Do you Lose Brain Cells When You Age? Adults Make Neurons into Their 70s

An elderly couple walk in Vincennes near Paris on February 19, 2018. A new study indicates that our brains continue to make new neurons even in old age. Gerard Julien/AFP/Getty Images)

Whether or not adults make new brain cells has been a constant topic of debate. A new study published today offers hope for our aging brains with the discovery that adults continue to make neurons even in old age. Neurons help us perform daily functions by sending message from our brains to the body.

Until the 1960s, scientists believed that humans stopped making neurons not long after birth, Scientific American reported in March 2018. But as research grew, scientists found more evidence to indicate that our brains continued to evolve. Last month, research published in the journal Nature challenged this belief with a study that determined adult brains had no traces of new neurons.

Now, a study published in the journal Cell Stem Cell indicates that our brains continue to make neurons in the hippocampus as we age. This has been shown to help in making memories and managing emotions during stressful times, according to study co-author Dr. Maura Boldrini of Columbia University.

Learning more about how our brains change with age also could provide new Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease treatments.

"We found that older people have similar ability to make thousands of hippocampal new neurons from progenitor cells as younger people do," Boldrini said in a statement.

A model of a brain during a presentation at Lollapalooza Chile in 2018. Researchers have been battling about whether adults can make new brain cells for more than 40 years. Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images

For this study, researchers studied hippocampi from 28 people between 14 and 79 years old, looking for neurons that had been recently formed as well as blood vessels in that region of the brain. They found that even older people produced new brain cells as evidenced by thousands of immature neurons found in the brain. But older people do form fewer blood vessels, which help keep blood flowing and our brains healthy, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

Although, we naturally lose brain cells as we age, some researchers hope to stimulate the growth of new ones, which may protect against Alzheimer's disease or treat depression, reported Harvard Health Publications in September 2016.

However, this new study indicates that we do have some control over maintaining brain health.

"This also means that through healthy lifestyle, enriched environment, social interactions, and exercise, we can maintain these neurons healthy and functioning, and sustain healthy aging," Boldrini told Newsweek.