Neurogenesis: How To Increase Nerve Growth Factor (NGF)
Can the human brain keep expanding and reshaping itself throughout adulthood?
You bet it can.
And some of today’s most exciting neuroscience research is uncovering surprising new ways to promote brain growth that can enhance our minds, moods, and cognitive abilities as long as we live.
The irrefutable evidence of adult neurogenesis, or the brain’s ability to generate new neurons at any age, was a long time coming but is among the most important neuroscientific discoveries.
It has inspired a whole new generation of research that has already led to major advances in cognitive enhancement, including improved memory, mood management, and learning ability, as well as the potential treatment of devastating neurological ailments like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
What Happens When We Grow New Neurons?
Neurons are the specialized nerve impulse transmission cells that serve as the basic working unit of the brain, and neurogenesis is one of the body’s most powerful processes.
The effects that neurogenesis creates are described by the concept of neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to change, adapt, and rearrange itself.
At the most basic level, neurogenesis is the opposite of its compliment process, cell death, and together they create a state of neural turnover that helps keep the brain active and receptive; new neurons are believed to have a higher potential for plasticity than older, more rigid neurons.
Neurogenesis also enhances the performance of neural networks within the brain, providing the basis for new neural connections.
This in turn leads to improved capabilities in virtually all areas of cognition, from improved memory function to the ability to adapt to new environments, adopt new behaviors, and establish new patterns of thinking.
Briefly put, the more neurons the brain has to work with and the fresher those neurons are, the better the brain performs.
In terms of cognitive enhancement, neurogenesis is a proven scientific rebuttal to the idea that intelligence and ability are fixed and unchangeable after childhood, and it completely invalidates the idea that brain aging necessarily results in diminished activity and capability.
In terms of treatment and perhaps even prevention of neurological diseases, neurogenesis holds real promise.
A Scientific About-Face That Changed The Way We Understand The Brain
Our current understanding of neurogenesis and all it involves is surprisingly new. In one of history’s most exciting scientific about-faces, the 1990s at last saw the reversal of the long-held idea that neuron growth primarily occurred prenatally and stopped entirely after childhood.
Until only a few decades ago, the adult brain was considered a fixed and unchanging entity with a set number of neurons that could not be replenished.
Because the adult brain was believed to be incapable of growing new neurons, mature brain function was considered a given that could not be improved or expanded, and any damage to existing neurons was believed to be irreparable.
This belief not only denied the possibility of enhancing adult cognitive abilities, it implied a bleak progress to inevitable age-related mental decline and set a grim prognosis for victims of stroke, neurological disease, or anyone who suffered neurological damage of any kind.
In 1962, American neurobiologist Joseph Altman discovered that the adult brain is capable of creating new neurons, but his findings were largely disregarded. Animal and bird studies conducted in the 1970s supported Altman’s findings.
However, papers published in the 1980s by respected neurobiologist Paslo Rakic convinced much of the scientific community that adult neurogenesis was limited to lower order animals and did not apply to the human brain.
It wasn’t until the late 1990s, when a series of groundbreaking studies by Peter Eriksson, Fred Gage, and Elizabeth Gould showed concrete evidence of neurogenesis in the hippocampal region of the adult human brain, that the concept of adult brain growth was at last accepted as a scientific reality.
Growing New Neurons in Adulthood
It’s now generally accepted that adult neurogenesis takes place in two specific areas of the brain. New neuron growth occurs in the dentate gyrus, a substructure within the hippocampus, and in the subventricular zone, which is located within the walls of the lateral ventricle in the forebrain.
New neurons are produced by the division of neural precursor cells, sometimes referred to as neural stem cells. These early stage cells have the potential to become either neurons or support cells.
The exact stimulation that makes neural precursor cells become neurons is still being studied, but the discovery of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) established widespread acceptance that neurotrophins, proteins secreted by support cells called astrocytes, are a primary factor in encouraging precursor cells to proliferate and mature into neurons.
What is Nerve Growth Factor?
Nerve Growth Factor was the first neurotrophin to be isolated and studied, and its discovery has opened the door to new understanding of neurogenesis.
NGF was first identified by Italian scientist Rita Levi-Montalcini, who was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize for Medicine for her research.
NGF has been extensively studied and it is now known to play a crucial role in both encouraging neurogenesis and in maintaining the health and efficiency of the human neural network as a whole.
Supplements That Promote Nerve Growth Factor
Levi-Montalcini remained mentally alert and active until her death at the age of 103 and claimed that daily doses of NGF, taken via eye drops, were largely responsible for her continued mental clarity and vigor.
Though the cost of NGF in this form (estimated at over $10,000 per year) puts it well out of the reach of most people, there are affordable and readily available supplements that have been proven to enhance the body’s natural production of NGF.
1. Lion’s Mane Mushroom
The Lion’s Mane m