How To Increase Neuroplasticity

In an age of hustle and bustle, and a constant desire to have – and possibly even need – an edge over our competition and others, a step up is wanted.

When our cognitions are constantly bombarded by noise and stimulation, protecting and raising our cognitive abilities is also crucial. Cognitive decline is on the rise, as are mental illnesses and cognitive disorders like ADHD.

Neuroplasticity – the ability of our brains to grow, change, and heal – is one such of these step ups, and mechanisms of protecting and increasing our cognitive abilities.

This is an edge we can sharpen, and hold over others.

What Is Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity, or Neuralplasticity, is the mechanism by which our brains and nervous systems change, grow, heal, and rewire. Neuroplasticity is the term for the ‘plasticity’ of our brains and nervous systems; the ability of our brains and nervous systems to grow and remodel itself, like clay or plastic. This is governed by a variety of factors, including Neurotrophic Factors or Neurotrophins, proteins secreted by neurons that have several functions, including the growth of new neurons and the survival of neurons under stress, such as hypoxia. In fact, transient hypoxia, such as that seen in exercise, is one of the best ways to increase these growth factors, and I think this is one of the mechanisms by which exercise improves neuroplasticity and brain health, although I’m unsure if anyone has proposed this.

When we are young, our Neuroplasticity is very high, but as we age, it decreases drastically, making it much harder to learn as we grow older. Children that are raised in a household that speaks more than one language, learn another language easier than children or persons that learn another language later, such as in school. This is one reason that our cognitive abilities decline, as our neuroplasticity does. This is also a reason why it is easier to learn multiple languages as children, and why we tend to have better memory, concentration, and skill acquisition as children and adolescence.

Increasing our Neuroplasticity is one way we can retain our cognitive abilities as we age, and improve or restore our cognition as well, whether following a brain injury or normal cognitive decline.

Imagine being able to retain the words and characters of another language as you see & hear them, or needing only or twice to learn something; mastering a craft or skill in a month, or no longer needing to study for tests or exams as you retain the information as you are taught in class; changing habits and addictions seemingly at will with little time or effort to change these things, or changing the way you think and the perspectives you view the world and filter information through to a higher, more developed reality and form.

Perhaps these are ‘lofty’ ideals, but I believe this is possible when we develop structures of application that target Neuroplasticity, which we have, and can incorporate into your lives and implement on a broad and detailed level.

Since Neuroplasticity governs several aspects of our cognitive health and performance, utilizing its functions can lead to great benefits.

Benefits of Increasing Neuroplasticity Include:

  • Improved Learning
  • Change Habits Easier, Faster
  • Alter Our Thinking Patterns & Mindset
  • Overcome Addictions Easier
  • Improved Mood
  • Recover From Brain Injuries
  • Correct Cognitive Deficits
  • Heal From Burnout
  • Think Smarter & Faster
  • Better Memory and Recall
  • Improved Concentration & Focus
  • Remodel Our Cognitions Intentionally
  • Greater Skill Acquisition
  • Better Information Retention
  • Restore & Retain Cognitive Ability
  • Brain Health
  • Improved Wit and Processing Speed

Simply put, improving Neuroplasticity allows our brains to change easier and faster, which translates to benefits in learning new skills, retaining information, healing from trauma and addictions, changing our thinking patterns, and even excel at sports and physical abilities, such as Mind-Muscle Connection.

Simply put again, Neuroplasticity is essential to our cognitive health and performance, and aspects of our physical, mental, and spiritual facets.

There are many ways to increase, improve, restore, and maximize our Neuroplasticity, here are some of them.

How To Increase Neuroplasticity

Although this list might not start out exciting, keep reading for the cooler, more exotic ways of increasing neuroplasticity. The fundamentals always come first (exercise, sleep, nutrition, sunlight, etc.), “…Because without foundation, we cannot soar.”

Summary (if you want to skip):

  1. Exercise
  2. Sleep
  3. Sunlight & Vitamin D
  4. Nutrition
  5. tDCS
  6. Red Light Therapy
  7. Coffee, Tea, Herba Mate
  8. Caffeine
  9. Neurotrophins
  10. Novelty
  11. Fun
  12. Limit Excessive Stimulation
  13. Polyphenols
  14. Supplements

1. Exercise

Exercise has repeatedly been shown to improve neuroplasticity, and promote memory, focus, mood, and brain health. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, and increases neurotrophic factors like BDNF, the proteins that drive neurogenesis and neuroplasticity. Aerobic exercise and resistance training, or cardio and weightlifting, both increase neuroplasticity, but even just going for a walk has been shown to improve neuroplasticity and brain health and performance.

Incorporating resistance training, moderate aerobic exercise (overtraining damages the brain, nervous system, and body), and walking into your lifestyle can greatly improve your cognitive performance and neuroplasticity.

2. Sleep

Sleep is of course essential to health. Most of the changes seen in neuroplasticity and learning are done during sleep, when our brain grows, heals, and consolidates memories and things we have learned. It’s also when the rest of our body heals and grows, like our muscles and connective tissue, and when much of our hormones are produced.

Optimizing sleep is thus essential to neuroplasticity. Some ways to improve sleep are as follows:

  • Exercise
  • Get Sunlight During The Day
  • Avoid Blue Light (screens and LEDs) For 1-2 Hours Before Bed
  • Wear Socks If Your Feet Get Cool or Cold
  • Keep Your Room Dark & Cool
  • Remove Electronics From Your Room
  • Drink Orange or Other 100% Fruit Juice With A Pinch of Sea Salt Before Bed
  • Don’t Eat Protein For At Least An Hour Before Bed, But Get Enough Protein
  • Eat Enough Carbs During The Day To Refill and Maintain Glycogen Stores
  • Keep Warm, but Not Too Cold or Too Hot
  • Take A Warm Bath In The Evening
  • Go For A Light Walk
  • Avoid Caffeine At Least 6 Hours Before Bed, and Dark Chocolate or Cacao (Cacao contains caffeine and theobromine)
  • Find Activities That Help You Wind Down In The Evening, Like Reading or Drawing
  • Meditate During The Day, But Don’t Do It Before Bed Or In The Evening (It rests your brain, which can put off the sleep drive and make you feel rested and awake when you should be tired)

Some Foods / Drinks:

  • Chamomile Tea
  • Relaxing or Sleep-Promoting Tea Blends (chamomile, valerian, licorice, jujube, citrus peel, ginger, etc.)
  • Orange Juice With A Pinch of Sea Salt
  • Warm Milk with Raw Honey (warm in a pan on a stove, don’t microwave it)

And Some Supplements / Nutrients:

  • Magnesium Glycinate
  • Magnesium Chloride or Topical Magnesium Oil
  • Epsom Salt Bath
  • Vitamin A (from liver and animal foods, not supplement)
  • Vitamin D3
  • Vitamin B6 (P5P)
  • Vitamin B1
  • Glycine
  • L-Theanine
  • Zinc Glycinate
  • Pregnenolone and/or DHEA (but no more than 15mg per day of the latter)
  • Valerian
  • Passionflower
  • Chamomile
  • Relora

3. Sunlight & Vitamin D

Sunlight and Vitamin D have been found to promote neuroplasticity, and are of course essential to health. Both sunlight and Vitamin D promote blood flow to the brain, promote energy and mitochondrial health, and increase hormones like Pregnenolone and DHEA which have pro-cognitive effects. Sunlight also contains Red Light and Near-Infrared light, which have been found to have pro-cognitive effects when shown on the skull and brain, detailed below.

Getting adequate sunlight or supplementing Vitamin D3 (with cofactors) can improve neuroplasticity and many other benefits.

4. Nutrition

Nutrition is a very broad and complex topic (or is it?), with much to cover, so this will be short. Carbohydrates, preferably sugars over starches, Protein, and Fats, are all needed for health.

Carbohydrates:

  • Rice
  • Potatoes
  • Fruit
  • Sugars (date sugar, coconut sugar, etc. even white sugar if none else is available, but not corn syrup or artificial sweeteners or replacements)
  • Honey
  • Milk

Protein:

  • Dairy
  • Eggs
  • Organ Meats, esp. Liver
  • Connective Tissue (tendons, ligaments, skin, fascia)
  • Meat (Grass-Fed Beef, Grass-Fed Lamb, Pasture-Raised Poultry)

Fats:

  • Tallow or Suet
  • Properly Raised and Fed Animal Fat (Grass-Fed, Pasture-Raised, Organic, etc.)
  • Ghee
  • Grass-Fed Butter
  • Grass-Fed Dairy
  • Olive Oil
  • Coconut Oil
  • MCT Oil
  • Pasture-Raised Egg Yolks
  • Cocoa Butter
  • Avocado Oil

Note: PUFAs – Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids – are toxic to the body and brain. Seed Oils, Vegetable Oils, and often overlooked, Fish and Fish Oils, are PUFAs, and should be avoided.

Nutrients:

  • Vitamin A (from liver or animal foods)
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7
  • Magnesium
  • Lithium

5. Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS)

Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation, abbreviated as tDCS, is the usage of electric currents to stimulate the brain. It has been used to help treat Dementia & Alzheimer’s, and recovery from stroke, and recently, has been used to treat depression and recovery from brain injury, and promote cognitive performance. tDCS has been found to improve healing of the brain and its performance, and neuroplasticity and learning. HaloNeuroscience and FlowNeuroscience are two brands that offer at-home tDCS headsets.

6. Transcranial Red (and Near-Infrared) Light Therapy

Transcranial Red & Near-Infrared Light Therapy, or Photobiomodulation, or Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT), is the use of red light and near-infrared light to improve health by shining red and near-infrared light sources on the body or skull. Red and NIR (Near-Infrared) Light, as well as UV light, have extensive research and effects on the body, and more recently, the brain. Shining Red & NIR Light on the cranium, or intra-nasally has recently gained much interest and growing research as to its effect, with some promising results and apparent benefits.

Red & NIR Light activates enzymes in cells and mitochondria that are integral to energy production and detoxification of the cell, reduce ROS (reactive-oxygen species) and free-radicals, lowers inflammation, promotes healing and regeneration, improves cellular respiration and mitochondrial function, promotes blood flow, and protects against the toxic effects of certain radiation and blue light. These benefits, and more, translate to the brain and neurons when these light sources are shown on the skull, and in some research, even just shining on other areas of the body, creating ‘down-stream’ effects and benefits. Remember, the brain and body are one organism, and the health of each other determines the other.

As stated earlier, this might be one of the mechanisms that Sunlight, which contains Red and Near-Infrared Light, be beneficial for brain health and neuroplasticity. Exposing the head to nice sunlight might have similar effects.

Research has found that Red & NIR Light therapy shown on the head has benefits for cognition, recovery from stroke and brain injury, and improves anxiety and depression, although research is still limited on brain-specific effects.

There is an issue of the intensity and duration of the light therapy, as different studies and different Red Light devices have different intensities of light/laser/radiation. It is unknown the ‘optimal’ intensity and duration of the light application, and there hasn’t been much effort into determining this. Research has found at least the application to be safe, without reported side effects, that we are aware of right now anyway. As with many things, too much can negate the benefits, and it isn’t wise to go irradiating your brain with just any device or bulb found online. In my personal experience, Red & NIR Light shown on my head/brain has had many benefits, especially for blood flow, depression, and anxiety, using an affordable device.

7. Coffee, Tea, Herba Mate

Coffee, Tea, and Herba Mate all contain polyphenols and other compounds that have been found to promote learning, cognitive health and performance, and neuroplasticity. Some of these compounds protect neurons, promote energy and protective functions, increase neurotrophic factors (see below), or have antioxidant functions. Caffeine also found in these plants, is one such compound that promotes neuroplasticity.

8. Caffeine

Caffeine, whether as a stand-alone supplement or that found in Coffee, Tea, Herba Mate, or Cacao & Dark Chocolate, increases Neuroplasticity.

9. Neurotrophic Factors / Neurotrophins

As previously stated, Neurotrophic Factors or Neurotrophins are proteins that drive neurogenesis and neuroplasticity. The most prominent and well-known and well-research Neurophins are BDNF and NGF, Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor and Nerve-Growth Factor respectively.

The same things that promote neuroplasticity also promote these growth factors, and is one of the mechanisms by which these things promote neuroplasticity. Caffeine, coffee, exercise, healthy sleep, sunlight, and nootropics like Lions Mane or Bacopa Monnieri – things that promote neuroplasticity – increase BDNF and NGF.

You can read more about increasing BDNF here and NGF here.

10. Novelty

The brain is almost exactly like a muscle, and the adage “Use it or lose it.” applies to the brain just like muscles. If we do not offer our brains healthy and fun stimulation, our brains will literally shrink in size, weaken in connections, and our cognitive abilities will decline.

Trying new things, changing up our routines, going to new places, meeting new people, and even just going for a walk along a different route are all ways we can add novelty to our daily lives, and improve neuroplasticity.

11. Fun

Fun is inexplicably intertwined with neuroplasticity. Fun promotes Neuroplasticity, and lack of fun is one of the driving forces of cognitive decline with age, or as seen in depression. With proper stimulation, our brains grow and change. Fun improves neuroplasticity directly and indirectly, through various mechanisms like reducing stress, improving hormonal status, improving sleep, drive and motivation, and more.

Incorporate fun into your routine, make it a point to relax and do something fun, maybe hang out with friends or go on a date, even just laying in the sun one warm afternoon or climbing a tree, make fun a habit.

12. Limit Excess-Stimulation / Avoid Addictions

As stated above, fun is integral to brain health and neuroplasticity, but things that develop from fun, like addictions or excessive compulsion, do the opposite, and actively reduce our neuroplasticity, mood, and cognitive performance. As per the adage, “The Poison Is In The Dosage.”, some of these things can be good actually in moderate amount, being fun and promoting exploration of the mind and creativity, inspiring and motivating us like a cool show or a fun video game, but too much does the opposite, restricting our potential and draining us, wreaking havoc on our mood and cognitions.

Avoid excesses that drain us, and limit us.

These include:

  • Music
  • Video Games
  • Anime
  • TV
  • Movies
  • Social Media
  • Porn & Masturbation
  • Sex
  • Pro-Dopamine Supplements (L-Tyrosine, L-Dopa, Taurine, Caffeine, etc.)

13. Polyphenols

As stated in 7. Coffee, Tea, Herba Mate, polyphenols, a type of compound in certain plants, fruits, vegetables, and herbs, have variously been found to promote BDNF, NGF, and neuroplasticity.

Sources of Polyphenols Include:

  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Herba Mate
  • Currants
  • Gooseberries
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Other Brightly Colored Berries
  • Beets
  • Grapes
  • Cacao & Dark Chocolate
  • Olive Oil
  • Various Spices and Herbs

14. Supplements

Various supplements, herbs, mushrooms & fungi, nutrients, and extracts have been found to increase neuroplasticity, or more specifically, increase Neurotrophic Factors like BDNF and NGF.

Many nootropics raise these Neurotrophins, and theoretically, would raise Neuroplasticity.

Supplements That Increase Neuroplasticity include:

  1. Coffee Fruit Extract
  2. Caffeine
  3. Green Tea Extract
  4. Gotu Kola
  5. Bacopa Monnieri
  6. Gingko Biloba
  7. Lions Mane
  8. Cordyceps
  9. Lithium (Orotate)
  10. Magnesium
  11. Vitamin B1
  12. Vitamin B6
  13. Huperzine A
  14. Artichoke Extract
  15. Rhodiola Rosea
  16. Panax Ginseng
  17. Eleuthero
  18. Royal Jelly
  19. Raw Honey
  20. Quercetin
  21. Rosemary
  22. Common Mushrooms (i.e. White, White Button, Enoki, Oyster, etc.)
  23. Alliums (i.e. Garlic, Leek, Onion, et.c)
  24. Rosemary & Lavender Essential Oils (smelling them raises BDNF and dopamine, but consumption might also have these effects)
  25. Mucuna Pruriens
  26. L-Tyrosine
  27. Blueberry Extract
  28. Taurine
  29. Saffron, Saffron Extract
  30. Garlic Oil, Extract
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