How to Build Brain Cells at Any Age

Understanding how your brain works is the key to enhancing intelligence, stamina for study, and protecting yourself from decline in memory. It is the brain that sets us apart from other species. More than space, the brain is the new frontier.

Watch this film – Build Brain Cells at Any Age

Babies are born with about 100 billion neurons that connect to each other, held in place, and insulated by roughly the same number of glial cells which also nourish and protect the neurons, feeding them with fuel and nutrients.[i] Glial cells get damaged by ordinary mobile phone signals, with ten years mobile phone use more than doubling risk of brain cancer (glioma). Gliomas are very much on the increase, and very hard to treat, accounting for over 2,000 deaths a year – more than the number killed in road traffic accidents.

Contrary to popular view, you don’t necessarily lose neurons as you age, but you can if you lack certain nutrients.

Neurons are actually made out of a membrane of omega-3 (DHA)  stuck to phospholipids, and the binding of the two depends on a processes called methylation, itself dependent on B vitamins. You’ll also notice that cholesterol is critical which is why statins, drugs that knock out cholesterol production, are so strongly linked with rapid onset of memory decline.[ii]

Vitamins B3, pantothenic acid (B5), B6, folate and B12 all have critical roles in memory and brain function. If your blood homocysteine level is high you’re not good at methylation, and likely to have declining memory. A study by researchers at Sweden’s Orebro University Hospital, involving almost 700 schoolchildren, compared the school grades, and sum of school grades, in 10 core subjects, with homocysteine levels. The higher their homocysteine levels, and the lower their B vitamin status, the lower were their school grades.[iii] How powerful is that for showing the direct link between nutrition and intelligence?

DHA – the Essential Omega

But, however good your are at methylation you have to have the phospholipids and omega-3s to start with. Oily fish contain roughly equal amounts of EPA and DHA. However, according to a meta-analysis published last year in the Public Library of Services journal ‘DHA, alone or combined with EPA, contributes to improved memory function in older adults (45+) with mild memory complaints’[4]. The benefit, they say, is apparently driven by DHA, at a daily level between 500 and 1,000mg. There is also evidence of benefit for schoolchildren. [iv]

These omegas have more of an effect on EQ (emotional intelligence) than IQ. That’s why studies show children become less aggressive and reactive and calm down. I’m sure that’s what helps them concentrate better. The same is true for all of us. We become dumber when emotions are running high.

To achieve at least 500mg of both EPA and DHA does mean supplementing them, as well as eating fish. Most omega-3 fish oil supplements provide 250mg of each EPA and DHA. If you eat oily fish three times a week, plus a tub of taramasalata – fish roe is a great source – that is another good source of DHA.

There are vegan DHA supplements, derived from seaweed or algae. Chia seeds are the highest vegetarian source of omega-3, however studies show very little increase in DHA levels from eating flax or chia seeds or their oils. Children of vegans and those who avoid seafood or have low omega-3 intake have worse cognition and social development[v]. It is absolutely essential that young children have a direct supply of DHA and phospholipids, which means supplementation, be it from fish oils or from vegan DHA supplements. That is why we recommend vegans, and especially vegan children, to at least supplement DHA.  Fish oil derived omega-3 provides both brain building DHA and also mood boosting and anti-inflammatory EPA so is superior in this respect.

Food for the Brain is a non-for-profit educational and research charity that offers  a free Cognitive Function Test and assesses your Dementia Risk Index to be able to advise you on how to dementia-proof your diet and lifestyle. By completing the Cognitive Function Test you are joining our grassroots research initiative to find out what really works for preventing cognitive decline. We share our ongoing research results with you to help you make brain-friendly choices. Please support our research by becoming a Friend of Food for the Brain.


[i] C. Bartheld ‘The Search for True Numbers of Neurons and Glial Cells in the Human Brain: A Review of 150 Years of Cell Counting’ J Comp Neurol. 2016 Dec 15; 524(18): 3865–3895. []

[ii]  Strom BL et al. Statin Therapy and Risk of Acute Memory Impairment. JAMA Intern Med. 2015 Aug;175(8):1399-405 []

[iii] A. K. Borjel et al., ‘Plasma homocysteine levels, MTHFR polymorphisms and school achievement in a population sample of Swedish children’, Homocysteine Metab, Vol 1, 2005, p. 4

[iv] K Yurko-Mauro et al, ‘Docosahexaenoic acid and adult memory: a systematic review and meta-analysis.’ PLoS One. 2015; 10(3): e0120391

[v] J. Hibbeln et al., ‘Maternal seafood consumption in pregnancy and neurodevelopmental outcomes in childhood (ALSPAC study): an observational cohort study.’Lancet. 2007 Feb 17;369(9561):578-85.