With good neurogenesis, we don’t have to fear depression.
Just about two decades ago, it was first experimentally demonstrated that the birth of new brain cells (neurons) occurs almost throughout the entire human life, from birth to death. Until then, the theory of antenatal and postnatal neurogenesis was the most widespread opinion among researchers, according to which the main stage of neurons generation and brain growth occurs in the intrauterine phase of development and remains for a short time after birth. Modern studies of human neurogenesis reveal that the generation of new neurons does not stop at all. However not all brain fields actively participate in this process, only some deep structures of the central nervous system where neuroblasts (stem cells that turn into new neurons every day) are constantly forming. According to various estimates, their number ranges from 500 to 1,000 per day, and such cells are primarily born in the hippocampus, the brain structure closely associated with the processes of learning and memory. The hippocampus is the most important brain field that regulates the psychoemotional aspects of behavior. The spinal gyrus of the hippocampus is the champion among all brain structures by level of neurogenesis, securing a high level of neuroplasticity in conditions of intense mental work and acquiring new skills, while the neurogenesis deficiency of this field is closely related to anxiety disorders and depression.
As studies reveal, there are some factors that can influence the neurogenesis process towards both its acceleration and deceleration, while significantly increasing the incidence and prevalence of depressive symptoms. A low level of neurogenesis and the occurrence of depression are associated with poor environmental living conditions, especially in large cities. A low rate of neurogenesis is observed in people with sleeping disorders and alcohol and drugs abusers, to an almost equal degree. The rate of neurons generation is reduced with the lack of sufficient physical activity: the MRI studies have revealed that the volume of the hippocampus in athletes and people with an active lifestyle is greater than in sedentary people. Moreover, an increase in the number of neurons in the hippocampus strengthens the functional integration of the hippocampus with other brain fields and develops its own neural network, which considerably enhances learning abilities and helps form (consolidate) long-term memory. Neurogenesis disturbance leads to a permanent establishment of anxiety disorders, because according to the theory of memory, the brain is unable to update and reload the memory engrams in case of a low rate of neurons generation. As such, long-term memory is insufficiently naturally purified from negative memories when older neurons are replaced by new ones, and new positive states cannot be efficiently coded. As a result, fear perception and depression persist due to low neurogenesis and neuroplasticity disorders.
However, neurogenesis is easy to restore: there are some methods that accelerate new neuron growth rate and considerably reduce the symptoms of depression. Proper nutrition, exercising and healthy sleep significantly support neurogenesis. Depression, inter alia, can be treated by drug therapy, and antidepressants actually increase neurogenesis but may eventually lose their effect. Besides, pharmacotherapy can reduce the natural ability of the brain to neurogenesis, causing dependence in some cases. The alternative methods of treatment include the most popular methods of brain stimulation. The clinical practice uses a method to stimulate deep brain structures, including the hippocampus in people with concomitant neurological diseases, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. The most efficient non-invasive methods of fighting depression include the transcranial brain stimulation with a direct current (Basis Neuro has already developed the prototype of such a neural stimulator) and the focused magnetic stimulation of deep brain structures, in particular. Numerous studies have confirmed the clinical efficiency of non-invasive brain stimulation and recognize it as the safest and most promising approach to treating depression and anxiety disorders in a mass consumer market.
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