More than 6 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, and one out of every three people over the age of 65 will die from dementia or Alzheimer's. Neurodegenerative disease kills more seniors than breast cancer, and prostate cancer put together. Due to the prevalence and devastating effects of these diseases, many people search for ways to reduce their risk. The latest science suggests that it may be possible to do so by supporting neurogenesis. Read on to find out what it is and how it may boost cognitive performance.
What Is Neuroplasticity?
Neuroplasticity is the term for the nervous system's ability to renew itself by creating new brain and nervous system connections. Researchers believed that the human brain lost most of its ability to regenerate with age for decades. Still, more recent studies have led to the discovery that the renewal process can occur in adults. The mechanism of renewal is known as neurogenesis. It is the word for manufacturing new neurons, the receptors of electrical signal messages.
Neurogenesis begins with neural stem cells. You can think of these cells as blank slates. The body can convert stem cells into specialized cells through differentiation. Neural stem cells can give rise to new neurons and cells that protect neurons called glial cells.
The process of neurogenesis relies on neural stem cells forming these materials. Neural stem cells cycle through dormant and active states throughout life, and they can divide to make more cells as needed. The formation of new neurons involves neural stem cells going through the following steps:
- Switch into the activation stage
- Produce many new cells called progenitor cells
- Differentiate into neurons
- Migrate to the area of the nervous system where they were needed
- Mature into fully developed cells
- Integrate into the nervous system through a process called synaptogenesis
Where Does Neurogenesis Occur?
Neurogenesis occurs in specific areas of the brain called neurogenic niches. In adults, two areas are home to neurogenic niches:
- Subventricular zone or SVZ, found along the lining of fluid-filled cavities on the sides of the brain
- Subgranular zone or SGZ, found in the dentate gyrus, folds in the hippocampus, the learning and memory section of the brain found in the area behind the ears known as the temporal lobe
The Mechanism of Neurodegenerative Disease
Scientists are still working hard to understand why Alzheimer's and dementia occur. One proposed cause is neural pruning. This term describes the opposite of adult neurogenesis. It is when the nervous system eliminates neurons that are not usable or in use. People with Alzheimer's disease typically have a high plaque buildup in the brain. Researchers speculate that when plaque accumulates in this way, the brain identifies those areas as no longer usable and triggers neural pruning. When the connections between these areas and the rest of the brain become severed, people experience a decline in cognitive function.
The Desire To Boost Cognitive Performance
The theory that neural pruning is the root cause of the loss of function due to Alzheimer's disease has led some to speculate that supporting neurogenesis may produce the opposite effect and boost cognitive performance. The idea is to encourage the brain to convert stem cells into neurons, forming new connections in the brain to help it work more efficiently.
Nootropics and Adult Neurogenesis
One way that people seek to support adult neurogenesis is using nootropics. Nootropics are dietary supplements believed to impact the central nervous system to enhance brain activity. Some people refer to nootropics as brain hacking because it is a way to attempt to change or improve the brain's circuitry.
Benefits of Polyphenols for Healthy Cognitive Function
There are many nootropic supplements available for those who want to boost cognitive function, and the amount of scientific research that supports their use varies. Polyphenols are one class of nootropics backed by positive research findings. These substances are antioxidants sourced from foods. Antioxidants are the body's natural defense from free radicals found in pollution and ultraviolet energy. Free radicals can damage brain cells and other cells in the body, driving the aging process. When antioxidants encounter free radicals, they break them down into harmless substances to limit this damage.
One example of a clinically researched polyphenol is Memophenol, a blend of French grape and North American wild blueberry extracts found in Xeed Labs Focus Daily Clarity Dietary Supplement. To promote effectiveness, these extracts have been optimized for bioavailability, meaning they are in a form that is easy for the body to digest, absorb and utilize. The carefully formulated complex increased memory performance in three out of five study participants after just 15 days of use. This study involved students who were satisfied with their cognitive performance and suggested that Memophenol may be an effective tool to aid neurogenesis in adults.