There are three things I hope you’ll learn about in this article:
I’m kidding; I remember the third one, but it’s a bit meta, and we’re better off saving it for the end anyway.
So, let’s go to the study. It comes to us from King’s College London, where researchers wanted to determine whether intermittent fasting would spur the development of new hippocampal neurons and improve memory performance in lab mice.
Their experiment ran three months, and focused neurologically on brain genes known as Klotho. Researchers divided the mice into three groups:
- A control group of mice who were fed as they normally had been,
- A calorie-restricted group (CR), that had its daily food intake reduced by 10 percent, and
- An intermittent fasting group (IF), that had its food similarly reduced, but was fed only every other day during the study.
At the end, the mice in the IF group had “improved long-term memory retention compared to the other groups,” according to a university press release. “When the brains of these mice were studied, it was apparent that the Klotho gene was upregulated, and neurogenesis increased compared to those that were on the CR diet.”
The study ran in the journal, Molecular Psychiatry.
“Our results demonstrate that Klotho … plays a central role in adult neurogenesis,” said Dr. Sandrine Thuret, who was involved in the study, and who leads the Adult Neurogenesis & Mental Health Laboratory at King’s College, “and suggests that ‘IF’ is an effective means of improving long-term memory retention in humans.”
Here’s the second thing to share. It’s about that phrase Thuert uses: “adult neurogenesis.”
I think a lot of us grew up with the understanding that the brain was one of the few parts of the body that can’t regenerate.
Not so at all, says Thuret, who has an 11 million-view TED Talk on the subject called, quite literally: “You can grow new brain cells. Here’s how.”
This is fairly new science, Thuret makes clear, opening her TED Talk by describing how she introduced a colleague who is a medical doctor — an oncologist — to the concept.
But by the time you turn 50 years old, she says, your brain has regenerated to the point that all of the original neurons you were born with have been exchanged for “adult-born neurons.”
So among questions for researchers are whether regenerated neurons are more efficient neurons, and whether there are things that people can do to spur their growth and regeneration.
Sure enough, Thuret says, there are natural activities that encourage and discourage neurogenesis, such as:
- Sleep, sex, and running? More neurogenesis.
- Sleep deprivation, aging, and stress? Less neurogenesis.
- And, the foods and drinks we intake also can also increase or decrease neurogenesis.
Intake of flavonoids and Omega-3 fatty acids for example, (think dark chocolate or blueberries, or else fatty fish like salmon), increase neurogenesis, while alcohol (sorry, but it’s probably not a surprise), can decrease it.
As perhaps you’ve guessed, as Thuret and her colleagues suggested during their recent study with mice, caloric intake or intermittent fasting — defined as simply, she says, as “spacing the time between your meals — will increase neurogenesis.”
Which brings us to the third big takeaway. It has to do with hope and the utility of all of this research for business leaders.
The clinical hope largely has to do with whether adult neurogenesis can help to “prevent the decline associated with aging,” as Thuret puts it, “or associated with stress.”
But for you, the utility is probably even more immediate.
Because I’ll bet you spend your day thinking of bold ideas, communicating with stakeholders, maybe making presentations, and ultimately trying to remember a million little things that you need in order to be successful.
All the pieces matter, and memory plays a key part.
So, if there’s evidence that a small change in lifestyle — whether it’s intermittent fasting or a diet change, or getting more sleep, or going running or, ahem, other aerobic activities, maybe it makes sense to try a few of these out.