performance on memory tests, making blueberries a solid go-to choice for study snacks and post-party brain revivals.
Adding more blueberries to your diet.
When applying research to dietary changes targeted at improving health outcomes such as memory or brain cell growth be sure to exercise common sense and moderation. For instance, if a person consumes a standard diet of processed foods rich in neurotoxic ingredients known to exert excessive oxidative stress on the nervous system, it will take a whole lot of blueberries to combat the incessant brain damage and to re-grow brain cells in an ever wilting hippocampus. So, while they are likely to exert some benefit in and of themselves, dietary additions are most effective atop a diverse foundation of consciously consumed nutrient-rich, whole foods and healthy lifestyle factors like plenty of exercise and relaxation.
Andres-Lacueva, C., Shukitt-Hale, B., Galli, R. L., Jauregui, O., Lamuela-Raventos, R. M., & Joseph, J. A. (2005). Anthocyanins in aged blueberry-fed rats are found centrally and may enhance memory. Nutritional neuroscience,8(2), 111-120.
Casadesus, G., Shukitt-Hale, B., Stellwagen, H. M., Zhu, X., Lee, H. G., Smith, M. A., & Joseph, J. A. (2004). Modulation of hippocampal plasticity and cognitive behavior by short-term blueberry supplementation in aged rats.Nutritional neuroscience, 7(5-6), 5-6.
Galli, R. L., SHUKITT‐HALE, B. A. R. B. A. R. A., Youdim, K. A., & Joseph, J. A. (2002). Fruit polyphenolics and brain aging. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 959(1), 128-132.
Joseph, J. A., Shukitt-Hale, B., & Casadesus, G. (2005). Reversing the deleterious effects of aging on neuronal communication and behavior: beneficial properties of fruit polyphenolic compounds. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 81(1), 313S-316S.
Lau, F. C., Shukitt-Hale, B., & Joseph, J. A. (2005). The beneficial effects of fruit polyphenols on brain aging. Neurobiology of aging, 26(1), 128-132.
Youdim, K. A., Shukitt-Hale, B., & Joseph, J. A. (2004). Flavonoids and the brain: interactions at the blood–brain barrier and their physiological effects on the central nervous system. Free Radical Biology and Medicine, 37(11), 1683-1693.