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What Is Neuroplasticity?

Published by Dr. Venn-Watson
Dr. Eric Venn-Watson’s Highlights
    • Neuroplasticity is the neuroscience of the human brain’s ability to establish new connections between brain cells to heal and restructure itself. 
    • Different brain regions control different processes, and the brain's malleability can help restore function in these areas after injury or even help you learn a new language.
    • Taking a brain-healthy supplement like fatty15 can support your brain’s ability to remain adaptive.*

The nervous system is complex, and sitting at the top (both figuratively and literally) of the system is the brain. The brain controls every function in your body by effectively responding to intrinsic and extrinsic stimuli and helping your body adjust to those stimuli to remain in balance or homeostasis. 

Part of this functionality involves neuroplasticity, sometimes called synaptic plasticity, neural plasticity, or brain plasticity. Though it goes by many names, it refers to the brain’s ability to adapt and change. 

Two Types of Neuroplasticity

The ability of the brain to change, modify, and redirect itself to help restore, heal, and learn is called neuroplasticity

There are two different types of neuroplasticity: functional neuroplasticity and structural neuroplasticity. 

Functional Neuroplasticity

This refers to the brain’s ability to move certain tasks away from damaged parts of the brain to undamaged parts. This is especially important in people who experience brain injury or trauma, like stroke patients.

These functional changes allow the brain to compensate for damage in certain brain areas by rewiring itself and causing those areas to transfer their tasks to new areas. This process of re-routing synaptic connections is also important for our brains' well-being in our later years of life.

Structural Neuroplasticity

Structural neuroplasticity (also referred to as structural plasticity) helps the brain reorganize when it learns something new. Structural changes involve the creation of new neural pathways that are created when we continually practice a new habit or skill or change from one mode of response to another. 

Is Neuroplasticity a New Science?

Neuroplasticity isn’t a new concept. It was discovered by neuroscientists in the 1800s and well-researched in the 1990s. It remains a valuable and important discovery about how brain function works and how we can change how our brains work with certain therapies. 

Where Does Neuroplasticity Happen?

All areas of the brain can experience neuroplasticity, but the most studied area involved with structural and functional changes is the cerebral cortex. 

In this area, the number of synapses between neurons can be quantified. We know, for instance, that between birth and childhood, the number of synapses expands rapidly, but during adulthood, the number begins to decline.

The decline in synapses is part of the study of adult neurogenesis, which examines both the creation of new neurons and the shedding of old ones through a process called synaptic pruning, which we’ll cover later. 

Why Is Neuroplasticity Important? 

The phenomenon of neuroplasticity affects the way your brain works, and therefore affects every aspect of your bodily and mental function. Your brain’s ability to heal, store, reorganize, and learn, from cognition to motor skills, depends on this important feature. 

After Injuries

Someone who has endured a stroke or a traumatic brain injury (TBI) will rely on the brain’s neuroplastic functions to heal and regain abilities that may have been lost due to their injury or trauma. 

Concussions, for instance, affect how neurons communicate with blood vessels in your body, causing them to send too much or too little oxygen to carry out a task. This process, called neurovascular coupling, can begin to malfunction after brain damage or trauma, affecting bodily processes like walking and running, and cognitive functions like memory recall. It may even have auditory effects that cause ringing in the ears (tinnitus). 

After an injury, a person can work with their therapist to focus on neuronal plasticity by performing certain tasks and exercises to help the brain tap into its functional plasticity abilities and potentially regain tasks and functions that may have been lost. 

During Learning Experiences

Neuroplasticity helps us continue learning from childhood through adulthood. The old scientific adage “cells that fire together, wire together” means that when groups of neurons fire together in response to stimuli, like a learned behavior or new skill, they create an electrochemical pathway that is capable of responding in that way over and over again. 

These new neural pathways, when repeated, become stronger and help create hardwired roadmaps in our brains that help us respond in certain ways to certain stimuli. 

An example of this is learning a new language, learning to ride a bike, or even starting a new habit, like waking up at 5:00 a.m. each morning. 

In Maintaining Cognitive Function 

Our brains have fewer synapses as we get older due to synaptic pruning. This is essentially a “use it or lose it” scenario. 

The brain eliminates neural pathways that aren’t regularly used. For instance, if you learn how to perform complex problems in a calculus class in college but later enter a career that does not require the solving of those problems regularly, your brain will clear the pathway that helped you learn the problem to make way for other, newer and more regularly used pathways, like how to use a software program that does those calculus calculations for you. 

What Affects Neuroplasticity?

Several different factors can affect the brain’s ability to remain malleable and shapeable. 

Age

Younger, developing brains are more malleable than adult brains, with the ability to continually process and reorganize information more quickly. However, continued stimulation can help keep the brain sharp and promote the brain’s ability to continue to practice reorganization.

Environment

A person’s environment plays a role in their neuroplasticity, especially in young children. Activities that require focused attention, exposure to new things like traveling, art, and music, and the development of new skills are crucial for proper brain development in early childhood and the brain's continued development throughout adulthood. 

Genetics

A person’s DNA plays a role in their overall intelligence; it may play a larger role than previously thought and may even be more important than environmental factors. 

Injury

Certain trauma and injury may affect areas of the brain that are not completely malleable and healable. This means there are limitations on the types of brain changes your brain can make. 

For instance, some injuries may be so severe that they destroy neural networks that control memories, resulting in permanent memory loss. 

Disease, Neurological Disorders, and Mental Health

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are among the most concerning diseases and disorders that affect older adults. It’s thought that continuing care of the brain and “exercising” the brain’s plasticity can help support brain structure and function throughout adulthood and potentially help reduce a person’s risk of developing cognitive decline issues. 

How Do I Support Neuroplasticity?

Keeping your brain sharp is more than just doing a few crossword puzzles from time to time (although regularly engaging in these types of puzzles is a great idea). Supporting your brain’s neuroplasticity is multifaceted. 

Get Quality Sleep

Getting plenty of rest is essential for supporting brain function. At the end of each nerve cell are structures called dendrites. These control the neural connections between two neurons, and they grow and develop when you sleep. 

Exercise

Physical activity stimulates your brain and may also help prevent neuron loss in areas of your brain like the hippocampus. It’s also important for the part of the brain responsible for motor control and the development of new skills. 

Further, exercise positively impacts your brain’s production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), an important protein that helps support nerve growth. 

Try New Things

Stretching your limits and learning new skills is important to help keep your brain adaptive. Learning a new language or trying a new hobby can help keep your brain reworking and rewiring, thus keeping you mentally sharp and focused. 

Take a Supplement

There are a lot of supplements out there that claim to support brain health, and it can be overwhelming to know which is the best. 

One supplement that has been gaining a lot of attention recently is fatty15. Fatty15 is a science-backed, award-winning, pure C15:0 supplement that supports cellular health, so you can feel healthier and age smarter! 

C15:0 is a newly identified essential fatty acid that strengthens our cells, boosts our mitochondria, and activates PPAR receptors throughout our body and brain that can help to reset our circadian clocks, increase the amount of deep sleep we get, and lower our anxiety. Additionally, our bodies use C15:0 to make a second molecule called PDC that naturally activates CB1, CB2, 5-HT1A and 5-HT1B receptors, which also support brain health, cognition, mood, and sleep health.* 

C15:0 is the first essential fatty acid to be discovered since the omega-3s, over 90 years ago. When compared head to head with the purest, highest performing omega-3, fatty15 was found to be better, broader and safer than omega-3s:

  • Fatty15 is better.* In the study, fatty15 had 26 more benefits than omega-3. Omega-3 only had 10 clinically-relevant benefits, but fatty15 had 36! Additionally, researchers found that fatty15 actually stopped bad cells from proliferating. 
  • Fatty15 is broader.* Researchers studied 12 different cell types and compared how fatty15 and omega-3 affected both. Fatty15 repaired 2.5 times more cell types than omega-3, which could only safely repair four out of 12 types. 
  • Fatty15 is safer.*Most importantly, the study showed that omega-3 was toxic to four of the 12 cell types at the highest dosesstudied, including lung and blood vessel cells.! Fatty15 was safe for all 12 cell types. 

Elevate your cells. Elevate your self.

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Fatty15: Your Brain’s Best Friend

Taking care of brain health is important, especially as we age. You can support your brain health(and the health of your entire body) by taking just one fatty15 capsule per day.*

Click here to learn more about what fatty15 can do for you (and to nerd out on some serious science). 

Support your brain and stay sharp, the fatty way.

Sources:

Neuroplasticity - StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf

Neuroplasticity: Learning Physically Changes the Brain | Edutopia

The new genetics of intelligence | Nature Reviews Genetics

The effects of strength exercise on hippocampus volume and functional fitness of older women - ScienceDirect

Plasticity in Early Alzheimer’s Disease: An Opportunity for Intervention - PMC

Efficacy of dietary odd-chain saturated fatty acid pentadecanoic acid parallels broad associated health benefits in humans: could it be essential? | Scientific Reports

Profile photo for Eric Venn-Watson

Eric Venn-Watson M.D.

Eric is a physician, U.S. Navy veteran, and Co-founder and COO of Seraphina Therapeutics. Eric served over 25 years as a Navy and Marine Corps physician, working with the special forces community to improve their health and fitness. Seraphina Therapeutics is a health and wellness company dedicated to advancing global health through the discovery of essential fatty acids and micronutrient therapeutics.

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