Shaina Cahill¹, Ru Qi Yu¹, Jason Snyder¹

¹Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia

ABSTRACT. The brain is way cooler than all the other organs (combined). I mean, what could possibly be more cool? Maybe if there was a magic drink that could make your brain bigger and stronger? We found such a drink, called water, which claims to magically increase neurogenesis (noor-oh-jen-a-sis), the production of new brain cells. However, despite being “award winning”, there is no evidence to our knowledge that this magical drink actually increases neurogenesis. To test the hypothesis that spending extra money on water increases neurogenesis we treated rats with tap water or water that costs more money and then examined levels of adult neurogenesis in the dentate gyrus. In quite a turn of events, we found that rats treated with magical waters showed no enhancement of neurogenesis relative to rats treated with Vancouver tap water. These data indicate, for the first time, that magical waters may not be an effective treatment for disorders that have been linked to reduced neurogenesis.


Graphical Abstract.


  1. Water is water.

INTRODUCTION. In all seriousness, a tremendous amount of effort and incredible technological advances are enabling more and more insights into brain function these days. And what we’re finding is that everything changes the brain. If you see something, neurons in your visual cortex generate electrical signals. If you form a memory, there are structural rearrangements in order to store the memory. If you eat a potato your blood sugar rises and brain cells burn sugar so when that sugar hits the brain they do a little dance. If you close your eyes and think about flowers and butterflies——okay, you get the point.  This of course also all translates to products you can purchase — they change your brain too. This is why many products now have “mind” or “brain” or “neuro” in their names. The problem is that not all products have mind or brain or neuro in their names¹. We therefore propose a mandatory policy whereby all product names must be preceded by “neuro”, to accurately reflect and disclose brain changing effects (e.g. Neurocandyland).

Figure 1: An actual bottle of Neurogenesis Happy Water that was used in the study (refilled with tap water for illustrative purposes).

Figure 1: An actual bottle of Neurogenesis Happy Water that was used in the study (refilled with tap water for illustrative purposes).

As a lab specializing in neurogenesis, one neuroproduct in particular caught our eyes: Neurogenesis Happy Water (hereafter, NHW). The name suggests that not only does this product affect the brain, but neurogenesis in particular. This claim is not explicitly stated, but why else would they name it that? We thought it would be fun to test their implicit claim. We also needed to get BrdU immunohistochemistry and quantification protocols working in the lab and this seemed like a good mini-project for this purpose.

METHODS. Twelve adult rats (previously used for a real experiment) were pair housed and given ad libitum access to either tap water (n=6) or Neurogenesis Happy Water (n=6). Two days later rats were given a single injection of the thymidine analog, BrdU, to label dividing/newborn cells. Rats received tap water or NHW for an additional 14 days. This design maximizes detection of a potential neurogenic effect of NHW, since it would capture positive effects of NHW on both neuronal proliferation (since NHW was being consumed when new cells were born) and survival (since NHW was consumed during the period when many new neurons die). The number of adult-born BrdU+ cells was quantified with standard immunohistochemistry and stereological counting techniques.


Figure 2: Experimental timeline.

RESULTS. BrdU immunohistochemistry worked.

Figure 3: New neurons in the dentate gyrus (black dots/cell nuclei), identified by histologically staining for the mitotic marker BrdU, which labelled the cells 16 days earlier, when they were born.

Figure 3: New neurons in the dentate gyrus (black dots = cell nuclei), identified by histologically staining for the mitotic marker BrdU, which labelled the cells 16 days earlier, when they were born.

Cell counts were performed by 2 different lab members, with the more experienced counter finding more cells, but good correlation between the 2 (Fig. 4).

Figure 4 - Inter-counter reliability.

Figure 4: Inter-counter correlation.

And now the data you’ve all been waiting for, the big Kahuna, the big mamma jamma, the–you get the point.

Figure 3: If you're dying to increase neurogenesis, don't stress out over your water. While rats that drank Happy Water has 12% more BrdU+ cells, this difference was not significant (P=0.25).

Figure 5: If you’re dying to increase neurogenesis, don’t stress out over your water. While rats that drank Neurogenesis Happy Water had 12% more BrdU+ cells, this difference was not significant (P=0.25).

DISCUSSION. Many things change neurogenesis levels. Therefore, it is remarkable that we have found a product that does not affect neurogenesis. Maybe that’s why it’s called “Neurogenesis” Happy Water, for when you want to consume something but at the same time keep your neurogenesis levels stable.

The “logic” behind NHW is that the mood stabilizer, lithium, which is known to increase neurogenesis in animals, is naturally found in low amounts in BC springwater. Increases in neurogenesis are seen when animals consume a diet that is ~0.2% lithium, which is on par with human clinical doses that are in the range of grams per day. This amounts to thousands of liters of NHW (0.1 mg of lithium per liter). NHW acknowledges that their levels are too low to have any clinical effects (though apparently not too low to just call it “water”). A similar product, Edj water, had higher levels of lithium (0.68mg/L) and was slated to be tested in clinical trials but unfortunately the study was not completed.

Of course there are caveats and alternative interpretations to our data. For example, what if the rats drank NHW for longer? What if there was a ceiling effect where Vancouver tap water is simply too good? Maybe NHW would increase neurogenesis compared to rats that drank tap water from, say, some American city? These will have to be the subject of future investigation. Just not from our lab.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS. This work was supported by startup funds, which fortunately can be used for anything. Thanks to Peter Lu and Allison Lui for tirelessly topping up water bottles.


The interest in using lithium-laced beverages (such as water, 7Up and beer) for health purposes is not new. See here.

While Edj Water may have died, their inspirational tweets will live forever. Or until someone deletes the account.

Happy water? How about POISON WATER?

¹The real problem is that even in well controlled laboratory experiments it is incredibly challenging to identify the function of brain changes, which changes are relevant etc. So while all products will change your brain, a large amount of research is needed to conclude whether a given product is truly exceptional.


  1. This is great!
    Would be interesting to run a similar design but administering cannabis. I’m sure Vancouver is the place to do it.

  2. 12% insignificant ??? some people would take the 12% and be happy. Its much better than down 12%

  3. I guess you just won Gerd Kempermann’s crate of beer for providing evidence for something that does NOT change neurogenesis 😉

    • Heheh, it’s true that many things affect neurogenesis. Probably if we looked deeper, we would have found that happy water induced synaptic changes in newborn neurons, like LTP and such. Maybe our next project!

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