Welcome to Your Brain

by Tahnee McCrossin May 28, 2018 0 Comments 10 mins read

Welcome to Your Brain

...... Brains are pretty cool ...... 


We all grow up hearing about brains, feeling the gears turning in our own heads as we learn to construct thoughts and ideas, interpret language and the world around us, and begin to process the complexity of our lives as humans. 

We tend to take for granted what we do know about the brain, but dive a little deeper and what is REALLY interesting is what we DON’T know about the brain!! If your interest is piqued, then sign up to our 21 days of Brain Gains :)!

This isn’t really surprising given that the brain contains roughly 86 billion cells, and that each piece of brain tissue the size of a GRAIN OF SAND contains 100,000 neurons and 1 billion synapses (the bridge between neurons). I mean, that’s a lot of cells! 

We know some cool stuff about neurons, like that they can transmit 1,000 nerve impulses per second and make as many as tens of thousands of synaptic contacts with other neurons. And that there are as many as 10,000 specific types of neurons in the brain, all with different roles to play in neural function. 

Western science is awesome at reductionism; taking things apart, examining them, putting them back together (sometimes!) What it tends to be a bit rubbish at is taking the holistic view - the wider, more integrated view. Especially as brain science progresses, we can see that the more we learn, the less we realise we know. We’ve dissected brains, and looked at them under microscopes, and hooked people up to electrodes and we’ve learned a lot, but the new frontier of brain research is in mapping the relationships within the brain (and body), starting to widen our lens to learn how the regions of the brain process, coordinate and communicate. 

This raises all sorts of questions - how are the regions of the brain sharing information (and what is this information? How is it encoded?)? How, exactly, do thousands (or tens of thousands) of neurons work together so we can perceive something as ubiquitous as a singing bird? As neurobiologist Lu Chen, PhD. states on the Stanford University blog
 
“We know very little about the brain. We know about connections, but we don’t know how information is processed.”

Some of the most recent discoveries about these neural cells are even starting to help us better understand how information is processed and even starting to explain the elephant in the neuroscience room (or lab!) - consciousness! Cells have been discovered that help us to distinguish self-generated stimuli and external stimuli - this is pretty huge, when you consider that knowing ourselves as separate from things is one of the most useful tools we have in navigating the physical world.

Scientists have also recently discovered that there are cells in the hippocampus that help us to navigate our physical space and that the brain is connected to the lymph (and immune) system. Which means that we can affect the health of the brain in much the same way we can affect the health of the entire body - through great nutrition, movement, hydration and rest. 

Some of the stuff we know about the brain can help us to start to up our health game ante, especially if we start to weave together the best of the Western anatomical and neuroscientific models with ancient wisdom. 

I present you with some of my fave brain facts, how to boost your brain health with some simple hacks.

...... Your Brain Loves Blood ......


The brain processes about 1 litre of blood (or 15% of the cardiac output). Every. Single. Minute. (The kidneys, whose job it is to filter the blood, take on about 1.2 litres per minute.)

Guys, stay hydrated (the brain is around 75% water - see this link to calculate your water needs), look after your liver and kidneys (so your blood stays clean) and keep the stress levels down - neck strain will affect the ability of the blood vessels to perform the minute contractions they use to shunt blood against gravity to the brain. Get upside down a little bit every day, even if it’s just bending over for a few minutes.

Studies have shown that at higher accelerated forces of gravity, the brain starts to malfunction, producing electrical communication breakdowns that are similar to epilepsy. And some people get dizzy when they stand up too quickly, as the baroreceptor reflexes adjust to the new arterial pressure. This used to happen to me heaps as a young girl, but since I started doing yoga, I’ve not experienced it again. I am telling you all of this to enforce that it’s a good idea to keep the blood flow up to the brain :)

 

...... Brains Can Shrink Too ......


Brains float around in a sea of brain juice (A.K.A. cerebrospinal fluid) and are around 75% water, as I've already mentioned. Ninety minutes of sweating can temporarily shrink the brain as much as one year of ageing does. STAY HYDRATED! (I repeat, stay hydrated.) You know what else causes the brain to shrink? Chronic stress! Also, omega-3 deficiency shrinks your brain.

...... You Can Gain in the Brain ......


The hippocampus, the seat of memory in the brain, is significantly larger in London cab drivers. This is due to the mental ‘workout’ they get while navigating the 25,000 streets of London. See, just like the muscles in our body, the brain can get ‘stronger’ if it is exercised. Similarly, Mr Albert Einstein's brain was found to have a greater neural density than the average person, despite being a little bit on the smaller side. It's kinda like how muscles get stronger - we don't add on more actual muscles (or more neurons, in the case of the brain), it's just that within our muscle tissue, more muscle fibres are laid down and this increases our muscle density and performance. Same thing happens in the brain. This process is happening all the time within the brain, as this recent study into facial recognition highlighted, and we can reinforce it with our behaviours and by choosing to expose ourselves to more mental 'workouts.' 
 

...... Don’t Sleep Next to Your Phone (or Laptop) ......


EMFs are everywhere unfortunately, but anything you can do to minimise exposure is going to help your brain. Over 140 proteins in the brain are negatively impacted by exposure to electromagnetic frequencies, the kind emitted by your mobile phone and other electronic devices. My laptop (a Macbook Pro) is REALLY bad. Use an earthing pad (we love Earthing Oz’s range), get a special case for your phone and/or laptop (we use SafeSleeve) and detox from EMFs with infrared saunas (we love Clearlight Saunas). Spend lots of time in mama nature and turn off your phone, laptop and wifi at night if you can. Your brain will thank you!

...... Fast a Little - Your Cells Need Time to Eat Themselves ......


Your cells eat themselves, a process called autophagy that is super important to maintaining healthy cellular function within the body. In autophagy, our cells basically recycle themselves via lysosomes (the recycling plant inside the cell), preserving the bits that are great and useful (especially proteins) and shunting the unnecessary (and toxic) stuff off to be excreted by the body. These lysosomes play a role in fighting infection, too, helping the cell digest any pathogens.

Studies have shown that disruption of autophagy can cause neurodegeneration. Dysfunctional autophagy has been linked to Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and a host of age-related disorders. The science community only really started to understand autophagy in 2016, when a Japanese researcher, Yoshinori Ohsumi, won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering the mechanisms of autophagy. 

One of the simplest ways of inducing autophagy is by restricting food intake. Mice who were water fasted for 24-48 hours showed that a brief period of food restriction can induce widespread upregulation of autophagy in central nervous system neurons, which may have clinical relevance. It's worth a try!

Your best bet? Give yourself some time every day to fast - we like to fast at least 12 hours from dinner to breakfast (so if you finish eating at 8 pm on Monday, you don’t eat again until 8 am Tuesday), and fast between meals (limit snacking). If that’s going well for you, try extending your fasts out for 18 hours (eat lunch as your first meal of the day) and eventually, 24 to 48 hours. We also take short three to five day fasts at SF HQ, and a few of our crew have undertaken longer fasts (10 - 21 days) for the health benefits. We love Stephen Harrod Buhner’s book on fasting.

(Side note: exercise also induces autophagy...another great reason to move your body on the daily.) 
 

...... Eat Fat (It’s Phat) ......


Make sure you’re getting lots of healthy fats in your diet, including saturated fats. (That whole thing about low fat being healthy that was served up (pun intended) in the 80s and 90s is totally bust, you guys.) A recent article in the journal Advances in Nutrition states, “Several recent analyses indicate that SFAs {saturated fatty acids}, particularly in dairy products and coconut oil, can improve health.”

If you don’t get enough fats, your brain will age prematurely. Cholesterol functions as a brain protective antioxidant and is the raw material from which our bodies make vitamin D, a fundamental player in preserving brain function. In addition, cholesterol is the precursor for the sex hormones oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone – all of which contribute to healthy brain function.

While the brain constitutes about 2-3% of our total body weight, 25% of the body’s cholesterol is found in the brain. 

A very interesting study has shown that high blood cholesterol was associated with decreased dementia risk. Goes against everything we’ve been taught, hey? (I am not saying that the calcified, hardened arteries we associate with high cholesterol are a good thing, just that we might need to rethink the ‘fats are bad’ conversation!)

I've already mentioned that omega-3 deficiency can shrink the brain, and there are a few other polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) that deserve a shout out for being equally important to brain health. The omega-3 fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and the omega-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid (AA) are essential structural components of every cell in the body. For the brain specifically, AA and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are critical to central nervous system (CNS) growth and development. Embedded in the cell membrane, AA is involved in cell signalling pathways and cell division, and serves as an inflammatory precursor for eicosanoids, critters that play an important role in maintaining homeostasis. DHA concentration is high in retinal and brain membranes, and it is involved in visual and neural function and neurotransmitter metabolism.

We recommend eating ‘natural’ fats and oils - I usually ask myself, could I make this fat or oil myself as a hunter-gatherer, with minimal equipment? The outcome of that question is that I usually prefer animal fats or coconut oil to cook with over other sources of fat, as it's really bloody hard to grind oil out of a nut or seed.  Those guys are better eaten in their whole form, IMO. If you are using plant oils, make sure they're cold-pressed and always check your oils for rancid smells or flavours - better to buy smaller amounts more regularly or even better, extract your own. 

We love grass-fed butter and cream, fat from grass-fed animals, eggs (including the yolks), good-quality nuts and seeds (and their butters), cold-pressed oils (olive, sesame, etc), and coconut oil. There are heaps of cool fat-loaded recipes you can check out, straight from our home kitchen :) We also try and eat fresh, wild & local, line-caught fish regularly, as well as jars of sardines - we sometimes supplement DHA and EPA if we’re not feeling fishy. 

Avoid trans fats, and PUFAs found in vegetable oils. Start reading labels, you’ll be shocked at how much canola oil you inadvertently consume in packaged foods!! Mase and I NEVER eat that stuff if we can help it. 

Enjoy moderate servings of good fats, and feel your brain glow! :)
 

This is just the start, SuperFeasters!

...... We’re only just scratching the surface of
the magical organ that is the brain .......

Do you feel like you need some extra brain lovin? Our exquisite brain blend is a powerful nootropic. Nootropic? Say what again? Read about it here :) And remember, 21 days of epic brain info is just a click away...

 

References:
https://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/11/science/learning-how-little-we-know-about-the-brain.html
https://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/07/science/nobel-prize-medicine.html
https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/brain-cleaning-system-uses-lymphatic-vessels 
http://www.sciencefocus.com/article/human-body/how-does-gravity-affect-brain-function 
http://www.cvphysiology.com/Cardiac%20Function/CF017
https://www.h4hinitiative.com/tools/hydration-calculator
https://scopeblog.stanford.edu/2016/11/08/challenges-in-neuroscience-in-the-21st-century/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3106288/
http://www.open.edu/openlearn/nature-environment/natural-history/lysosomes-the-cell-citys-recycling-plant
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16625205

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16625204
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2670399/
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110802125546.htm
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.4161/auto.21327?src=recsys
http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/further-confirmation-that-eating-229522
http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/07/magazine/what-if-it-s-all-been-a-big-fat-lie.html
https://deniseminger.com/2011/12/22/the-truth-about-ancel-keys-weve-all-got-it-wrong/
http://n.neurology.org/content/64/10/1689 
https://academic.oup.com/advances/article/4/3/294/4591609
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2621042/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4606863/ 
https://chriskresser.com/an-update-on-omega-6-pufas/

 

Image source

Tahnee McCrossin
Tahnee McCrossin



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