The most magnificent computer ever designed sits atop your shoulders, and we barely understand how it works! The human brain is a complex organ that controls all functions of the body, interprets information from the outside world, and embodies the essence of the mind and soul.
Recently scientists were able to help a fully paralyzed man regain his ability to walk using A.I.-directed brain implants! Other researchers have been able to delve into dementia and found a high correlation between elevated blood sugar and Alzheimer’s. And yet science is still trying to determine through Quantum Medicine something so basic as how the mind-muscle communication in our bodies happens faster than we can explain.
We still have a lot to learn about how our supercomputer brains function. But for starters, we do understand quite a bit about the structures of the human brain and what they do. Here’s a quick roadmap:
The brain can be divided into three basic units: the forebrain, the midbrain, and the hindbrain.
The cerebrum, also known as the cerebral cortex, is the largest part of the human brain and is associated with higher brain functions such as thought and action. It is divided into four sections, called "lobes": the frontal lobe, the parietal lobe, the occipital lobe, and the temporal lobe. This is the area of the brain attributed to our most evolved functions and is what sets us apart from other mammals.
The midbrain is located below the cerebral cortex and above the hindbrain, placing it near the center of the brain. It is a very complex structure with a bundle of axons called the corpus callosum that connects the two hemispheres and allows the two hemispheres of the brain to communicate with each other. However, it does not allow for simultaneous access to both hemispheres. Women seem to have twice as much corpus callosum as men, and some studies suggest that because of this, women have greater and possibly simultaneous interhemispheric connectivity.
The hindbrain includes the upper part of the spinal cord, the brain stem, and a wrinkled ball of tissue called the cerebellum. The hindbrain controls the body's vital functions, such as respiration and heart rate. This is our primal/survival brain that we share with mammals and reptiles.
Interestingly, Temple Grandin, in her book “Animals Make Us Human,” notes that if we think of these parts of the brain from an evolutionary standpoint, seeing them as having layered themselves one upon the other, we can learn to access those mid and primal parts of our brain/thinking to create a better animal-human bond. This could help us to treat animals more humanely, become better parents, and simply be better humans.
You’re a Fat Head…And That’s Good!
On average, the human brain weighs about 3.3 lbs. and is composed of about 60% fat, with the remaining 40% being a combination of water, protein, carbohydrates, and salts. The brain and the rest of the nervous system are composed of many different types of cells, but the primary functional unit is a cell called the neuron. The brain also contains glial cells, neural stem cells, and blood vessels. There are more than 86 billion neurons in the brain and a roughly equal number of other types of cells. Interestingly, the brain does not have any pain receptor cells in tissue structure. Consequently, your brain cannot feel pain.
Surrounding your brain tissues is a sea of fluid and lining called the Blood-Brain Barrier (BBB). This is a highly selective and dynamic interface between the brain and the circulatory system. It is a complex system of blood vessels and cells that protects the brain from harmful substances and maintains a stable environment for proper neuronal function. It’s the velvet rope to the executive suite, so to speak.
The BBB is composed of endothelial cells, pericytes, astrocytes, and neurons. These cells work together to form the barrier that protects your brain and play a crucial role in regulating the exchange of substances between the blood and the brain, which is important for proper neuronal function. Neurons communicate with each other through specialized connections called synapses, and the BBB helps to maintain the balance of ions and neurotransmitters in the brain so that synapses function properly.
You may have heard the term neuroplasticity. Until recently, western medicine thought you were born with all the brain cells you would ever have. If they were damaged, you were a goner – those cells were never coming back. But more studies showed that was a limited understanding of the brain. Neuroplasticity is the brain's ability to change and adapt in response to damage, impairment, and new experiences, including learning and memory. Studies have shown that brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that promotes brain growth and is important for long-term memory, can cross the BBB and enter the brain. We’ll talk more about that in a minute.
Water on the Brain?
Nope, That’s Cerebrospinal Fluid!
The brain is surrounded by cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which acts as a cushion protecting the brain from injury. CSF is produced in the ventricles of the brain and flows through the brain and spinal cord. It also helps to remove waste products from the brain and transport nutrients to the brain cells. The BBB regulates the exchange of substances between the blood and the CSF.
When we get a spinal tap, a doctor removes some of this fluid to determine if it has been contaminated, if there is a high white blood cell level count, or if there are excess toxins being created/excreted from the brain’s tissues. It can also measure inflammation and inflammatory markers. Neuroinflammation and the blood-brain barrier are related in that chronic and/or systemic inflammation can cause changes in the BBB. (That’s not a good thing!)
Peripheral inflammation can also disrupt the BBB resulting in diseases of the Central Nervous System (CNS). The BBB regulates the entrance of cytokines and immune cells into the CNS, which activates glial cells and changes the environment of our cells. This can, in turn, cause more inflammation, more cellular damage, and neurotoxins to leak into the plasma. If that inflammation grows worse or is sustained, it can cause the BBB to become too permeable, which can actually hurt the brain. A healthy BBB ensures a safe brain, protected and well-fed neurons, and proper cellular signaling. A weakened BBB puts the brain and CNS at risk of invasion of toxins, pathogens, immune cells, or ion dysregulation, which would lead to neuronal dysfunction, degeneration, and injury.
Researchers are also finding that depression is related to inflammation and the neurotoxic load of that and stress cause chemical and structural harm to the brain.
Your Brain’s Enzymatic Army
The fluid around the brain is filled with enzymes, and they are an integral part of the gatekeeping system. But, as we age, the enzymes surrounding the brain can go into overdrive, becoming overreactive so that vital nourishment for the brain does not cross the BBB. Poor nutrition resulting from nutrients in the blood being blocked by these enzymes out of whack is harmful to cognitive health. For instance, monoamine oxidase (MAO) is an enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters, including serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. That breakdown results in toxic compounds like hydrogen peroxide, ammonia, and aldehyde. Too much MAO can cause brain cancer, neuronal loss, and brain impairments. You can see why it’s important that the blood-brain system be healthy and balanced.
One way our bodies do this is through Brain-derived Nootropic Factor (BDNF). BDNF is a protein that promotes brain growth and is important for long-term memory. It is also involved in the regulation of mood and anxiety, as well as neuroplasticity. Studies have shown that BDNF crosses the BBB unimpeded. Altered levels of MAO that can cause damage and degeneration are countered by BDNF. For women, it’s interesting to note that menopause can have an impact on BDNF production too. So that 12x round trip into the other room, forgetting each time why you went there, may be tied to the drop in neuroprotective estrogen compounded by lower plasma levels of BDNF!
Research is ongoing to determine how, but the action of BDNF when it crosses the BBB holds a lot of promise for brain health, brain fog, depression, post-menopausal issues, and even dementia.
Creating An Anti-aging Strategy for Your Brain
You’re probably wondering, “How do I get this BDNF stuff?!” The good news is that our bodies produce BDNF as a result of exercise in some amount, but you can also increase your body’s production of it by ensuring you have the right “resources” for the brain’s needs.
Reducing too high levels of MAO enzymes is a first step. Quercetin has been shown to be vital to balancing MAO and increasing BDNF production along with curcumin and bioflavonoids. Qubeco contains Quercetin Phytosome, which is 50x more powerful than traditional quercetin.
Turmeric helps reduce inflammation and is derived from curcumin, but it has many bioavailability challenges; the cell wall is very difficult to break down. The fractionated version can help make it an effective resource for increasing BDNF and lowering inflammation.
New research has uncovered some unique bioflavonoid sources that are proving to be phenomenally rich in phenols and increase BDNF levels within hours. Sources from what was previously considered waste in processing coffee are now showing great promise (something the indigenous people knew and used.) But, at the very least, a powerful multivitamin with high bioavailability is an integral part of your daily strategy while these new sources are tested and verified. Health Direct’s Nature’s Optimal Nutrition is a liquid full spectrum multi with 140+ vitamins, minerals, herbs, extracts, and superfoods in their most bioavailable and effective forms.
The idea of living beyond your 70s seemed far-fetched for most people just a few decades ago. Today it is a very real possibility as we watch more people reach 100 and beyond. It’s important that we start planning to have a healthy brain now. See if you can integrate these simple steps into your daily regime to keep your body and your mind ready for the long haul.
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
Lisa Moretti is a Certified Health Coach from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition (IIN), the largest nutrition school in the world. She was at the top of her cohort in 2015. She's been involved in the natural health and supplement world professionally since 1981. Some product recommendations result in a small affiliate payment from amazon.com.