We have read and summarised The Neurogenesis Diet and Lifestyle: Upgrade Your Brain, Upgrade Your Life - by Brant Cortright.
Usually we are in the habit of summarising books twice per year. In Swedish. On occasion, we squeeze in a book summary mid-term. This time, we felt it urgent to get the message out. This topic is, we believe, truly life enhancing and we would love to share our learnings with you - as many of you as possible - immediately.
The conventional wisdom used to be that the brain ceases to develop in our 20s. And it is downhill from there. Recent science has it the other way around. We can continue to grow brain cells - or generate neurons, so called neurogenesis (I will call it NG for short in the below) until we die. And with that comes endless opportunities to live better lives.
The book was published already in 2015 so science has surely moved on from there. We still believe the book is a great starting point for the discovery of NG.
So why is NG important? Studies seem to show that increased NG is tightly connected to increased life quality and the prevention of disease such as Alzheimers or Depression. While it seems super simple to conclude that NG is great for us, it is more complex to determine how we actually maximise NG. What seems clear, however, is that we can heavily impact it through our lifestyle. Studies have shown that NG can vary by some 3-5x between different individuals. And it seems to be related to how we live, not genetics. We can impact it!
So how do we then maximise NG? Well, similar to the learnings in the A&D Mindfulness work, the answer spans across 4 different dimensions.
(I) The physical dimension - how you treat your body
(II) The emotional dimension - how you make yourself feel
(III) The mental dimension - how you treat and stimulate your mind, and finally
(IV) The existential dimension - how you find meaning in life
Below are the main takeaways on how to maximise NG from each dimension. Health warning: Research is ongoing in this nascent field and the below should be seen as early indications rather than absolute truths.
The physical dimension can be divided into (a) what you eat and (b) how you otherwise treat your body. As for eating, below are some examples of things you can eat/drink to max NG:
- blueberries, - omega-3, - green tea (although watch out for caffeine as per below), - curry, - edamame beans, - ginseng, - vitamin E, - various forms of pepper, - melatonin, - mulberries and goji berries. The following stuff may be positive for NG (although more research is needed): - magnesium, - beta alamin, - vitamin D, - cocoa, cinnamon. The following stuff is bad for NG and should be avoided: - sugars/hollow carbs, - processed foods, refined oils or grains, alcohol and caffeine. Importantly, over eating in any form seems to be bad for NG.
The following activities for your body promotes NG: Exercise, particularly aerobic. Bodily contact. Consentual sex (nb. research indicates that females experience higher NG when they get to decide the timing of sex whereas males NG seem to be indifferent to who chooses. Sleep (7-8 hrs, as has been deeply examined by Matthew Walker in his book Why we sleep). Experiencing music, natural sounds or, most importantly, silence. Experiencing nature in different forms.
The following aspects are important to promote NG from your emotional life: Caring, warm relationships (as shown by this recent Harvard study), avoidance of toxic, negative relationships, love, sex, kisses and hugs. Surprisingly, some research has concluded that parenthood is so stressful that it is detrimental to NG! But maybe there are other benefits :-)
The following activities promote NG from working with your mind: Reading, writing, problem solving, concentrating and focusing on a single task, using your executive function / decision making, engaging in discussions, learning to play musical instruments, learning new languages, playing some video games and, in general, learning new things. Finally, an important aspect that is said to promote NG is learning to regulate our emotions through using our analytical brain power.
With regards to spiritual activity, two things seem to promote NG: (a) Regular meditation / engagement in mindfulness where you attend to the present moment and practise awareness, or (b) devotion / compassion to a faith, be it the personal divine faiths e.g. judaism, christianity or islam or the impersonal divine faiths, e.g. buddhism or taoism. Meditation or prayer seem to increase blood flow to the hippocampus, which is said to be the most crucial part of the brain. These practises also seem to release important oxytocin and melatonin in our bodies.
Finally a word on the Don'ts: There are mainly four things that we should avoid:
1. Chronic inflammation, e.g. through toxins, too much glucose intake, etc.
2. Chronic stress, e.g. through stressful relationships and constant worrying
3. Physical assaults to your body, e.g. through mercury or lead poisoning
4. Deprivation, e.g. through isolation or starving either of the four dimensions above
We hope you found the above useful. And if you do, take action!
Read more about Brant Cortright here - https://www.brantcortright.com/
Best wishes for 2022!
Your Alfvén & Didrikson team