The brain has 86 billion neurons, and 1 trillion glial cells that support the neurons.
However, we lose over 10,000 neurons a day. This is just the average, many things can cause much higher rates of brain cell death
- Nitrous oxide, ketamine, volatile inhlants (eg.glue) can destroy up to 300,000 neurons a day
- Alcohol and sugar also increase the rate of cell death but a less extent.
The brain is built back up by neurogenesis, the formation of new brain cells. The quality of your mind and restoration of brain health rests on its ability to repair its neurons.
There is a growth factor called Brain Derived Neutrophic Factor (BDNF) that supports survival and increase growth in the parts of the brain that are vital for learning, memory and executive function particularly the hippocampus, coretex and forebrain. This field of research is still young and there is still much to be learnt but for now it is clear that neurotrophins are merging as main factors in the equation that may connect lifestyle factors and mental health.
BDNF mediates more pathways for cognitive function than every other molecule. Unlike micronutrients BDNF is controlled by transcription than by consumption like micronutrients.
There are 7 ways to increase BDNF
1. Exercise - leads to 3 times increase in BDNF synthesis, and can reverse cognitive decline (1)
2. Mental stimulation - Use or lose it. Learn something new (2)
3. Oily fish - Increase your Omega 3 content (3)
4. Sunshine - not just for vitamin D (4)
5. Turmeric - Read more
6. Kimchi - All about those fermented foods
7. Sleep - get between 7-9 hours (5)
Decrease in BDNF has been linked many syndromes from dementia to depression
Exposure to stress and cortisol leads to a decrease in expression of BDNF that causes atrophy of the hippocampus (the memory centre). As you get older BDNF levels naturally decline, but you can try and improve this with the above measures.
You have nature (your genes), you have nurture (your environment) but you also have choice the way you live and how you want to better yourself. It is not all pre determined.
Vitamin B12 - The brain development vitamin
Vitamin B12, cobalamin, is an essential vitamin for the proper functioning and development of the brain and nerve cells. It plays an important role in the maintenance of the mylein sheath that surrounds and protect the nerves of the peripheral and central nervous system, ensuring proper and faster nerve impulse transmission.
B12 plays a significant roles in the synthesis of mylein. The neurological problems caused by vitamin B12 deficiency later in life are due to the damaged caused to the mylein sheath.
Lack of vitamin B12 in your diet can lead to brain atrophy (6)
A great way to get plenty of vitamin B12 is seafood. Professor Michael Crawford from Imperial College talks a lot about how our consumption of seafood accounted for much of the evolution of our brain compared to any other land based mammal. It's an interesting theory. See a short interview with him here