Fascinating Facts You Never Knew About the Human Brain
Dr. Mercola’s Natural Health Newsletter
The human brain has amazed and baffled people throughout the ages. Some scientists and researchers have devoted their entire lives to learning how the brain works. Here are some facts about your brain.
Your skin weighs twice as much as your brain.
Your brain is made up of about 75 percent water.
Your brain consists of about 100 billion neurons.
There are anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 synapses for each neuron.
There are no pain receptors in your brain, so your brain can feel no pain.
There are 100,000 miles of blood vessels in your brain.
Your brain is the fattest organ in your body and may consist of at least 60 percent fat.
The Developing Brain
A newborn baby’s brain grows about three times its size in the first year.
Humans continue to make new neurons throughout life in response to mental activity.
The first sense to develop while in utero is the sense of touch. The lips and cheeks can experience touch at about 8 weeks and the rest of the body around 12 weeks.
If your brain loses blood for 8 to 10 seconds, you will lose consciousness.
While awake, your brain generates between 10 and 23 watts of power — or enough energy to power a light bulb.
The old adage of humans only using 10% of their brain is not true. Every part of the brain has a known function.
The brain can live for 4 to 6 minutes without oxygen, and then it begins to die. No oxygen for 5 to 10 minutes will result in permanent brain damage.
A study of 1 million students in New York showed that students who ate lunches that did not include artificial flavors, preservatives, and dyes did 14 percent better on IQ tests than students who ate lunches with these additives.
Psychology of Your Brain
There is a class of people known as supertasters who not only have more taste buds on their tongue, but whose brain is more sensitive to the tastes of foods and drinks. In fact, they can detect some flavors that others cannot.
The connection between body and mind is a strong one. One estimate is that between 50-70 percent of visits to the doctor for physical ailments are attributed to psychological factors.
Memories triggered by scent have a stronger emotional connection, and therefore appear more intense than other memory triggers.
Dreams and Sleep
Studies show that brain waves are more active while dreaming than when you are awake.
Some people (about 12 percent) dream only in black and white while others dream in color.
While you sleep, your body produces a hormone that may prevent you from acting out your dreams, leaving you virtually paralyzed.
It’s known, for instance, that neurons in your brain are specialized cells that produce brief spikes of voltage in their outer membranes. Each neuron in your brain’s cortex receives input from as many as 10,000 other neurons, but no one knows exactly how information is coded through this system.
And when you learn something new, it’s known that your brain undergoes physical changes, but no one really knows what those changes are. Same goes for memory storage and retrieval. How your brain is able to retrieve certain memories and information in the instant you need them remains a mystery.
Then there are those completely astounding cases that really showcase what your brain is capable of, such as 20-something Daniel Tammet who can do calculations to 100 decimal places in his head and learn a language in a week. And no one can begin to explain how Stephen Wiltshire, a 32-year-old artist with autism, can create unbelievably detailed drawings of entire cities after seeing them for just minutes.
While researchers continue on trying to understand how and why your brain works the way it does, you may be interested in knowing what you can do to keep yours functioning at its best … and there’s quite a lot.
Your Brain Keeps Developing Well Into Middle Age
Brain volume was commonly believed to stop expanding after age 20. But in MRI brain scans researchers have found that white matter in your brain continues to increase until people are in their mid- to late-40s.
I haven’t personally reviewed this research, but I suspect that the study was done on the “average” non-healthy population, so if you pursued a healthy lifestyle, my guess is that this growth could continue to expand well into old age.
You see, your brain keeps growing in the temporal lobe and frontal lobe — the parts of your brain that largely differentiates you from animals. This continued brain growth into middle-age can be associated with better emotional development and wisdom.
Your brain is actually very much like a muscle. That is, your brain’s structure changes over time and it may be possible to “bulk up” your brain throughout much of adulthood. And continuing to stimulate and challenge your brain as you get older might promote its growth — just as exercise builds muscle.
This means that the opposite also holds true; that drug use, poor nutrition or other assaults on your brain even in adulthood could interfere with your brain’s full development. But your brain is remarkably resilient and capable even of growing new cells to repair itself.
So even if you haven’t been leading the healthiest lifestyle so far, making some positive changes now may give your brain what it needs to reach its full potential.
How to Keep Your Brain Healthy: Nine Essential Tips
A healthy lifestyle can help protect, nourish, and revitalize your brain. This includes:
2. Exercising. Exercise may encourage your brain to work at optimum capacity by causing nerve cells to multiply, strengthening their interconnections and protecting them from damage.
3. Sleeping well. It’s during sleep that your mental energy is restored, and a lack of sleep may cause your brain to stop producing new cells.
4. Eating healthy. Like the rest of your body, your brain depends on healthy foods to function. While protein is the main source of fuel for your brain, vitamins and minerals from fresh veggies are also important, as is limiting sugar.
5. Getting out into the sun. This will help you maintain optimal vitamin D levels. Scientists are now beginning to realize vitamin D is involved in maintaining the health of your brain, as they’ve recently discovered vitamin D receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and central nervous system.
There’s even evidence indicating vitamin D improves your brain’s detoxification process. For children and pregnant women, getting enough vitamin D is especially crucial, as it may play a major role in protecting infants’ brains from autism.
7. Protecting your brain from cell phones. Recent studies have found that cell phone users are 240 percent more prone to brain tumors, and a study back in 2004 found that your risk of acoustic neuroma (a tumor on your auditory nerve) was nearly four times greater on the side of your head where your phone was most frequently held.
8. Challenging your brain. Mind-training exercises can keep your brain fit as you age. This can be something as simple as searching for famous people whose first names begin with the letter A, doing crossword puzzles or playing board games that get you thinking.
9. Avoiding foods that contain artificial sweeteners and additives. Substances such as aspartame (Nutrasweet) and MSG, which are common in processed foods, can damage your brain. For instance, consuming a lot of aspartame may inhibit the ability of enzymes in your brain to function normally, and high doses of the sweetener may lead to neurodegeneration.
You may notice that all of these things will help not only your brain but also your entire body. So being good to your brain means enjoying better health from head to toe!