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August 9,  2014, last updated May 25, 2016

By Louise Carr, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist

[Health and fitness articles are reviewed by our team of Registered
Nurses, Certified fitness trainers and other members of our Editorial

Everyone wants a bigger brain, right? We’re constantly told
all the ways we are shrinking our brain (too many
cigarettes, saturated fat and even surfing the internet, for
example) but could we also manage to expand our brains
with healthy lifestyle choices? If it is possible to grow brain
cells, how do achieve this in your everyday life?

The Growth of the Human Brain

The human brain is about three times as large today as it
was in the times of our ancestors who lived 2 to 4 million
years ago, according to the National Institutes of Health.

There are many theories as to why the brain grew
throughout the years – scientists believe social competition
could be the main reason.

However, the idea that the brain could grow within a
person’s lifetime was not considered valid until the 1960s.
Prior to this, most scientists believed that the brain cells
you were born with were the only ones you would ever
have – use them or lose them.

The discovery in 1992 of stem cells in the adult brain by Dr.
Brent Reynolds and Dr. Sphie Weiss of the University of
Calgary Faculty of Medicine was a highly significant event
that showed that new neurons could be grow in adulthood
and that production didn’t stop pre-birth.

Can We Grow New Brain Cells?

The vast majority of your brain cells are formed before
birth but there are key areas of the brain that continue to
grow new cells.

This process is called "neurogenesis", and there is one
particular area of the brain that grows new cells
throughout your life. According to research in 1998 by
scientists at Princeton University and Rockefeller University,
New York, the hippocampus continues to produce new
brain cells even into old age.  The hippocampus are two
identical  sea-horse shaped structures located on each half
of your brain which are responsible for emotion, memory
and spatial navigation.

But it needs a little help – you lose brain cells, too, and
healthy habits can help tip the balance in the right direction.

We looked at recent scientific evidence to see how you can
grow your gray matter, whatever your age.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids Help To Grow New Brain Cells

Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish could be great news for
your brain. Many studies have shown that omega-3s give
your brain a boost.

Some doctors are advocating eating fish for Alzheimer's
patients, in order to replace some of the brain volume
shrinkage that comes with this disease.

A 2007 study from INSERM, the French National Institute
for Health and Medical Research, in Bordeaux, France
showed that a diet high in fish and omega-3 oils lowers
your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

When you eat omega-3s on a regular basis you have a 60
percent lower risk of developing dementia, according to the
researchers, and when you eat fish at least once a week
you have a 35 percent lower risk of suffering from
Alzheimer’s disease.

And a 2014 study from the University of California-Los
Angeles demonstrated that people eating baked or broiled
fish weekly had larger brain volumes than people who
never ate fish.

Broiled or baked fish is better than fried as it retains more
omega-3s, which are clearly of benefit to your cognitive

Learning a New Language is a Great Way to Grow Brain

Language learning makes the brain grow, according to a
2012 study from Lund University, Sweden. In the study,
researchers looked at recruits at the Swedish Armed Forces
Interpreter Academy, where young people learn a new
language at an extremely fast pace.

The scientists discovered that the hippocampus, the area of
the brain involved in learning new things and in spatial
reasoning, grew after 13 months of intense language
training. Areas in the cerebral cortex also developed in size.


In addition to growing the size of your brain, learning a
new language also seems to delay the onset of Alzheimer's
by about 4 and 1/2 years on average, according to a 2013
study conducted by a group of scientists including Dr.
Thomas H. Bak of the Centre for Cognitive Aging and
Cognitive Epidemiology and Centre for Clinical Brain
Sciences, University of Edinburgh, UK.]

Aerobic Exercise Helps You Grow More Brain Cells

Just as exercise benefits your body, it also benefits your
brain – a workout in the gym could lead to increased brain
cell growth in the hippocampus, according to a 2010 study
from the National Institute on Aging, Baltimore.

Researchers looked at how rats who were made to exercise
fared – not only did the exercising rats grow more brain
cells; they were also judged to be smarter. More reasons to
get your training shoes on and go for a run.

Enhance Your Creative Environment for Brain Cell Growth

While you’re planning your exercise regime for the week,
make sure you also create a rich and positive learning
environment – mice in an “enriched” environment
experienced better brain cell development and brain cell
regeneration compared to mice kept in “standard” housing,
according to a 2005 study from the University of Chicago.

Sex Helps to Build New Brain Cells

If creating an enriched environment or even going for a
run seems too much like hard work, why not create new
brain cells the enjoyable way?

Researchers say that sexual experience stimulates brain cell
growth. A 2013 study from the University of Maryland
shows that sexual experience enhances the number of
newly generated brain cells in middle-aged rats.

Cognitive function was also improved, but when the sex
was withdrawn then the improvements in cognitive
function were lost.

Learning Builds Brain Cells: Fact

It’s true that learning builds brain cells, and the growth
continues whether you are learning as a teen or in your
senior years. A 1999 study from Princeton University and
Rutgers University demonstrated that the number of
neurons generated in adult rats doubled following training
on associative learning tasks involving the hippocampus.

And Working Crosswords Puzzles Builds Them Fastest

People who do crossword puzzles stave off dementia
possibly by expanding the hippocampus, a study has found.

Crossword puzzle solvers expand their cognitive reserves,
according to a team researchers from Albert Einstein
College of Medicine, the Mayo Clinic and the University of
California at San Diego.

The study followed 488 seniors in the Bronx Study on
Aging and tested them every 12 to 18 months. Doing
crossword puzzles delayed the onset of memory declines
related to dementia by an average of 2.5 years.  

This protection was found to be independent of any
differences in educational background.

Take Gingko to Grow Brain Cells After Stroke

A 2014 study from the University of Toledo recently
discovered that mice consuming Ginkgo biloba four hours
after stroke and then every day for seven days had less
brain damage and increased brain cell growth than the
control mice.

Ginkgo biloba enhanced brain cell growth, according to the
scientists, partly due to the action of an antioxidant that is
important when brain cell growth takes place.

Use Antidepressants to Increase Brain Cells After a

Drugs that help to develop new brain cells include
antidepressants and mood stabilizers, according to experts,
and these could be used to improve brain function
following stroke. This is according to a 2010 study by the
Buck Institute for Age Research which showed that while
antidepressants are often prescribed after a stroke to treat
depression, they could also assist the brain in its

Does Marijuana Use Boost Brain Cells?

Controversially, it seems that marijuana may not cause
brain cells to die but may actually help promote brain cell
growth. A 2005 study from the University of
Saskatchewan, Canada shows that a powerful synthetic
cannabis-like substance promotes neurogenesis.
Proponents of the medical marijuana movement have
greeted this news with interest.

Curry Helps Brain Cells to Repair?

In September of 2014, researchers from the Institute of
Neuroscience and Medicine in Julich, Germany, reported
that rats who were fed  a compound found in turmeric
called "aromatic-turmerone" grew more brain cells.
Moreover, the compound appears to encourage brain cells
which are damaged to heal.

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Walnuts help to increase omega-3 in your
blood , which helps to increase brain volume.
Eating salmon and other foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids
expands the volume of your brain.
Eating baked or broiled fish each week has been associated with
increased brain volume.