Can Food Increase Neuroplasticity?

In today’s blog, we will investigate whether certain foods can increase neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change and adapt. How can certain foods and nutrients enhance this process? Keep reading.
Frederika Malichová

Frederika Malichová

Neuroscientist at the University Of Cambridge.

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Can Food Increase Neuroplasticity?

Yes, certain foods can enhance neuroplasticity. Notably, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and flavonoids found in fish, fruits, and veggies have been shown to increase brain plasticity. Do incorporate these foods into your diet to help your brain’s neuroplasticity. 

What is neuroplasticity?

Neuroplasticity, brain plasticity, or cortical plasticity are terms that refer to the ability of the brain to change, adapt, and create new connections as a response to different experiences and stimuli. These experiences can be both negative and positive. For instance, injury, disease processes, or learning a new skill can all be considered stimuli [1, 2, 3]

Neuroplasticity involves changes in the number of brain cells, remodeling connections between synapses, and altering the structure and function of brain cells [1].

It is a dynamic process that plays a crucial role in developing and maintaining brain function (such as learning and memory). However, it is also important in recovery from brain injury and adaptation to environmental changes [3].

Adding to the dynamicity of this process, it is not limited to the developmental stage of life. Neuroplasticity can occur at any stage. Although neuroplasticity is particularly active throughout development, it is not restricted to it. What is important is that in the adult brain, the brain circuits can be modified in response to new learning or brain injuries. These are called adaptive neuroplasticity and reactive neuroplasticity respectively [4].

How can we increase neuroplasticity?

As we mentioned, neuroplasticity can be influenced by various lifestyle factors and behaviors. 

Let’s examine a few examples that can positively impact and increase your neuroplasticity:

For instance, regular physical activity can promote neuroplasticity, and having a regular exercise routine that you enjoy helps stimulate this process [5].

Constant learning and activities like learning a new language, playing an instrument, reading books playing games, and doing puzzles can boost your brain function and promote neuroplasticity [5].

Likewise, the quality of sleep (preferably 7 to 8 hours) is another important factor that can influence neuroplasticity [5].

Even therapies like non-invasive brain stimulation techniques and neuropharmacological interventions seem to be enhancing cognitive and motor learning and therefore promoting neuroplasticity [6].

However, another important contributor to neuroplasticity is nutrition. Diets that are high in fat and sugar can negatively impact neurogenesis. But, eating polyphenols like turmeric or intermittent fasting can promote neuroplasticity [5, 7, 8].Examples of negative adaptive neuroplasticity, or the one that decreases your neuroplasticity are: 

For example, chronic stress can reduce neural plasticity. Therefore it is crucial to find effective ways to manage stress levels [5]. Further, depression can prevent neuronal plasticity, highlighting the importance of mental health care [5].

Is there any particular type of food that can increase neuroplasticity?

Yes, nutrition can be an important factor in forming and modifying neuroplasticity. Therefore it is natural that there are some dietary components that can enhance neuroplasticity. 

One key component is curcumin, found in turmeric which has anti-oxidative properties. Curcumin can prevent rapid aging of the brain and influence brain plasticity [8]. Other dietary polyphenols can be found in blueberries and olive oil, which have also been shown to induce neurogenesis in adult brains [9].

Furthermore, polyunsaturated fatty acids, in particular omega-3 fatty acids are also beneficial. They have been recognized for improving cognitive function, promoting neuroplasticity, and protecting against neurological lesions. A type of omega-3 acid: Docosahexaenoic acid has been shown to enhance the effects of exercise on cognition and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)-related synaptic plasticity [10].

In addition, walnuts have also been found to upregulate neurogenesis [11]

On the contrary, deity high in fat and refined sugar can reduce BDNF as well as neuronal plasticity and learning [9]

In conclusion, a diet rich in curcumin, PUFAs, and polyphenols, and low in high-fat and refined sugars, can potentially enhance neuroplasticity.

Frederika Malichová

Frederika Malichová

Frederika is a postgraduate researcher at the University of Cambridge, where she investigates new biomarkers for Frontotemporal Dementia and other tauopathies. Her research has been published at prestigious conferences such as the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2023. She obtained her BSc in Biomedical Sciences from UCL, where she worked closely with the UK Dementia Research Institute.