Synaptogenesis simply means “to create new synapses”. What is a synapse? At the end of a neuron, there is a portion called the synapse where one neuron can communicate to another neuron by sending chemical messages that we call neurotransmitters.
Chemicals like dopamine, which is known to many as the “reward” chemical, is an example of one of these neurotransmitters. In the womb and in the first few years of life is when the most rapid growth of neurons, and synapses occurs.
This is Why Kids Learn Faster
This is called “exuberant synaptogenesis”, however, this process of synaptogenesis occurs throughout our entire lives. This process of change is known as “synaptic plasticity”. Many neurodegenerative conditions are characterized by a loss of the ability to change or rearrange these connections.
The simplest way to understand this process is a simple phrase that many people have heard in so called “pop-science”. The idea is that “neurons that fire together wire together”.
Neurons Make Networks
This idea is actually rooted in scientific research. Neurons fire in patterns together, and the more often certain neurons fire in relation with each other, the more connections are made between them. These connections eventually become our thought patterns, skills, and habits.
In this article, I’ll explain how this process of brain growth and maintenance works as well as natural ways you can increase your synaptic plasticity and ability to learn. Below is an image of a synaptic cleft which is where one synapse meets another neuron.
The Structure of Neurons and Synapses
Axons and dendrites are the part of the nerves that do that send electrical signals back and forth through the neuron, and they function very much like the wires we use in our homes that channel electricity.
The synapse is the part that does the communication between neurons as this is where the neurotransmitters are sent across the synaptic cleft to the next neuron.
This is how neurons communicate with one another. This seems very simple at first glance, and the basic mechanisms are very simple.
However, like a bunch of building blocks, the blocks themselves are fairly simple, but when we put a lot of them together in interrelationship the systems can get very complex.
Most Complex Game of Building Blocks in The Universe
Scientists estimate that the number of neurons in a human nervous system is approximately 10 trillion!
Imagine you have a few different types of building blocks, and this allows you to create a variety of ways that you can put those building blocks together.
For example, you could make vertical stacks, horizontal lines, or even more complex figures that are only limited by your imagination, or the number of blocks that you have at your disposal.
Infinite Blocks that Can Link Up in Infinite Ways
Well the human nervous system has roughly 10 trillion building blocks to work with, and the designs are constantly responding, and changing to every little stimuli in your environment whether or not you are aware of the stimulus!
Below is an image with more detailed anatomy of a neuron. Synapses can send neurotransmitters directly into your bloodstream, into the middle of an axon or dendrite, into the fluid surrounding normal cells, or even into another synapse!
This list is by no means exhaustive, and now imagine that you have 10 trillion of these neurons that are constantly rewiring themselves all the time. New neurons are created while other neurons die, and this is literally happening all the time even while you sleep.
Many of the mechanisms that drive these shifts in old connections, and drive the creation of new connections still remain a mystery to scientists. However, we do have a lot of compelling research about various supplements, and techniques for creating and maintaining neurons.
How Do I Make All of This Work?
In an attempt to keep this as simple and practical as possible, there are certain nutrients that serve as the pieces that new neurons will built from, and then there are signaling molecules called neurotrophins that tell all of those pieces to come together in a specific way.
It’s like you have all of the materials to build a house, but then you need the construction contractor who tells all of the workers to put the pieces together in a certain way.
The neurotrophins are the contractors, the nutrients are the workers and the materials, and the neuron is the finished house.
Natural Ways to Raise BDNF aka “Fertilizer for Your Brain”!
Before we get into the building materials, let’s discuss the directors of the show: neurotrophins. There are at least four neurotrophins that we know of so far. The two most well researched neurotrophins are Nerve Growth Factor (NGF), and Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF).
NGF deals mainly in sensory, and sympathetic neurons which can make our perception seem more crisp, and vibrant, but it can make us overly sensitive to environmental influences if we over do it.
BDNF has been nicknamed “fertilizer for the brain” by many researchers and doctors, and it may even has antidepressant-like effects in humans.
We believe that living a healthy and balanced lifestyle leads to a healthy balanced brain, and there are many simple lifestyle changes that have been shown in studies to increase levels of BDNF.
- Getting out in the sun
- Doing yoga
- Doing mental tasks like puzzles
- Doing physically demanding tasks
- Doing anything new and/or challenging for you.
- Spending time with loved ones
- Curcumin (from turmeric)
- Resveratrol (from red grapes or Japanese knotweed)
- Intermittent fasting (even with as little as 12 hours of fasting)
Read our Full Article on BDNF to learn even more ways to optimize your brain function.
So what are the building blocks?
The most impactful nutrients that we see in the creation of new neurons are DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), UMP (uridine monophosphate), and choline. These nutrients are synthesized into the phosphatides that make up out neurons through a process called the Kennedy Cycle.
Since all of these nutrients work together in this cycle, their effects are dramatically boosted when they are all used together instead of taking them independently (R). Read our Full Article on DHA here.
Simply put DHA is a special fatty acid that our neurons, and myelin are made of. Our brains are about 50-60% fat, and it is estimated that approximately 30% of our brains are specifically made of DHA.
Choline: Food for Thought
What about the other two nutrients? Citicoline (or CDP-choline) is a special form of choline that our own bodies produce. When most people supplement choline, they are adding it to boost levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in their brains.
Acetylcholine is known for increasing memory, learning, and focus. It is stimulating to the central nervous system, and greatly enhances one’s ability to pay attention to a single task for an extended period of time.
About 18% of CDP-choline is converted into acetylcholine within a short period of ingestion, and the rest is stored as phosphatidylcholine (PC) or some other similar compound in our neurons.
In clinical studies of subjects who were given CDP-choline , we observed an increase see an increase in the number of neurons of in their brains, the number dopamine receptors, and the number of acetylcholine receptors in these new neurons.
Not only this, but researchers saw an increase in our sensitivity to these neurotransmitters which means it took less of each neurotransmitter to achieve the desired increase in focus and motivation
For more on citicoline, and other types of choline check out our Full Article on Choline.
Our Favorite Dietary Sources of Choline:
- Grass-fed beef liver (356 mg/3 oz serving)
- Pastured, organic eggs (147 mg/1 large egg )
- Grass-fed beef (97 mg/3 oz serving)
- Scallop (94 mg/3 oz serving)
- Wild-caught salmon (75 mg/3 oz serving)
- Organic chicken (73 mg/3 oz serving)
- Wild-caught Atlantic cod (71 mg/3 oz serving)
- Shrimp (69 mg/3 oz serving)
- Organic broccoli (63 mg/1 cup serving size)
- Organic brussel sprouts (63 mg/1 cup serving size)
*NOTE: a 3 oz serving size is about the size of a deck of cards
(Nutritional data comes from an article by the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State; click HERE for full article)
Uridine: The Unsung Signaller
Another great benefit of citicoline as a source of choline is that during the conversion process in the Kennedy Cycle, uridine is created in the brain as a by-product. Uridine is is a nucleoside that is most notably involved in the creation of RNA (ribonucleic acid).
We all know about DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), and how it is formed in a double helix like a twisted ladder. RNA looks like half of the ladder, and it is one way our DNA communicates with other parts of the cell (called mRNA or messenger RNA).
Uridine is very special because it is a base pair only found in RNA, and not DNA. This makes it the rate-limiting factor for creating mRNA so if we don’t have enough of it, then we cannot make the mRNA our neurons need to send signals to other areas of our cells.
Food Sources and Supplements
Uridine can be found in some foods like broccoli, beets, mushrooms, and organ meats like liver and pancreas, but we can also add uridine monophosphate as a supplement if increasing synaptic plasticity is our goal.
Below are some supplements that we recommend: