Cardiovascular exercise such as running, interval training, cross fit and or yoga are the single most effective ways of boosting neurogenesis; they come with a vast array of health benefits for mind and body, and are also important stress relievers. The endorphins produced acting as a potent antidote to cortisol, the stress hormone, which with long term exposure is highly corrosive to the brain. Exercise has been found to increase levels of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), two key growth factors supporting neurogenesis. It also increases hormones such as testosterone which also seem to have a extremely beneficial effect on neurogenesis, and act as a buffer against the effects of psychological stress. Maintaining a healthy level of physical activity is increasingly important as we age.
Diet plays an important role in brain health and neurogenesis. Excess refined sugar has a detrimental effect on the brain, and refined and processed foods should be avoided when possible. The brain is 60% fat, and the right fats are essential to healthy brain function. These may constitute a certain proportion of plant and animal fats. Omega 3 fatty acids, in particular docosahexaenic acid (DHA) seems of particular importance with regard to neurogenesis, with rich sources including oily fish and some plant oils, hemp in particular. This fatty acid is a major structural component of the brain and many other parts of the body. Hemp seed is cheap and a food highly supportive of brain function. It contains all essential amino acids in a well balanced ratio in a highly degistible form, a number of minerals, vitamins and trace elements, and a single tablespoon contains all our daily requirements for essential fatty acids. Avocado’s are another particularly excellent brain food.
Other things such as blueberries and green tea may also be beneficial to brain health and supportive of neurogenesis. Some foods have more direct effects on the process, such as the spice turmeric. Curcumin is the main active compound in the spice, and has been found to increase BDNF levels while acting as an antidepressant with an effectiveness equivalent to SSRI’s but without their side effects. It also has a range of other medicinal uses currently being examined through research, as it has anti cancer properties.
There are a number of recipes that it can be incorperated into, and the alkaloid piperine in pepper has been found to increase curcumin bioavailability by up to 2000%. An easy, non-toxic guide using cooking oil to prepare a turmeric extract can be found: here.