In our previous post on long-term potentiation (LTP) , we covered the basics of LTP and why it’s so important for healthy, optimal cognitive function.
We also discussed a variety of lifestyle, dietary, and other health-related factors that can interfere with how this important plasticity-related process is carried out in the brain.
If you missed that post, we highly recommend starting there first: you can find the post by clicking here .
With the basics of LTP out of the way, in this post, we’ll discuss some of the potential lifestyle factors and dietary supplements that have been proposed by researchers to have effects on LTP (and other critical plasticity-related brain processes). Lifestyle, Dietary, And Other Factors That May Potentially Stimulate LTP
Before we move on to the main discussion, it’s important to note a few major limitations of the current science behind some of the factors and effects described in the sections below.
Firstly, the following potential effects of the substances and compounds listed below are based solely on animal- and cell-based studies, and are therefore “ lacking evidence ” from any appropriate human trials so far.
In other words, these are only potential “launching-points” for future clinical studies in humans, and no solid conclusions can be made about these compounds’ effects in humans until much more additional research is done.
Therefore, while some of these early results might seem promising, it is important to keep in mind that the evidence as a whole is still too weak to come to any definitive conclusions about these substances’ effects in healthy human users.
Secondly, much of the existing evidence from animal studies comes from studies of animals with specific health conditions – such as brain damage or experimentally-induced neurodegenerative disorders – or animals whose normal brain activity was interfered with by the administration of drugs or other toxins. Therefore, studies like these don’t necessarily establish that a given compound or substance would also have similar effects under normal, “healthy” conditions – at least, not without additional research.
As always, if you decide to try any new lifestyle or dietary changes, or experiment with supplements, it is extremely important to discuss them with your doctor first! This is critical because any such changes could have unexpected interactions with any pre-existing health conditions you may have – and only a qualified medical professional has the expertise and knowledge to help you navigate these potential concerns.
With all that in mind, let’s see what the latest science has to say about a variety of lifestyle, dietary, and supplement approaches that may potentially affect plasticity-related processes in the brain! 1) Exercise
Exercise plays a very important role in keeping us healthy and maintaining proper brain function.
Some of exercises’ benefits may arise from its effects on LTP and other synaptic-plasticity-related mechanisms. For example, some preliminary animal studies have reported that exercise may significantly increase LTP and overall synaptic plasticity in rats. However, this effect was also seen to disappear if the rats stopped exercising regularly, suggesting that this effect would require consistent habitual exercise in order to be maintained [ 1 , 2 ].
Relatedly, one other early study in animals reported that daily moderate exercise (in the form of treadmill-running) may potentially counteract some of the LTP-related deficits seen in a rat model of Alzheimer’s disease [ 3 ]. 2) Fasting
Certain forms of fasting (“dietary restriction”) can have profound effects on the brain. For example, fasting may induce a form of synaptic plasticity (using neuropeptide Y ) that helps counteract reduced glucose levels [ 4 ].
During fasting, structural changes are seen in the neurons that are responsible for regulating hunger . These include increases in the size of the neurons, and the excitability of their synapses [ 5 , 6 ]. These changes have been attributed to the activity of proteins that maintain the changes of LTP [ 6 ].
According to one preliminary study in animals, caloric restriction in mice has been reported to improve cognitive function. This may be mediated by increases in glutamate activity, which could in turn result in the stimulation of LTP. Based on these early findings, some researchers have even proposed that intermittent fasting may even have the potential to prevent or reverse some forms of age-related cognitive decline [ 7 ] – although much more research in healthy human subjects will be needed to fully confirm this effect. 3) Berberine
Berberine is a natural nutritional compound that can be found in a variety of different plants. According to some preliminary research, berberine may have some potential as a treatment for diabetes (by helping regulate blood glucose levels). It may also have some anti-oxidant effects as well [ 8 ].
Interestingly, patients with diabetes frequently report cognitive issues, particularly with learning and memory. According to one animal study, berberine was reported to partially improve learning and memory functions in diabetic rats – possibly by stimulating LTP and overall synaptic plasticity in the hippocampus [ 8 ].
However, much more research would be needed to confirm these effects in ordinary human users of berberine. 4) Lipoic Acid
Lipoic acid is involved in many metabolic processes in the body. It is also sometimes used as a dietary supplement, due to its purported anti-oxidant effects.
According to one early animal study in mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease, lipoic acid was reported to increase the availability of glucose , which is the brain’s primary source of energy for its cells. This effect was, in turn, also reported to stimulate LTP and other important forms of synaptic plasticity, which is believed to be one of the main underlying mechanisms that may contribute to the memory deficits often observed in Alzheimer’s patients [ 9 ].
In another animal study, lipoic acid was reported to counteract impairments in LTP caused by lead poisoning in rats, suggesting a potential neuro-protective effect [ 10 ].
Relatedly, another factor which can impair brain function is eating a high-fat diet. According to one other animal study, lipoic acid was reported to protect against impairments in LTP […]