Neurogenesis is the creation of new neurons in the brain. It can improve memory and reduce anxiety and depression. Read more to learn what strategies you can use to increase neurogenesis.

What is Neurogenesis?

Neurogenesis is the growth of new neurons, which was originally believed to be absent in the adult brain [1].

Then, in 1961 a study showed that neurogenesis occurs in the brains of adult mice. Two years later, neurogenesis was found to occur in the hippocampus of adult mice and cats [2, 3].

We now know that neurogenesis occurs in two areas of the adult human brain: the hippocampus and the subventricular zone (SVZ). The function of the SVZ is relatively unknown in humans [4].

Stem cells and precursor cells (similar to stem cells but more restricted in what they can turn into) are needed for neurogenesis. They are essentially “blank slates” that are able to develop into neurons and other brain cells [5].

Neurogenesis in the Hippocampus

What is the Hippocampus?

The hippocampus is a part of the brain that plays a key role in learning and memory, spatial navigation, and control of emotion [6].

Why Increase Neurogenesis in the Hippocampus?

The hippocampus helps turn short-term memory into long-term memory [7].

Damage to the hippocampus can be caused by head trauma, stroke, seizures, and Alzheimer’s disease. Reduced hippocampal size is associated with schizophrenia, depression, and epilepsy [8, 9, 10, 11].

Oxygen deprivation, infections, and inflammation can also damage the hippocampus [12, 13].


In 1953, the link between the hippocampus and long-term memory formation was revealed after an epileptic patient had surgery to remove parts of his hippocampus. The patient developed severe amnesia after the surgery [14].

It has since been confirmed that the hippocampus helps create new memories and ensure their long-term survival [15].

Neurogenesis and Neurological Diseases and Disorders

The hippocampus is one of the first areas of the brain to be affected by Alzheimer’s disease. Cell loss in the hippocampus leads to confusion and memory loss in the early stages of the disease [16].

Increasing neurogenesis in the hippocampus may treat [17, 18]:

  • Depression
  • Epilepsy
  • Anxiety
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Huntington’s disease

Brain Injuries

Neurogenesis could be an effective therapy for stroke and traumatic brain injury (TBI) [19, 20].

In animal models of TBI, increasing neurogenesis improved post-injury brain function [21].

Compounds Involved in Neurogenesis

Different compounds play critical roles in adult neurogenesis [22]:

  • Morphogens are molecules that regulate the maintenance, survival, and development of precursor cells
  • Neurotrophic factors (like BDNF) are molecules that protect neurons and help new neurons grow and mature
  • Neurotransmitters like GABA, dopamine, glutamate, and serotonin
  • Transcription factors (including TLX and Sox2) are involved in precursor cell division and the development and organization of neurons

Ways to Increase Neurogenesis


1) Exercise Increases the Number of Neurons

Aerobic exercise increases the number of new neurons in the hippocampus and increases hippocampal volume [23, 24].

Running doubled the number of new cells in the hippocampus of mice [25].

Another study found that aerobic exercise increased hippocampal volume in 120 elderly adults with dementia [26].

2) Mental Exercise Increases the Survival of Neurons

Learning new skills (particularly challenging ones) increases the survival of new neurons in the hippocampus [27].

The hippocampus shrinks with age, and engaging in a complex mental activity is associated with less shrinkage [28, 29].

3) Sleep Promotes the Growth of New Neurons

Short-term sleep deprivation (less than one day) has little effect on neurogenesis [30].

However, chronic sleep deprivation can reduce neurogenesis by increasing levels of stress hormones [31].

Adequate sleep increases neurogenesis by lowering TNF-α and stress hormones [31].

4) Sex May Stimulate the Growth of New Neurons and Improve Memory

Both acute and chronic sexual activity increases neurogenesis in rats [32].

Sex prevented a decrease in neurogenesis and improved memory in chronically-stressed mice [33].

5) Meditation Reduces Stress

Stress is one of the main factors that decreases neurogenesis in the adult brain [34, 35, 36].

Both physical and social stresses decrease hippocampal neurogenesis [37, 38].

Meditation has been shown to increase the size of the hippocampus. This is likely due to increasing neurogenesis through stress reduction [39, 40].

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Diet & Nutrition

6) Flavonoids Protect the Brain

Flavonoids are a group of compounds found in most fruits and vegetables.

Cocoa flavonoids were shown to build up in the hippocampus and protect the brain in animal models of aging, dementia, and stroke [41].

Blueberries and oolong and green teas are rich in flavonoids and increase neurogenesis in the hippocampus [42, 43].

Studies show different flavonoids may have beneficial effects on brain health including [44, 45]:

  • Increasing brain blood flow and preventing the death of neurons [46]
  • Increasing BDNF [47]
  • Reducing depression [47]
  • Increasing precursor cells [48]

7) Ketogenic Diets

Ketogenic diets are low-carb and high-fat, and they induce the body to burn fat as its primary fuel source.

A ketogenic diet increases neurogenesis in mice with epilepsy [49].

However, another study reported that a ketogenic diet had no effect on neurogenesis in adult rats [50].

8) The LMN Diet

The LMN diet is a therapeutic diet rich in polyphenols and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

The LMN diet increases neurogenesis in mice by increasing precursor cells and mature neurons [51].

The LMN diet increased neurogenesis in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s. The diet also delayed the formation of amyloid plaques in the hippocampus and improved cognitive function [52].

9) Omega-3 Fatty Acids Increase the Connections between Neurons

The omega-3 fat DHA increased the formation of new connections in the hippocampus in gerbils [53].

Increased hippocampal neurogenesis via omega-3 fatty acids has been proposed as a way to prevent PTSD [54].

Herbs, Supplements, and Drugs

10) Resveratrol Improves Learning and Memory

Supplementation with high doses of resveratrol leads to an increase in new neurons [55].

Resveratrol increases angiogenesis (the formation of new blood vessels) and levels of growth factors that are associated with neurogenesis. These changes lead to improved learning and memory [56].

11) Phosphatidylcholine Protects the Neurons

Phosphatidylcholine is a lipid that is a key component of cell membranes.

Phosphatidylcholine prevented the decrease of hippocampal neurogenesis by decreasing TNF-alpha (in mice) [57].

12) Curcumin

Long-term curcumin use increased neurogenesis in chronically-stressed mice. It also prevented the decrease in serotonin receptors and BDNF in the hippocampus due to stress [58].

Curcumin also increased the number of new cells in the hippocampus in healthy adult mice [59].

13) Melatonin

Melatonin promotes neurogenesis in the hippocampus in cell and mice studies [60, 61].

Melatonin increases the effects of exercise and the antidepressant citalopram on hippocampal neurogenesis [62, 63].

In mice, melatonin reduces the decrease in neurogenesis caused by methamphetamine [64].

14) Nootropics Improve Cognitive Function

Nootropics, such as piracetam, FK-960, and SGS-111, increase the generation of neurons from human precursor cells in cell-based studies [65].

Noopept and Semax increased levels of NGF and BDNF, which are crucial to neurogenesis, in rats [66, 67].

NSI-189 showed antidepressant properties and improved cognitive function in patients with major depressive disorder. It also increased mice hippocampal volume by 20% [68].

15) Pregnenolone May Help with Alzheimer’s

Studies in rodents show that pregnenolone stimulates neurogenesis in the hippocampus [69, 70].

Pregnenolone also preserved hippocampal neurogenesis in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s, with an associated improvement in cognitive function [71].

16) DHEA Increases the Number of New Neurons

Pregnenolone is a precursor of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA).

DHEA increased the number of new neurons in the rat hippocampus and prevented decreased hippocampal neurogenesis from corticosterone, a stress hormone [72].

17) Chlorogenic acid Improves Memory

Chlorogenic acid is found in coffee and black tea. It promotes hippocampal neurogenesis in cell studies, along with its by-product m-coumaric acid [73].

Chlorogenic acid also helps protect the hippocampus and improves memory [74, 75].

18) Uridine Increases the Synapses between Neurons

Uridine is an important ingredient in mother’s milk that contributes to the generation of new synapses in infants [76].

Uridine-5’-monophosphate (UMP) increased new synapses in an animal study [53].

UMP also lead to the growth of existing neurons in cell studies, possibly through increasing NGF [77, 78].

19) Apigenin

Apigenin and related compounds increase hippocampal neurogenesis in mice [79].

20) Ashwagandha Prevents the Loss of Neurons

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an adaptogenic herb (promotes balance in the body).

Withanoside IV (a compound found in Ashwagandha) prevented loss of neurons caused by amyloid beta plaques in the hippocampus and brain cortex. This suggests that ashwagandha may benefit Alzheimer’s patients [80].

Ashwagandha protects the brains of diabetic mice damaged by a high-fat diet [81].

21) Ayahuasca May Stimulate the Growth of New Neurons

Ayahuasca contains the psychoactive compound dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and has anti-depressant and anti-anxiety properties [82].

Banisteriopsis caapi (one of the components of Ayahuasca) stimulates the development of neurons from precursor cells in mice [83].

22) Gotu Kola Protects the Neurons

Asiatic acid (a compound in Gotu Kola) increased neurogenesis in the hippocampus of mice [84].

Asiatic acid also reversed the impairments in hippocampal neurogenesis and memory caused by valproic acid (used in epilepsy) and the chemotherapy agent 5-fluorouracil [85, 86].

23) Cerebrolysin Protects the Neurons

Cerebrolysin is a mixture of peptides derived from the brain of pigs.

In a mouse model of Alzheimer’s, cerebrolysin restored neurogenesis and decreased cell death in the hippocampus [87].

Similar effects were observed in the subventricular zone (part of the brain) in mice after stroke [88].

24) Ibogaine Increases the Growth of Neurons in the Hippocampus

Ibogaine is a natural psychoactive substance found in plants of the Apocynaceae family.

Ibogaine was found to steadily increase the levels of GDNF in cell studies, which increased cell growth and neurons in the hippocampus (in mice) [89, 90].

25) Lithium

Lithium generated new cells and prevented their death in the hippocampus of mice [91].

Lithium also prevented the death of progenitor cells and improved learning in mice [92].

Lithium improved cognitive function and stimulated neurogenesis in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s [93].

26) Psilocybin

Psilocybin is a compound with hallucinogenic and euphoric effects that is produced by more than 180 species of mushrooms.

Low doses of psilocybin increased new neurons in the hippocampus in mice [94].

27) Ginseng May Enhance Memory and Cognitive Function

Rg3 is a member of the ginsenoside class of compounds and is found in Panax ginseng.

Rg3 protected the brain and had antidepressant and anti-inflammatory effects in cell and mice studies [95, 96, 97]. Enhanced memory and cognitive function have also been shown [97].

Cell studies show that Rg3 causes the generation of neurons from stem cells [98].

28) SSRIs (Antidepressants)

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI), like fluoxetine and sertraline, have been shown to increase neurogenesis [99, 100].

Evidence shows increased hippocampal neurogenesis is required to produce positive results from antidepressants [101, 102].

29) Testosterone and DHT Increase the Survival of New Neurons in the Hippocampus

Testosterone and its derivative dihydrotestosterone (DHT) increased hippocampal neurogenesis by increasing the survival of new neurons in mice [103].

In rats, testosterone prevented the decrease in neurogenesis caused social isolation [103].

30) Red Light Therapy Helps Regenerate Neurons

Red light therapy (through low-level laser therapy) helps protect the brain and nerve cells after a stroke, traumatic brain injury, and other brain disorders. The mitochondria in the cells absorb red light and cause responses in nitric oxide, cyclic AMP, and reactive oxygen species [104].

In various studies, red light therapy increased neuron axonal regrowth, neuron regeneration, and provided overall nerve cell protection after brain injuries [104].

Want More Targeted Ways to Enhance Brain Function?

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About the Author

Will Hunter

BA (Psychology)
Will received his BA in Psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles. 
Will's main passion is learning how to optimize physical and mental performance through diet, supplement, and lifestyle interventions. He focuses on systems thinking to leverage technology and information and help you get the most out of your body and brain.

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