Neurons die. It’s supposed to happen. Now, if that were the end of the story, we’d be in pretty bad shape. But the fact is, our brains are always growing new ones. Neurogenesis is a miraculous phenomenon.
…in the face of targeted and appropriate interventions, our brains can grow fresh neurons that serve to facilitate, enhance, and support newly learned coping skills…
Our brains are continually growing, shrinking, and killing neurons.
And that’s a good thing, given that three-pound mass of tissue and fluid in our skulls consists of some 86 billion of them.
But I’ll go you one better. Those 86 billion neurons are party to some 150 trillion (as in 12 zeros) potential synaptic connections. That’s a lot of firing.
The balancing act
The activity of the brain is a miraculous never-ending balancing act. Thing is, though, problems arise when the scale is tipped toward neural shrinkage or death.
The result can be mood and anxiety issues, as well as other emotional and mental health disorders.
Example? Brain imaging has revealed key-area brain shrinkage of as much as 10%-15% in those who have long-standing depression.
Atrophics and trophics
The term used for neural shrinkage is atrophy. And the chemicals that cause atrophy are known as atrophics. So, for example, the chemicals we release that are so often involved in presentations of depression, anxiety, and stress – most notably cortisol – are atrophics.
Chemicals that foster neural growth, such as antidepressants, are known as trophics.
In short, then, neural growth, shrinkage, and death are to a large degree caused by the dance of atrophic and trophic agents.
What is neurogenesis
Neurogenesis is the process by which neurons are created. And though it’s most active during prenatal development, the process continues on a much smaller scale into adulthood – even our senior years.
It’s important to understand that the dynamics of neurogenesis actually have the ability to reverse, if you will, all sorts of emotional and mental distress.
That’s correct, in the face of targeted and appropriate interventions, our brains can grow fresh neurons that serve to facilitate, enhance, and support newly learned coping skills – allowing us to feel one heck of a lot better.
Think about it, if one’s emotional or mental state improved, didn’t it have to be anatomically and physiologically driven?
For instance, the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus is an area of the brain in which neurogenesis is particularly active.
See, the hippocampus, a component of the limbic system, is about memory, learning, and emotion – all of which play major roles in depression and anxiety.
Indeed, it’s been suggested that decreased hippocampal neurogenesis may be linked to increases in depression, which can be reversed by, say, the use of antidepressants – trophics.
Friends and enemies of neurogenesis
So how ‘bout a short list of neurogenesis friendly factors…
- Any medication with anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, mood-stabilizing, or anti-psychotic characteristics.
- Mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy environments and lifestyle habits – exercise. learning and memory work, spirituality, relationships.
And neurogenesis has its enemies…
- Chronic stress: results in the secretion of cortisol, the “stress hormone;” which flips the switch on the secretion of other harmful hormones.
- Trauma: often leads to excesses of glutamate, the brain’s most abundant excitatory – action-generating – neurotransmitter.
- The reverse of anything mentioned in the second bullet point of our friendly list.
It’s all a matter of choice
Absolutely, neurogenesis is a miraculous physiological phenomenon that can really work to our advantage – again, well into our senior years.
But it can also burden us with buckets of distress and misery…
And it’s all a matter of choice.