One of the greatest medical myths of the 20th century was that people can’t grow new brain cells. It reminds me of that old insult about, “being absent the day the brains were handed out”—as it implies that whatever brain cells you got at birth is all you’re ever going to get. Of course, your Driver’s Ed teacher probably further promoted this myth by telling you that any drop of alcohol would destroy “millions” of brain cells, which you could never replace.
Well, thankfully, some real science has finally busted that silly myth wide open. In fact, researchers with Columbia University recently found that humans can and do grow new brain cells throughout life. Even at older ages!
Unlike some other mammals, older human brains can generate new cells
We know that some mammals, such as rats and apes, do experience a decline in the ability to generate new cells in the hippocampus region of the brain as they get older. And some researchers always just assumed that humans undergo the same kind of age-related neural decline in the hippocampus. (The hippocampus is part of the limbic system. It helps humans form new, episodic memories and helps process emotions.)
But now, researchers with Columbia University set out to test that unfounded theory by conducting post-mortem brain examinations on 28 previously healthy people, ages 14 to 79 years, who had died suddenly.
The study subjects did not suffer from dementia or cognitive impairment prior to death. Nor had they been suffering from depression or taking antidepressant drugs. (Note: Studies show that antidepressant drugs disrupt the formation of new brain cells. Which is just another reason why they are so dangerous. This mechanism may help explain why there is such a strong association between antidepressant drugs and violent tendencies.)
The post-mortem examinations showed that even the brains of the oldest individuals produced new brain cells. In fact, the researchers found thousands of immature, new cells in the brains of both the older and younger patients.
Plus, the older and younger patients had similar numbers of neural “progenitor” cells, which lead to new brain cells. (Progenitor cells are descendants of stem cells in the brain.)
This research shows, for the first time, that healthy, older men and women can generate just as many new brain cells as younger people. And it strongly suggests that older people can also remain cognitively and mentally healthy throughout their lives!
Circulation is another key to brain health
Now, before I go, I should note that the researchers did find one key difference between the two age groups…
Older people seemed to form fewer new blood vessels within brain structures.
But, as I’ve previously discussed, older adults can still support healthy circulation to the brain by adopting a few sensible lifestyle changes, including:
- Engaging in some light-to-moderate exercise, like walking, gardening, hiking, or swimming (aim for 140 to 150 minutes total per week)
- Drinking moderately
- Practicing mind-body approaches, such as mindfulness meditation
These approaches can help improve the delivery of nutrient-rich blood to the brain. Indeed, studies show mindfulness meditation can even improve density in certain areas of the brain in just eight weeks!
Of course, older people with moderately high systolic blood pressure readings of 130 to 150 mmHg also seem to exhibit better cognitive function and reduced dementia risk. Probably because, like those other examples, moderately high blood pressure forces more blood to pump throughout the body…and to the aging brain.
Unfortunately, too many doctors don’t realize that moderately high blood pressure in older people is typically beneficial for the brain and the heart. Instead, encouraged by big pharma, studies show they overprescribe and overtreat blood pressure in older people. And they fail to discontinue, reduce, or adjust dosages—even when blood pressure drops to “normal” levels!
You can learn more about the potential benefits of moderately high blood pressure in older adults in the September 2020 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter (“Nine simple, effective ways to safeguard your heart”). If you’re not yet a newsletter subscriber, I can think of no better time to get started.
You can also learn more about the dozens of drug-free, cutting-edge approaches to supporting brain health in your 70s, 80s, 90s, and beyond in my Complete Alzheimer’s Fighting Protocol. To learn more about this comprehensive online learning tool, or to enroll today, simply click here now!
P.S. Tune back in tomorrow for my report about how air pollution causes brain shrinkage…and what you can do to counteract it!
“Human Hippocampal Neurogenesis Persists throughout Aging.” Cell Stem Cell, 2018; 22(4); 589. DOI: 10.1016/j.stem.2018.03.015