Neuroplasticity - What It Is And Why It Is Important
By Sara Novak
Would you believe me if I told you that you can actually change the way your brain works? You can change the way you think. It’s true. Our brains are magnificent, highly adaptable tools that form different pathways over our lifetime. They are constantly updating the pathways that are already there, while at the same time building new pathways everyday. It’s an amazing feat. When you feed your brain well, just as you would feed the rest of your body, you can impact the way you think. Tired of diving down a rabbit hole of negative thoughts? How about improving your mood? Do you want your brain to work better than it has before? These steps can help you get there.
Table Of Contents:
- Benefits of Neuroplasticity
- Activities That Increase Neuroplasticity
- Supplements That Increase Neuroplasticity
Benefits Of Neuroplasticity:
A neuroscientist named Jerzy Konorski was the first to coin the term neuroplasticity in 1948 but even before that, scientists started to understand that the brain is ever-changing even in adulthood. We’re building our brain structure everyday. Think of your brain like a forest: the more trees, the better. We want to constantly be building our brain forest up. Everyday as we learn new things, we’re building our brain and certain activities help us build even more connections, or synapses.
Neuroplasticity is a term that simply refers to the brain’s ability to change. The brain has an amazing gift of reorganizing pathways, creating new connections, even building new neurons all the time. There are two types of neuroplasticity: functional plasticity and structural plasticity. Functional plasticity happens when the brain is damaged and it allows the brain to move certain functions to the undamaged areas. Structural plasticity changes the brain as you learn.
The brain’s ability to change allows it to constantly adapt to changing conditions. It allows humans to recover after strokes or other forms of brain damage. It helps us learn new skills and ideas everyday. It keeps your brain functioning well as you age and promotes brain fitness. Think of your brain like a muscle, you’re constantly trying to keep it fit just like you would any part of your body.
Activities That Increase Neuroplasticity:
The best way to build your brain forest is to do activities that promote growth. Get creative. Look around and notice something that you didn’t notice before. These activities can help build your brain as you age.
- Traveling - Seeing new places on a regular basis is a great way to keep your brain learning new things. Hearing different languages, exploring parts of the world without knowing where you’re going, learning to cook different kinds of food, meeting people that you didn’t know before. These are all tools that keep you on your feet. Each year, we put money aside to plan two large trips not just because it keeps us happy but also because it helps to build neuroplasticity in the brain. Travel is awesome and it’s even better that it’s good for you.
- Learn A New Language - Even if you don’t like to travel, you can still learn a new language. Learning a new language is one of the best things you can do to keep your brain in tip top condition. And today there are so many easy apps and programs that make learning a new language simpler than ever before. A study published in the journal Cortex found that “second language experience-induced brain changes, including increased gray matter (GM) density and white matter (WM) integrity, can be found in children, young adults, and the elderly.”
- Read - A love of reading is life changing. Still, so often at night it’s easier to just turn on the television and become a zombie. Admittedly, at night when you’re tired and you just want to zone out, it can be easy to fall into the brain drain trap, but when you read instead it’s great for your brain. Generally speaking, lifetime learning is really important to neuroplasticity. A study published in JAMA Neurology found that “lifetime intellectual enrichment might delay the onset of cognitive impairment and be used as a successful preventive intervention to reduce the impending dementia epidemic.”
- Get Creative - Sometimes it can be easy to let your creativity dry up but when you dive back in, you’ll be glad you did. Adopt a new art form. Learn to paint, pick up creative writing, try sculpture. Take a cooking class. With so many ways to get creative, it can be hard to choose. A study published in the journal Psychiatria Danubina found that all kinds of art stimulate the brain.
- Learn To Play An Instrument - Just because you weren’t musical as a child doesn’t mean that you can’t be as an adult. Learning to play an instrument forces your brain to learn to read music and think in ways that it didn’t before.
- Sleep - If you don’t get enough sleep your brain can’t clean house. And if your brain can’t clean up, there’s no time for it to reorganize and make room for new things. While your body is at rest, your brain is at work doing all sorts of tasks. It turns short term memories into longterm memories and gets rid of items that it no longer needs in order to make room for the day ahead. A study published in the journal Current Topics in Behavioral Neuroscience found that "various lines of evidence suggest that sleep disorders may negatively affect neuronal plasticity and cognitive function.” Another study published in the journal Nature found that REM sleep “selectively prunes” the brain. The authors write that “REM sleep has multifaceted functions in brain development, learning and memory consolidation by selectively eliminating and maintaining newly formed synapses.” REM stands for rapid eye movement and it’s the phase of sleep in mammals where the eyes are rapidly moving. It also tends to include vivid dreaming.
- Exercise -The more exercise you do the better for your brain. That doesn’t mean that you need to work your body to death, but walking, yoga, and weight lifting are all great ways to keep your brain in tip top condition and even enhance cognitive function. A study published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience found that “exercise, when pursued in moderation, not only serves as a robust method for improving physical health, but also serves as a preventative and protective measure against numerous neurological and mental diseases.” Another study published in the journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews found that “neural systems that are known to have a high capacity for change appear to be the first that are enhanced by exercise.”
Learn More: 12 Ways To Skyrocket Energy Levels Naturally
Supplements That Help Increase Neuroplasticity:
Do brain supplements really work? Let’s take a look at the research and see what you might want to add to your repertoire.
Choline is important for the brain because it helps maintain neuroplasticity. Try UMZU’s CHOLINE, a clean source of this ever important nutrient. Why do you need a CHOLINE boost? Choline is an essential nutrient in the body that’s important for any number of bodily functions including cellular growth and metabolism. The body converts choline into neurotransmitters that are important for optimal brain function. Research published in the journal Advances in Neurobiology found that choline reduced the impact of neurodegenerative disorders in the brain and positively impacted mental health. Choline is an effective supplement shown to help increase performance by fueling the nervous system with more acetylcholine. Shown to help increase focus and allow for greater cognition, it rids the body of excess estrogen accumulated from our diet and lifestyle. For adults only. Consult physician if pregnant/nursing, taking medication, or if you have a medical condition. ***A quick note also that eating grass fed egg yolks on a regular basis is the best food source of choline that you can find.
2. Vitamin D
If you want your brain to keep functioning optimally, get outside. It’s true. Research has shown that a deficiency in vitamin D is linked to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease found that “during the last 25 years, vitamin D has emerged as a serious candidate in nervous system development and function and a therapeutic tool in a number of neurological pathologies.” Another study published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience found that higher levels of vitamin D were associated with lower levels of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
3. Mucuna Pruriens
Mucuna Pruriens has been shown to increase brain function and have an neuroprotective impact on the brain because the supplement is beneficial for increasing dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is linked with increased brain function and increased happiness. A study published in the journal Nutrients found that “Mucuna pruriens has been prescribed in Ayurveda for various brain ailments including 'kampavata' (tremors) or Parkinson's disease.” A study published in An International Quarterly Journal of Research in Ayurveda “indicates that hydroalcoholic extract of Mucuna Pruriens have antidepressant action, which may be mediated by an interaction with the dopaminergic system.”
Curcumin, also known as turmeric, has been shown to increase neuroplasticity. A study published in The International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology found that “depression is a neuropsychiatric disease associated with wide ranging disruptions in neuronal plasticity throughout the brain. Curcumin, a natural polyphenolic compound of curcuma loga, has been demonstrated to be effective in the treatment of depressive-like disorders.” Though research has shown this in animal models, it’s less clear in humans.
It helps you sleep which is really important for neuroplasticity and the mineral has also been shown to increase neuroplasticity directly. A study published in the journal Nature Communications found that magnesium helps to “underlie neuronal circuit reconfiguration via changes in brain energy metabolism.” Another study published in the journal Neuron “suggests that an increase in brain magnesium enhances both short-term synaptic facilitation and long-term potentiation and improves learning and memory functions.”
Phosphatidylserine is another supplement that’s been shown to have neuroprotective effects on the brain. It’s a phospholipid that’s a key component to cell membranes. A study published in the journal Nutrition found that “phosphatidylserine halts or reverses biochemical alterations and structural deterioration in nerve cells and supports human cognitive functions, including the formation of short-term memory, the consolidation of long-term memory, the ability to create new memories, the ability to retrieve memories, and the ability to learn and recall information.” Other research has shown that phosphatidylserine was important for “cell signaling.” Though lesser known, this might be a good addition as well for increasing short and long-term memory function.
Coffee has been shown to enhance brain function as you age along with a host of other beneficial qualities. It’s thought that the complex mix of phytochemicals found in coffee contribute to its ability to improve cognitive function. According to a study published in the journal Age, “coffee, a beverage consumed worldwide, is a complex mixture containing not only caffeine but various bioavailable polyphenols such as chlorogenic acid that may act via numerous mechanisms to produce the beneficial effects seen in motor and cognitive behavior.” It’s not completely clear, according to research published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, whether coffee is a cognitive enhancer directly or whether it’s because it improves focus and arousal which makes us more ready to learn. Still, its benefits are wide ranging.
Ashwagandha has also been shown to improve brain function and prevent cognitive decline. Researchers publishing in the journal PLOS ONE found this to be true in HIV patients. “These results further established the neuroprotective properties of ashwagandha extract” in patients with HIV related neurodegenerative impairments. And another study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found “[a]dministration of ashwagandha prevented induced memory impairment and neurodegeneration.” Studies have also shown that its neuro-protective properties could translate into an ability to stave off diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease. Ashwagandha has also been shown to improve mood and reduce depression which has a negative impact on neuroplasticity.
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