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A quick review of how the Brain works

February 17, 2012

Neurons are the basic data processing units of the brain.

Each neuron receives electrical inputs from about 1000 other neurons. Impulses arriving simultaneously are added together and, if sufficiently strong, lead to the generation of an electrical discharge, known as an action potential (a ‘nerve impulse’). The action potential then forms the input to the next neuron in the network.

Dendrites are the highly branched processes that carry the incoming information, in the form of electrical impulses, to the soma; the action potential then leaves via the axon terminal.

Axons can be very short (if the communicating cells are very close together) or very long (if the two cells are in different parts of the brain or even the body). They can also be highly branched, so neurons not only receive information from many neurons, they pass the result of the processing to many other neurons, forming the dense neural networks that are such a feature of the brain.

The brain performs an incredible number of tasks including the following:

  • It controls body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate and breathing.
  • It accepts a flood of information about the world around you from your various senses (seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching).
  • It handles your physical movement when walking, talking, standing or sitting.
  • It lets you think, dream, reason and experience emotions.

The brain is “flexible”

Neu­ro­plas­tic­ity or brain plas­tic­ity is the brain’s abil­ity to develop or change through­out your life.  The brain has the abil­ity to adjust by form­ing new con­nec­tions between brain cells (neurons).

Brain plasticity is affected by a number of factors which include: genetics, the envi­ron­ment, the actions of that per­son.

Neu­ro­plas­tic­ity can occur in the brain:

  • At the begin­ning of life: when the imma­ture brain orga­nizes itself.
  • In brain injury: to adjust for diminished or lost func­tions.
  • Through adult­hood: when­ever some­thing new is learned and memorized

Diet & Exercise important:

A review by  Gomez-Pinilla & Gomez  demonstrate that diet is important for  brain plasticity and function. They write that there is evidence that select dietary factors are important modifiers of brain plasticity and can have an impact on central nervous system health and disease.

Results of new research indicate that dietary factors exert their effects by affecting molecular events related to the management of energy metabolism and synaptic plasticity.  Recent study results show that select dietary factors have mechanisms similar to those of exercise, and that, in some cases, dietary factors can complement the action of exercise.

..research findings in animal models of central nervous system injury support the idea that nutrients can be taken in through whole foods and dietary supplements to reduce the consequences of neural damage. Therefore, exercise and dietary management appear as a noninvasive and effective strategy to help counteract neurologic and cognitive disorders.” Gomez-Pinilla & Gomez

Useful reading

Khan Academy

Bristol University

How stuff works: The Brain

Young & Fun and Cognitive Function

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