Tuesday, October 3

Behavior that nourishes and shrinks the hippocampus


If you want to maintain or improve your memory, you need to nourish your brain, especially the hippocampus. Located in the temporal lobes, this pair of thumb-sized structures plays a critical role in our ability to learn and remember. Hippocampus means seahorse in Greek because its shape resembles these sea creatures. Our daily habits either feed or shrink our hippocampus.

Why is the hippocampus important?

You can think of the hippocampus as a gateway to brain structures for memory formation. Long-term memories pass through these structures before they are stored in the brain. For example, visual signals are sent and stored in the occipital lobes, sensory signals go to the parietal lobes, and sounds go to the temporal lobes.

When the hippocampus is healthy, it helps with learning and memory. If these brain structures shrink or lose volume, memory problems occur, cognitive decline; In severe cases, it is associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

Neuroimaging research reveals another reason why the hippocampus is so important to us: accordingly, these structures contain stem cells that produce new neurons. This means that the hippocampus is constantly evolving throughout adulthood. One study suggests that if humans created conditions to nourish the hippocampus, the hippocampus could produce up to 700 new hippocampal cells per day.

How do we feed the hippocampus?

In light of all this information, it can be said that it is very important to know what nourishes the hippocampus and what reduces it. Here’s what you can do to fuel your hippocampus.

1. Take action

According to a growing body of research, including findings published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, forcing the heart to pump blood through aerobic exercise can increase the size of the hippocampus. The more hippocampal cells, the better when it comes to memory and learning.

Another study shows that exercise also protects the hippocampus from the harmful effects of chronic stress. More importantly, you don’t have to run a marathon to reap these benefits. Another hippocampal study found that walking at a slow pace increased hippocampal volume in older women!

2. Do mental exercises

Just like you train your body, you need to train your brain to fuel your hippocampus. While it may seem surprising, a 2020 study found that playing 3D video games improved hippocampal memory in healthy young adults.

Among other ways of mental exercise to nourish the hippocampus, memorizing poems can be noted. The study, presented at BMC Neuroscience, had participants memorize 500 words a week for 6 weeks, then complete a series of memory tests and undergo a non-invasive imaging technique that provides information about cellular activity. How do you think the results turned out? At the end of the study, the hippocampus showed improved memory and improved metabolic function!

3. Learn something new

Learning new things is also one of the best things you can do for your hippocampus. A study in Neuroimage has shown that intensive training, such as studying in law or medical school, leads to an increase in the hippocampus in as little as 14 weeks!

Of course, going back to school is not the only way to develop this brain structure. According to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, learning to play only one musical instrument can also help increase the size of the hippocampus. It also increases neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change structure, function, and connections. Essentially, this is what helps your brain adapt throughout your life.

So what are the things that shrink the hippocampus?

Now you know how to feed your hippocampus. When you implement the above methods into your life, your memory will thank you for everything. However, it can also be helpful to know what reduces the size of the hippocampus. Here are a few things that are known to shrink the hippocampus.

1. Chronic stress

We all know that stress can be detrimental to physical health and emotional well-being. Stress, unfortunately, also damages our hippocampus. Animal studies show that chronic stress reduces the size of the hippocampus. In fact, long-term exposure to stress hormones such as cortisol kills new cells produced in the hippocampus. Midlife stress has also been associated with cognitive decline later in life.


2. High blood sugar

The high blood sugar seen in type 1 and type 2 diabetes is associated with a smaller hippocampus. Prediabetes and even slightly elevated blood sugar levels have been linked to shrinking hippocampus and memory problems. For example, in one nondiabetic study, people with an average blood glucose level of 115 milligrams per deciliter were 18% more likely to develop dementia than people with an average blood glucose level of 100 mg/dL. The risk of dementia increased as glucose levels gradually increased.

3. Low in omega-3 fatty acids

Did you know that most people are low in omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA? In one study, 50 consecutive patients were tested for omega-3 fatty acid levels. 49 out of 50 had shockingly inadequate levels. In another analysis, the research team examined brain SPECT images from 130 patients and compared them with EPA and DHA levels. Patients with the lowest levels of omega-3 fatty acids also had lower blood flow to the brain. This is worrisome because low blood flow is the #1 neuroimaging predictor of future cognitive decline. A brain scan showed low blood flow in the right hippocampus, among other areas.

A growing body of scientific evidence points to a link between omega-3 fatty acids, hippocampal size, and cognitive function. For example, a 2022 neuroscience study found that people with higher blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids had larger hippocampal volume and better abstract thinking.

How good is your hippocampus?

How about a little short-term memory exercise to understand how your hippocampus works? It’s called the Memory Test. You will need a pen and paper to try.

  • You will see ten items listed below. All you have to do is read them once. Then read it again, and when you’re done, take a moment to write down the points in the order you remember them without cheating.
  • Umbrella
  • shoes
  • cute toy
  • Melon
  • Tree
  • Yogurt
  • Parrot
  • Laptop
  • red jumper


How many of them did you guess? Were they all in the correct order? This short term test tested your memory. Of course, when it comes to learning something new, your long-term memory needs to be in good shape. That’s why it’s so important to keep your hippocampus in good working order. Fortunately, now you know what you need to do to improve it!

Sources: mindbodygreen, growthengineering.co.uk

You may be interested in: Ways to keep the mind active, memory strong, brain youthful

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