How to Increase Gray Matters in the Brain

Gray matter ( or grey matter)  in the brain is directly responsible for memory, seeing, hearing, executive functions, impulse control, emotions and speech. With age gray matter in the brain decreases. However, meditation, yoga, omega-3 and many other things can increase the gray matters in the brain. In this article we focus on the techniques and methods to increase the gray matters in the brain.

What are Gray Matters?

The central nervous system is made up of two kinds of tissue: gray matter and white matter. Gray matters are the darker tissue of the brain and spinal cord, consisting mainly of nerve cell bodies and branching dendrites. Gray matters look like ash-gray under a microscope. These are composed of neuron’s cell bodies and synapses, as well as the supporting network of glia that help keep neurons alive. The color difference  between gray

Gray Matter

Gray Matter

matter and white matter arises mainly from the whiteness of myelin. In living brain, gray matter actually has a gray-brown color which comes from capillary blood vessels and neuronal cell bodies. Ratio of the volume of gray-matter to white-matter in the cerebral hemipheres (20 yrs. old) is  about 1.3.

Location of the Gray Matters

Gray Matter and White Matter

Gray Matter and White Matter

Gray matter mainly located on the surface of the cerebral cortex, and on surface of the cerebellum. It is also found in the deeper parts of the cerebrum, and hippocampus. Grey matter is present in the brain as well as in the spinal cord. It travels down the spinal cord in three gray columns.

Functions and Characteristic of Gray Matters

The gray matter includes regions of the brain involved in muscle control, and sensory perception such as seeing and hearing, memory, emotions, speech, decision making, and self-control. While 20% of all oxygen taken in by the body goes to the brain, 95% of that goes specifically into the grey matter. Scientists observed significant positive correlations between gray matter volume in elderly persons and measures of semantic and short-term memory.

The more gray matter you have in the decision-making, thought-processing part of your brain, the better your ability to evaluate rewards and consequences. Normally, gray matter represents information processing centers in the brain, and white matter represents the networking of – or connections between – these processing centers.

The larger the animal, the more convoluted this grey matter is. Small animals such as the marmoset tend to have smooth brains, while in larger mammals such as the whale or elephant the grey matter is highly convoluted.

How Age is Related to Gray Matters

Age is negatively associated with gray matter volume. Elderly people shows lower volumes of gray matters in the brain. Gray matters are directly linked to memory and reduction of gray matters causes memory problems for elderly people. Aging is associated with cognitive decline, diminished brain function. Brain function depends on large-scale distributed networks, and aging disrupted the structural and functional brain connectivity. However, scientists observed that with proper yoga, meditation, exercises and diet can increase the gray matter in the brain.

Reasons for Decreasing Gray-matter Densities in the Brain

Some of the most common reasons for reducing gray matters are as follows:

1. Gray matter declines steadily as we grow older from the age of adolescence. Studies have identified areas such as the insula as being especially vulnerable to age-related losses in gray matter of older adults.

2. Media multitasking reduces the number of gray matters. Media multitasking means simultaneous use of media. Media multitasking involves using TV, the Web, radio, mobile, telephone, print, or any other media in conjunction with another. Loh KK [3] observed heavier media-multitasking worsen the cognitive control tasks and individuals with higher Media Multitasking Index (MMI) scores had smaller gray matter density in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC).

3. Smokers lose grey-matter and cognitive function at a greater rate than non-smokers. Chronic smokers who quit during the study lost fewer brain cells and retained better intellectual function than those who continued to smoke. Regular use of the drug seems to shrink the brain’s gray matter.

4. Stress in early life is associated with increased rates of mood and anxiety disorders in adulthood. Exposed to childhood maltreatment, reduces gray matter volume within the hippocampus and other areas.

5. Chronic stress reduces gray matter volume in the pre-frontal area.

6. Online internet game addiction, and excessive screen-time  reduces gray matter volume in the brain’s frontal lobe.

Techniques to Increases Gray-matter Densities in the Brain

Some of the most common techniques for increasing gray matter in the brain are as follows:

1. Physical Activity, Yoga and Exercises can Increases Gray Matter Volume

When you sync your movement with your breath, your mind stops its chattering and grow gray-matters in the brain. Physical exercise and walking about six to nine miles per week can increase your gray matters. Hatha yoga techniques, including physical postures (asanas), breathing exercises (pranayama)  increases the gray matter in the brain [11].

William Killgore and colleagues [5] observed positive correlation between minutes of exercise per week and greater gray matter volume in the left posterior insula region.  They observed that aerobic exercise can lead to increased hippocampal volume and enhanced cognitive functioning in children and elderly adults.

Scientists [10]  found that those walking at least 72 blocks weekly had significantly greater gray-matter volume. The study found that people who walked at least 72 blocks per week, or roughly six to nine miles, had greater gray matter volume nine years later than people who did not walk as much.

2. Mindfulness Meditation Increases Gray Matter Volume

Mindfulness Meditation is the simple way to increases gray matter volume in the brain [7]. Mindfulness meditation is basically paying precise, nonjudgmental attention to the details of our moment to moment experience. Mindfulness meditation is often practiced sitting with eyes closed, cross-legged on a cushion, or on a chair, with the back straight. You can put your attention on the breath as it goes in and out the nostrils. Or it may be practiced by observing the movement of the abdomen when breathing in and out. As new thoughts come up, you can return to focusing on the object of meditation, such as the breathing. You can passively in a non-judgmental way notice the mind as it wandered. This type of meditation can be done for the periods of 10 to 15 minutes or so a day.

The hippocampus, or more precisely the left hippocampus is primarily responsible for its role in memory, contribute to our usual mind-wandering. It is also important to note that stress hurts the hippocampus. Non-judgmental  awareness of mindfulness meditation reduces mind-wandering as well as stress allowing the recovery of the hippocampal neurons.

3. Your Breakfast Can Increase Your Gray Matter Volume

The kids who had rice for breakfast showed higher grey-matter volumes than those who had bread. Studies suggests [4] that breakfast staple type affects brain gray and white matter volumes and cognitive function in healthy children; therefore, a diet of optimal nutrition is important for brain maturation during childhood and adolescence.

4. Omega 3 Can Increase Your Grey Matter Volume

Omega 3 fatty acids are a class of fats most commonly found in fish and seafood. One recent landmark study found that aging humans who consumed more omega-3s had increased gray matter brain volume and that most new tissue development was observed in the part of the brain associated with happiness [2]. Many studies show that deficiency of omega 3 leads to cognitive deficits. Hence, in a way omega 3 can be thought of as a vitamin necessary for normal brain function. Indeed numerous studies demonstrate its ability to reverse or prevent cognitive deficits related to aging or stress supporting its action as essential to normal function. Researchers observed that eating baked or broiled fish can increase gray matter in old age[6].

5. Learning and Training Increases Your Grey Matter Volume

Training, learning a new, complex task such as juggling increases the gray matter volume [9]. Scientists observed that bilingual adults have denser gray matter, especially in the brain’s left hemisphere, where most language and communication skills are controlled. Learning other languages altered gray matter – the area of the brain which processes information – in the same way exercise builds muscles. Persons who learned a second language at an early age were also more likely to have more advanced gray matter than those who learned later.

6. Playing Action Video Games Increases Grey Matter Volume

Playing video game is a big controversy [14]. Researchers observed playing certain types of action video games (AVGs) has its effect on gray matter volume [12]. They found that playing action video games for 2 months for at least 30 min per day can significantly increase gray matter volume [13]. AVG playing requires a high level of attention and hand-eye coordination. Scientists found that games that have complex 3D settings, feature quick-moving targets that appear in and out of the gamer’s view, involve large amounts of clutter and which require the gamers to make fast and accurate decision as well as switch between varying levels of and attention, can have positive impact on cognition. Exploring virtual environments help people to learn, remember, and even explore real-world environments. Video games could be therapeutically useful for patients with mental disorders in which brain regions are altered or reduced in size.

However, the impact of playing violent video games need further study. Gaming might help our brains but there are some other issues. Playing too much video game is bad. It creates addiction and makes us less social. Online game addiction (OGA) has a serious public mental health issue. Researchers observed that compared with healthy subjects, internet game addiction individuals showed significant reduction of gray matter [15]. Hence, impact of playing video game can be either positive or negative depending on the content of the games [14] and the nature of addiction. However, everyday playing 30 minutes of non-violent action video games without addiction can increase the gray matter.

Scientists have demonstrated that with age brain structure can be altered upon prolonged exposure to novel environments and experience. The neural pathways and synapses can be changed by yoga, meditation, exercises, training and diets. This positive change can happen at the cellular level or at the level of cortical re-mapping.

References:

1. Meditation: Insights and Inspirations By Amit Ray

2. Conklin SM, Gianaros PJ, Brown SM, et al. Long-chain omega-3 fatty acid intake is associated positively with corticolimbic gray matter volume in healthy adults. Neurosci Lett. 2007 Jun 29;421(3):209-12.

3. Loh KK, Kanai R (2014) Higher Media Multi-Tasking Activity Is Associated with Smaller Gray-Matter Density in the Anterior Cingulate Cortex. PLoS ONE 9(9): e106698. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0106698

4. Taki et al. “Breakfast Staple Types Affect Brain Gray Matter Volume and Cognitive Function in Healthy Children” PLoS ONE. 2011.

5. William D. S. Killgore, et al. “Physical Exercise Habits Correlate with Gray Matter Volume of the Hippocampus in Healthy Adult Humans”, Nature, Scientific Reports 3, Article number: 3457, 2013

6. Cyrus A. Raji et al. , “Regular Fish Consumption and Age-Related Brain Gray Matter Loss” , American Journal of Preventive Medicine, October 2014 Volume 47, Issue 4, Pages 444–451.

7. Hölzel, B. K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S. M., Gard, T., & Lazar, S. W. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 191(1), 36-43.

8. Luders, E., Toga, A. W., Lepore, N., & Gaser, C. (2009). The underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation: larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of gray matter. Neuroimage, 45(3), 672-678.

9. Bogdan Draganski et al. “Neuroplasticity: Changes in grey matter induced by training”, Nature 427, 311-312 (22 January 2004)

10. Erickson KI, Raji CA, Lopez OL, Becker JT, Rosano C, Newman AB, Gach HM, Thompson PM, Ho AJ, Kuller LH. Physical activity predicts gray matter volume in late adulthood. Neurology [Internet]. 2010 ;75(16):1415 – 1422.

11. Froeliger B, Garland EL, McClernon FJ.”Yoga meditation practitioners exhibit greater gray matter volume and fewer reported cognitive failures: results of a preliminary voxel-based morphometric analysis.”, Evidence Based Complement Alternative Medicine, 2012, Dec. 5.

12. Diankun Gong, Hui He, Dongbo Liu, Weiyi Ma, Li Dong, Cheng Luo & Dezhong Yao, Enhanced functional connectivity and increased gray matter volume of insula related to action video game playing, Scientific Reports 5, Nature, Article number: 9763, 2015.

13. Kühn, S., Gleich, T., Lorenz, R. C., Lindenberger, U., Gallinat, J., Playing Super Mario induces structural brain plasticity:gray matter changes resulting from training with a commercial video game. Molecular Psychiatry (2014) 19, 265–271.

14. C. S. Green, A. R. Seitz. The Impacts of Video Games on Cognition (and How the Government Can Guide the Industry). Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 2015; 2 (1).

15. Chuan-Bo Weng, et. al., Gray matter and white matter abnormalities in online game addiction., August 2013, Volume 82, Issue 8, Pages 1308–1312

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