Did you know that you were born with nearly 100 billion cells in your brain? That’s enough to easily last you a lifetime, even if you account for the thousands of brain cells that naturally die off each day.
But some bad habits can speed up the loss of brain cells and negatively impact your mental health. Losing too many neurons early in life can increase your risk of cognitive problems later in life like brain fog, memory loss, and other brain disorders.
Limited amount of brain cells...
Unlike other cells in your body that are constantly replicating themselves, brain cells that you lose aren’t coming back. At least, not in the amounts that would be required to replace the loss.
For example, a stroke can kill two million neurons (type of brain cell) per minute. Meanwhile, your hippocampus, the part of the brain that’s vital for learning and memory can only create about 1,400 neurons per day.
As you can see, even though the brain is one of the most complex structures in existence, it is also incredibly vulnerable. Here are eight destructive habits you’ll want to avoid that’s quickly killing your brain cells.
1. Ignoring your stress levels
Under normal circumstances, stress isn’t harmful. Your “fight or flight” response is there to help you deal with danger or react to emergencies. Stress is only truly harmful when it’s in excess. When that happens, your brain cells pay the price.
Stress triggers the release of a hormone called cortisol. This chemical signals the neurons in the prefrontal cortex to disconnect and stop firing. The prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain in charge of logic and reasoning.
Studies have found that high levels of cortisol wear down the brain’s ability to function properly. In addition, consistent elevated stress levels can kill brain cells, which can cause parts of the brain to shrink.
Some of the best methods for reducing stress include breathing exercises, yoga, adaptogenic herbs, meditation and therapy. Here are some additional ideas on what you can do to help manage your stress levels:
- Taking a “time out,” or walking away temporarily from a stressful situation.
- Repeating an internal “mantra,” such as “Everything’s going to be okay.”
- Going for a walk or taking some other type of physical action to get your energy out of your body.
- Using mindfulness, such as focusing on something using your senses.
2. Eating too much sugar
Consuming more sugar than you should occasionally is not a big deal. However, when it becomes a habit to grab a soda for lunch, and have ice cream after every meal, and even start to bring sugary snacks with you in the car, eventually the problems will begin to build up.
Having too much sugar floating inside your head is lethal to brain cells. Neurons are susceptible to damage as a result of poor blood-glucose control. The long-term effects of poor control are associated with the accelerated death of neurons, and dementia – notably Alzheimer’s disease.
3. Being a Couch Potato
It’s time to stand up and do something about it. While leading a sedentary lifestyle doesn’t directly kill brain cells, the effects that are associated with lack of exercise happen to be killers. That’s because exercise helps lower stress levels, improves blood sugar control, and even helps promote neurogenesis.
By not exercising, you indirectly set your brain cells up for an early death. When it comes to exercising you don’t have to workout to the point of fainting or exhaustion. You just need to start somewhere and slowly progress.
4. Skipping nature’s skittles
Every day your body is exposed to thousands of free radicals in the form of air pollution, hazardous chemicals, and so on. These toxic compounds accelerate aging in your whole body, including your brain.
Air pollution has often been shown to be harmful to the lungs and heart, but the latest research shows that some airborne pollutants can also bypass the blood-brain barrier and lead to brain disorders.
Researchers have found that tiny particles from air pollution can travel from your lungs to your blood, and then pass through the brain-blood barrier. Once inside the brain, these harmful particles can cause inflammation and accelerate the aging process of brain cells in a process called oxidative stress.
Fortunately, your body is able to use antioxidants to prevent this from happening. While there are many antioxidants that can be found in nature, some are more useful to the brain. The most well-known include carotenoids and flavonoids, as well as important vitamins and minerals.
The majority of antioxidants you get from your diet are mostly found in fruits and vegetables. The brighter the color, the higher the level of disease-fighting antioxidants in that particular food. Here’s a list of nutrients that help protect your brain:
- Carotenoids are found in leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale, and broccoli. They help prevent brain inflammation, oxidative stress, and the negative effects of free radicals.
- Flavonoids can be found in blueberries, grapes, cocoa, dark chocolate, and tea.
- Vitamin C is in pretty much every plant food you can imagine. The highest amount can be found in bell peppers.
- Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s. Your body naturally produces Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight.
- Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant that’s easily able to cross the blood-brain barrier. Good sources of vitamin E include Nuts, seeds, dark-colored fruits, and vegetables.
- Selenium is a mineral with antioxidant properties that can be found in shellfish, chicken, and Brazil nuts.
5. Not getting enough beauty sleep
Sleep is probably one of the most important habits for brain health. Losing sleep every now and then isn’t a big issue. At most, you’ll feel groggy or grumpy, and out of focus. But a habit of poor sleep can wreak havoc on your brain and mental health.
That’s because sleep is the time your body uses for recovery. And your brain in particular uses this time to flush out toxins and waste products linked to Alzheimer’s and dementia. If you’re consistently burning the midnight oil, you may be burning out brain cells as well.
One study found that staying awake for too long can damage brain cells and even kill them. Additionally, current research shows a strong correlation between mental health problems and sleep deprivation.
According to the Sleep Health Foundation, almost 60 to 90 percent of patients with depression also have insomnia. And more than half of all insomnia cases are associated with depression, anxiety, or psychological stress, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
If you have trouble sleeping, here are some sleeping tips you can use:
- If you can’t fall asleep within 20-30 minutes of trying, get out of bed and do something else for 15 minutes like reading a book, then try again.
- Some people work better in the mornings, while others work best at night. Adjust your sleep schedule accordingly.
- If you enjoy taking naps. Don’t nap for more than 30 minutes.
- If stress is keeping you up, try taking a bath with magnesium, which is a well-known relaxation mineral.
- Avoid sleeping on your stomach. It’s considered the worst sleeping position, as it puts a lot of pressure on your body and strains your back.
- Listening to calming sounds or white noise can help you fall asleep. There are lots of websites or apps that let you play forest sounds, rain, or static noise.
Interestingly enough, only about 3% of the world’s population possesses a gene that allows them to function just fine with only 6 hours of sleep per day. Researchers still don’t know to this day whether this is healthy or not.
6. Getting drunk too often
Going out for happy hour a few times a month isn’t much of an issue long-term. But if you’re drinking heavily or binge drinking often, you should consider reaching out for help.
Alcohol is a neurotoxin that can damage neurons and even kill them. When this occurs, it makes it more difficult for healthy neurons to communicate. Similar to not exercising, alcohol may also kill brain cells indirectly by increasing your risk of strokes, head injuries, and accidents.
7. Smoking is bad…M’kay?
Everyone knows that cigarettes are terrible for your lungs and heart, but very few know about its effects on the brain.
There are plenty of studies that have found that people who smoke cigarettes experience faster cognitive decline than nonsmokers. Smoking also increases your risk of dementia, a condition that can affect memory, thinking abilities, language skills, judgement, and behavior.
In one study, researchers found that smokers, compared to nonsmokers, had greater amounts of age-related brain volume loss in several areas of the brain.
Even if you aren’t able to fix all of your bad habits in one shot, taking a small step in the right direction can help slow down brain cell death.
And one last thing before you head off. Losing a few million neurons won’t automatically make you “dumber.” Thanks to something called neuroplasticity, your brain is able to adapt and recover much of its previous function.
This is why some people who survive a stroke can return back to living a normal life. Surviving neurons simply make new connections and take on more work to compensate for the losses. But ideally, you’ll want to avoid having a stroke in the first place. And that involves fixing any bad habits you may have.