I thought with this week being the Alzheimers Awareness week, it would be a good time to write about this wonderful organ called the brain.
Being a holistic doctor it is not in my nature to call any part in our body as the key organ because in reality our body systems are highly interconnected and for our cells to flourish, all parts must work in harmony. However, the brain is extremely important and it is becoming clearer that the brain is also deeply linked to the body and that the body and the brain profoundly shape each other. So if the brain is the body, if the body systems are in trouble, the brain will be in trouble too, and vice versa. The brain uses twenty percent of our body’s total energy needs, but makes up only two percent of our body’s weight. It is about 1300- 1400 cubic centimetres in volume, and can generate 25 watts of power while we are awake, which is enough to illuminate a light bulb. A newborn baby’s brain grows almost three times during the first year and hence proper nutrition care during this period is extremely important for long term health of the brain. We are well aware that the human brain is the most complex brain of any animal on this planet.
The brain is divided into two halves, with the left side of the brain controlling the right side of the body, and the right side of the brain controlling the left side of the body. Making sense of the brain’s mind-boggling complexity isn’t easy. It is the organ that makes us human, giving us the capacity for art, language, rational thought and feelings. The brain’s nerve cells are known as neurons, which make up the organ’s so-called “grey matter.” The neurons transmit and gather electrochemical signals that are communicated via a network of millions of nerve fibres called dendrites and axons. These are the brain’s “white matter.” The cerebrum is the largest part of the brain, and represents 85% of the organ’s weight. The distinctive, deeply wrinkled outer surface is the cerebral cortex, which consists of grey matter. This cerebrum is most developed in humans and the folds in the cortex maximise the cortical area. Various parts of this cortex are involved with functions involving speech, thought, learning, emotion, movement, touch, temperature, pain, vision, hearing and memory. Other parts of the brain, like the cerebellum are responsible for control and balance. The hypothalamic area controls hormone secretions from the nearby pituitary gland.
Just like the rest of our bodies, our brains change as we age. Most of us notice some slowed thinking and occasional problems with remembering certain things. In some cases this can lead to serious memory loss, confusion and other major changes in the way our minds work which are not just part of normal aging. This is a sign that the brain cells are failing at a significant rate. The brain has 100 billion nerve cells or neurons. There are two abnormal structures called plaques and tangles, which are the prime suspects in damaging and killing nerve cells. Plaques build up between nerve cells. They contain deposits of a protein fragment called beta-amyloid. The tangles are twisted fibres of another protein called tau and are formed inside dying cells. In people suffering with Alzheimers, these plaques tend to form at a faster rate and start affecting areas important to learning and memory. Alzheimers is a progressive disease which means that over time more parts of the brain become damaged and the symptoms become more severe. Diagnosis is usually made clinically during doctor visits as complaints of lapsing short term memory progresses to increasing difficulty managing complex or new tasks. This can also lead to experience emotional and personality changes. Some feel anxious or sad, and may loser confidence, while others become irritable or suspicious.
As the disease progresses, people with Alzheimers need more support and care and eventually need help with their daily activities. Causes of Alzheimer’s are multi factorial and can be related to genetic makeup, environmental factors and lifestyle issues. Treatment is limited and besides providing physical and emotional support includes drugs which help increase levels of brain chemical called acetyl choline. Use of these drugs can provide some help in early stages of the disease, however, they do have side effects which may limit their use. This brings us back to the holistic argument that all parts of the body are interconnected and a lifetime of healthy living can minimise the risk and progression of this disease. Factors like smoking, excessive alcohol and environmental toxins can increase the toxicity load of the body and lead to degenerative brain diseases. Maintaining ideal body weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels are all useful. Having a diet rich in antioxidants with vegetables and fruits added with good quality Omega 3 oils from fish is helpful as long term insurance against getting Alzheimers disease.
Also by keeping up a healthy physical lifestyle with exercise and ongoing mental stimulation with hobbies and meaningful relationships will help preserve the long term health of your brain.