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21

Jun
Brain Facts

Brain Facts

Brain Facts

Did you know?

The human brain is a 3 pounds (1.5 kg) organ that yields powerful functions in human functioning. The human brain is in charge of integrating various information from our sensory input (sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch) and making decisions or planning from the input. Different parts of the brain are responsible for different functions.

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The 3 main parts are:

  1.  Cerebrum Fills up most of the skull, it is involved in memory, problem solving, cognitive functioning, and emotions. Different cortex of the cerebrum is also responsible for different functions. For example:
  2.  Cerebellum Sitting at the back of the head, under the cerebrum, is responsible for body coordination and balance.
  3.  Brain Stem Located beneath the cerebrum in front of the cerebellum, connects the brain to spinal cord and controls autonomic functions such as breathing, digestion, heart rate and blood pressure.

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Neurons are however, the real work that keeps your brain working. An adult brain contains about 100 billion neurons. Signals and information travels through these neurons as tiny electrical charge from one region to another, and connects each other at the synapse, which triggers the release of neurotransmitters. The 100 billion nerve cells, 100 trillion synapses, and a dozens of neurotransmitters provides the brain with the raw materials which form the basis of our memories, thoughts, skills, and feelings.

Consequences of ‘Bad Brain’

What will happen when the brain is not functioning well, or when it is unhealthy? Our brain is the main controlling system to our human functioning. Having a ‘bad brain’ may lead to consequences varying from mild to severe depending on the affected regions. For instance, an affected or impaired brain may cause a spectrum of dysfunctions such as behavioral changes, temper outbursts, cognitive impairment, memory lost, and lose control of movements. An unhealthy brain is more susceptible to different diseases, environmental contamination, and genetic predisposition. Examples as below:

How Alzheimer’s disease affects the brain

Unhealthy brain aging increases the susceptibility to diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and vascular dementia. Alzheimer’s disease leads to nerve cell death and tissue loss throughout the brain. Neurons are the main type of cell destroyed by Alzheimer’s disease. It disrupts the way electrical charges travel within cells and the activity of neurotransmitters. The brain will shrink gradually and affects most of its functions, such as memory.

How mercury poison affects the brain

Environmental contamination in the past decades has exposed us to various heavy metal intoxication, including mercury. When mercury is exposed in the brain, it kills neurons by:

  • Inhibition of protein
  • Disrupt mitochondria function
  • Affect ion exchange in a neuron
  • Disrupt neurotransmitters
  • Destruct structural framework of neurons

Studies have indicated that high exposure to mercury induces changes in the central nervous system causing adverse symptoms such as behavioral changes, headaches, cognitive loss, and death. How abnormal brain functioning disrupts behavior Individuals with ADHD have been found to have abnormal regulation of some brain regions indicated below:

Frontal lobes

Helps us to stay focus, make good decision, executive functioning, and store memory. It also helps us to regulate emotions.

Inhibitory mechanism of the cortex

About 70% of the brain is to inhibit the other 30% of the brain. If the brain is not able to inhibit appropriately, a person tends to display impulsive behaviors, quick temper, poor decision making, and hyperactivity.

Limbic system

The limbic system is the base of our emotions and look-out tower. If the limbic system is over-activated, a person might have mood swings, quick temper outburst, sensitive emotions, and hyper-vigilant.

Reticular activating system (RAS)

The RAS is the center of balance for other systems involved in learning, self-control, and motivation. If RAS is under active, a person would have difficulty learning, poor memory, and poor self-control. In contrast, if RAS is over active, a person would be hyper-vigilance, talkative, restless, and hyperactive. Thus, different subtype of ADHD will exhibit different behaviors and symptoms depending on the affected region of the brain.

Common Factors Affecting Brain Health

Why do we have ‘bad brain’?

Brain disorders include conditions that affect the brain such as illnesses, genetics, environmental exposure, or brain trauma. Some of the commonly seen brain disorders are such as:

Brain injuries

  • Stroke
  • Concussion
  • Hematomas

Brain tumors

Neurodegenerative diseases

  • All forms of dementia (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease)
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease

Mental disorders

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia

Environmental factors

  • Heavy metal intoxication (e.g., lead, mercury)
  • Sleep problems
  • Stress
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Tobacco, smoke and nicotine
  • Heavy medication

Maintaining a Healthy Brain

How to have a healthy brain?

Since the brain is the most important organ in making who we are, it is essential to keep our brain healthy. Neuroplasticity indicates the brain’s ability to allow neurons to recover and create new pathways (synapses) in response to the changes in environment. As one ages, the brain tends to be less elastic, resulting in difficulties making connections between regions. Maintaining a healthy brain and plasticity in life thus becomes important. Below are some comments to maintaining a healthy brain.

Brain food

Nutrients

Nutrients can affect several brain processes such as regulating neurotransmitter pathways and synaptic transmission.

Some of the nutrients that are good for the brain

  • Omega-3 fatty acids (Salmon, flax seeds, chia seeds, kiwi, butternuts, walnuts)
  • Curcumin (Turmeric, curry powder)
  • Flavonoids (Cocoa, green tea, ginkgo, citrus fruits, dark chocolate, red wine)
  • B Vitamins (e.g., B6, B12)
  • Vitamin D (Fatty fish, mushrooms, milk, soy milk, cereal grains)
  • Vitamin E (Asparagus, avocado, nuts, olives, seeds, spinach)
  • Calcium (Low fat milk and yogurt, leafy greens, low fat cheese, fortified soy products)
  • Ion (Red meat, chicken liver, seafood, poultry, beans and pulses, nuts, pumpkin seeds)

Antioxidant foods

The brain is highly susceptible to oxidative damage. Several antioxidant diets have shown positive effect on neural function and also increase cognitive functions.

For example,

  • Blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, cranberries, pecans, walnuts

Diet control

  • Metabolic processes that burns fuels in mitochondria has the potential to affect cognitive function. For example, excess calories can reduce synaptic plasticity, increase vulnerability of cells to damage. Thus, moderate caloric restriction could protect the brain by reducing oxidative damage to the cells.
  • Some studies have suggested that Mediterranean diet which has high consumption of plant foods, moderate consumption of fish and wine, low consumption of dairy products and meat, and intake of monounsaturated fatty acids (e.g., olive oil) is associated with slower rates of cognitive decline among older adults (Tangney, Kwasny, Li, Wilson, Evans, & Morris, 2011).

Exercise

  • Physical exercise
  • Exercise can increase neuronal survival and resistance to brain insult, promote vascularization, stimulate neurogenesis, enhance learning, increase brain plasticity, and maintain cognitive function during aging (Cotman & Berchtold, 2002). Thus, a consistent work out helps boost overall brain function.
  • Mental exercise
  • While studies are limited, it is suggested that brain stimulation games (such as puzzles, card games, Sudoku, and crosswords) could improve executive functions and processing speed in elderly individuals (Nouchi et al., 2012).

Behavioral management (Stress management)

  • Stress can presage ill health among vulnerable individuals. The brain is primarily the mediator for stress because it determines what is stress and regulates the behavioral and physiological responses to stress. While stress such as adversity, interpersonal conflicts, and social instability increases vulnerability for higher morbidity and mortality rates, stress can be labelled as ‘good’, ‘tolerable’ and ‘toxic’ depending on how much an individual has control, support and resources over the stressor. A good stress management to stressor not only promote growth, adaptation, resiliency in future adversity, but also enhance neuroplasticity (McEwen & Gianaros, 2010).

Lifestyle management

  • Sleep

Studies concluded that sleep deficiency affects working memory and related brain activity in several regions of the brain (frontal and parietal) (Reichert, Maire, Schmidt, & Cajochen, 2016). Ensuring a good sleep quality is especially important for better performance at work.

  • Social connectedness

Studies revealed a correlation between social connectedness and negative emotion regulation, depressive symptoms, and feelings of general anxiety (Roberts & Burleson, 2013). Social connectedness does not have a direct impact on the functions of the brain, but it plays a vital role in maintaining better mental health. Social connectedness includes social networking, social support, social interaction frequency and quality.

  • Living a healthy life

Avoid and control risk factors such as:

  • Obesity increases risk of developing diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and increases the risk for dementia
  • High blood pressure (Hypertension) causes damage to the brain structure
  • High cholesterol increases the risk of developing dementia
  • Heavy smoking increases the risk for stroke and dementia, and also shows decline of cognitive functions

 

Contributed by:

Ms. Vernice Si Toh Child Psychologist at Spectrum Of Life