It’s definitely not brain surgery!

Seemingly every day, science finds more evidence to prove that what we THINK is critical to how we FEEL, physically as well as emotionally. To a great degree, our thoughts can, and do, regulate our health. While intelligence is distributed throughout the entire body, the brain is the central processing location, the “Grand Central Station ” of the network of nerve impulses. We teach this to our patients when describing the benefits of chiropractic, acupuncture, or other neurologically based health care.

It would probably be a good idea, then, to make sure they have some basic information on how they can maintain and improve brain health at all stages of life.

John H. Byrne, Ph.D., professor and chairman of the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Texas Health Science Center (UTHealth) at Houston Medical School, studies the neuronal and molecular mechanisms underlying learning and memory. Here are three tips he offers for maintaining and improving brain health. Giving this list to your patients will be one more way you can help them live longer, healthier lives.

1) Exercise

“Everyone knows that exercise is good for the heart, but what they may not know is that exercise also appears to be good for the brain,” said Dr. Byrne, the June and Virgil Waggoner Chair. “There is a lot of recent evidence demonstrating that exercise itself promotes neurogenesis — the generation of new nerve cells in the brain. It had long been believed that once you lose nerve cells, they are gone for good and the brain cannot regenerate them, but exercise appears to inspire the brain’s ability to generate nerve cells.”

2) Diet

“There are certain ‘brain foods’ that seem to have a benefit on the brain,” Byrne said. “New research shows that Omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in salmon and other fish, may build the brain’s gray matter. Foods and beverages that are rich in antioxidants may also help keep the brain sharp. For brain food, consider a glass of red wine, some salmon, blueberries, a little bit of chocolate or a cup of green tea. Foods, indeed, can play a role in brain health, but remember, everything in moderation. Research shows that those who are obese have a higher incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and other diseases that affect the brain. Staying slim appears to promote brain health, so exercise, watch your calories and eat the right types of food.”

Naturally, there are some “qualifications” to that advice. Taking the cue from Byrne’s counsel “everything in moderation,” a glass of red wine is good… a bottle isn’t. Dark or raw chocolate is good… milk chocolate isn’t. Salmon and selected other fish in small quantities is good… mercury-laden species or fried fish isn’t.

3) Brain activity

“You’ve heard the saying,’Use it or lose it.’ It’s true,” Byrne said. Those who are intellectually active have a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s. You must exercise your brain cells just as you exercise your muscles, so read a book or do a crossword puzzle. Those types of activities can protect your brain. There is also evidence that social activities help to promote brain health. Interacting with others stimulates the brain.”

SOURCE: University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

The Amazing Human Brain, Part One – Dr. Terry A. Rondberg

Part One of a Two-Part Series.

The brain, it is said, is the most complex organ in the human body. It produces our thoughts, actions, memories, feelings and experiences. This jelly-like mass of tissue, weighing about 1.4 kilograms, contains one hundred billion nerve cells, or neurons.

The complexity of the connectivity among these cells is mind-boggling. Each neuron can make contact with tens of thousands of other neurons, via tiny structures called synapses. In fact, our brains form a million new connections for each and every second of our lives. The pattern and strength of the connections is continuously changing and no two brains are identical.

In these changing connections, memories are stored, habits are learned and personalities are shaped, from reinforcement of certain brain activity patterns and losing others.

While most people know about “gray matter,” the brain also contains white matter. The gray matter is the cell bodies of the neurons, while the white matter is the branching network of thread-like tendrils, called dendrites and axons. They spread out from the cell bodies to connect to other neurons.

Another cell is the glial cells. These outnumber neurons ten times over. Once thought to be support cells, they are now known to amplify neural signals and to be as important as neurons in mental calculations. There are many different types of neurons, only one of which is unique to humans while the other is unique to great apes, the so-called spindle cells.

Brain structure is shaped in part by genes, but mostly by our experiences. In fact, via a process called neurogenesis, new brain cells are being created throughout our lives. The brain experiences bursts of growth and also periods of consolidation, when excess connections are pared. The most notable bursts are in the first two or three years of life, during puberty, and also a final burst during young adulthood.

Brain maturity also depends on genes and lifestyle. Exercising the brain and proper nutrition are just as important as it is for the rest of the body.

Our neurons communicate in various ways. Signals pass among them by the release and capture of neurotransmitter and neuromodulator chemicals, such as glutamate, dopamine, acetylcholine, noradrenalin, serotonin and endorphins.

Some neurochemicals work in the synapse, passing specific messages from release sites to collection sites, called receptors. Others also spread their influence more widely, like a radio signal, making whole brain regions more or less sensitive.

Deficiencies in certain neurochemicals are linked to disease. For example, a lack of dopamine in the basal ganglia (the part of the brain that controls movement) leads to Parkinson’s disease. It can also increase susceptibility to addiction because dopamine affects our sensations of reward and pleasure.

Similarly, a deficiency in serotonin, used by regions controlling the emotion, can be linked to depression or mood disorders, and the loss of acetylcholine in the cerebral cortex is characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.

Within individual neurons, signals are formed by electrochemical pulses. This electrical activity can be detected by an electroencephalogram (EEG), placed outside the scalp . These signals have wave-like patterns, which scientists classify from alpha (common while we are relaxing or sleeping), to gamma (active thought). When this activity goes awry, it is called a seizure. Some researchers think that synchronizing the activity in different brain regions is important for perception.

There are other, indirect ways of imaging brain activity. Functional magnetic resonance imaging or positron emission tomography monitor blood flow. MRI scans, computed tomography scans and diffusion tensor images (DTI) use the magnetic signatures of different tissues, X-ray absorption, or the movement of water molecules in those tissues, to image the brain.

These and other scanning techniques have helped determine which parts of the brain are associated with which functions. For example, different parts of the brain govern activity related to sensations, movement, libido, choices, regrets and motivations. However, some experts argue that we put too much trust in these results, which also raise privacy issues.

Before scanning techniques, researchers relied on patients with brain damage caused by strokes, head injuries or illnesses, to determine which brain areas perform certain functions. This approach exposed the regions connected to emotions, dreams, memory, language, perception and to more enigmatic events, such as religious or “paranormal” experiences.

One famous example was the case of Phineas Gage, a 19th century railroad worker who lost part of the front of his brain when a 1-metre-long iron pole blasted through his head during an explosion. He recovered physically, but experienced permanent personality change, showing for the first time that specific brain regions are linked to different processes.

About the Author – Terry A. Rondberg, DC

Dr. Terry Rondberg is has been a champion of the chiropractic profession for decades. After receiving his Doctor of Chiropractic (DC), Dr. Rondberg founded The Chiropractic Journal, the industry’s first professionally edited source for chiropractic news and features.