The brain has many dynamic parts and each defies scientific analysis. As we sleep, dream, or are awake, vibrations inside our brain's nerve cells resonate in symphony and harmony with the world. Thoughts emotions and perceptions all affect our brains. Over 100 billion neurons exist. We are born with all the neurons we will ever have. However, we are always forming new connections through out life. Each one fires up to 500 x a second. These neurons release 100 different chemicals and makes 10,000 contacts with other neurons.
Yet to function, the brain must have a reliable control system. The right brain knows what the left-brain is constantly doing. This control system is in the brain stem. Via a chemical system, the brain stem tells the mind what to do with the information it selects.
UNIQUE FEATURES OF THE BRAIN
The brain secretes chemicals and makes proteins (memories are encoded as proteins. Electrical energy is uniformly dispersed. When awake, the brain is energized by histamine (hypothalamus), serotonin (raphe-nucleus), dopamine (midbrain) and noradrenaline (locus coeruleus).
Neurons in the brain also fire regularly in specific patterns. They are orchestrated by a system that inhibits neuron activity (via GABA an anterior hypothalamus transmitter).
PONs controls the conscious state and sleep-wake cycles
GENICULATE BODY activates the visual thalamus
OCCIPITAL LOBES activate the visual cortex.
AMYGDALA activates anxiety and dream emotions
LOCUS COERULEUS secretes norepinepherine
RAPHE NUCLEI secrete seratonin
DORSAL NUCLEI secrete acetylcholine
HYPOTHALMUS house the biological clock
MIDBRAIN NEURONS secrete dopamine
RETICULAR FORMATION receives and sends messages
THALMUS is the organ of being awake
THE BRAIN CLOCK
Our brain clock is longer than 24 hours. It must be reset each day. We sleep for 90 minutes at a time. During the day this 90-minute cycle is suppressed but we still have behavioral changes every 90 minutes in our ability to concentrate, our appetite, and fatigue levels.
The mind is all the information in the brain. It is a jack in the box that springs into action when a neurochemical switch is flipped. Our minds can jump from subject to subject but at any given moment we can zero in on a single idea or emotion.
There are many component s that makeup our consciousness. Sensations, perception, emotions, memory, thoughts, language, learning movement and attention all stimulate our consciousness. Only humans have language and thoughts. The animals learn only by primary consciousness.
At anyone time, only a small part of information is available to us. We pick what we see. Our consciousness directs our decisions making and makes us responsible for our actions.
The sixth sense is the non-consciousness part of the mind. "I feel it in my bones (intuitive)".The right brain can perceive an object's use and understand it but the left-brain gives it its name and describes it. Language is a left-brain function.
Some memory must be brought to consciousness, other is present without awareness as we acquire certain skills and perform them without awareness (automatic motor skills). Memory retrieval is automatic.
The hippocampus is essential to memory and connects to the amydala, resulting in repeat behavior with emotions. It processes new data and records it and sends it to the cortex where it is stored for the future. New selective memory links the mammary bodies to the hippocampus.
Reflex automatic primordial memory connects to the upper pons with its amydala connections. Orientation is important for storage of memory. Knowing who you are, what day it is, and where you are at all times, are crucial to help memory storage.
Dreaming is a loss of perception and orientation. Dreamng allows a freedom to create a false scenario effortlessly. We dream in order to forget. When we dream we don't wake up, can't see our surroundings, nor feel heat.
Perception, instinct, action, sensation, bad judgment, awareness, orientation, and recent memory are all impaired while dreaming. There is no self-awareness to time, place or persons. All external sensory signals are also blocked. Norephenerine and seratonin are reduced during dreaming. Our muscles and sensory nerves become paralyzed.
Dopamine triggers the normal psychosis of dreaming. It is produced by midbrain neurons (in front of the medulla and pons). It interacts with seratonin, norepinepherine and acetylcholine.
They all release cyclic AMP that energizes neurons. Drugs block dopamine and raise seratonin and norephinephrine levels. Antidepressant drugs block acetylcholine. This can correct a sleep problem for a short time but in the long term drugs result in light and poor sleep.
The block to the RE system is gone and the thalamus is reactivated. Visual, emotional, and movement centers are reactivated. However real behavior remains blocked.
Dreams often cannot be recalled. The memory system is driven into a playback mode and the brain can't store the memory into short-term memory. To remember dreams requires a second message system where messages from the cell membrane go the cell's nucleus. Lack of sleep makes dreaming more intense.
If we are to dream, the temporal lobe (seat of emotions) must be turned on. Emotions determine the content of dreams. There is no dreaming possible when the parietal lobe is not functioning.
Sleep self activates every 90 minutes at night. A coma like state is replaced by dreaming. The brain is only activated 10-20% when we sleep. Yet this is enough to eliminate consciousness. A great deal of information processing occurs even when we sleep.
This automatic processing helps us to be creative and organization. Simply, the brain is never ever turned off. As we start to fall asleep we are unable to focus our attention. Brain energy is diminished, and we feel tired and fatigued.
When we sleep. the thalmocortical system is disabled. This occurs at night because our body temperature and body energy drop. Sensations and attention and memory drop. Acetylcholine, seratonin, and norepinepherine drop.
Brain oxygen drops 20% and there is a decrease in regional blood flow. This results in a decrease in activity of the pons, the reticular formation in the brain stem and also a decrease in cortical activity.
THE RETICULAR FORMATION (RE)
The RE controls the level of activation. It begins in the medulla just above the spinal cord. The RE is the central core of the brain. By resetting levels of activation in the brain, it can coordinate all brain activity.
In short, it is the heart of the brain. This intricate network of cells can receive messages and send them everywhere to the brain.
It is under the control of our will via the prefrontal cortex. The RE coordinates and unifies all the activity in the brain. Tension in our muscles, or focusing on one thought or another can lead to consciousness. Sensations, attention, perception, and recent memory impulses are sent to the thalamus; emotions and instinct are sent to the hippocampus and amygdala.
The thalamus has its own on-off switch for consciousness. As it stops vibrating we fall asleep and consciousness is impaired. When one needs to pay attention to details the lateral geniculate body of the thalamus must be stimulated.
It is the organ of being awake. It is the final gateway of outside information entering the brain cortex. It integrates information from the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. It is hard to wipe out the thalamic cortical system because it fans out.
To recognize simple objects that we need, stimuli must be analyzed and perceived. Sensory stimuli are received by the thalamus and relayed to the cortex. (50-100 billion neurons are present in the brain.) Each cortical section has a location on the thalamus that makes interaction strong and rapid. Emotions stimulate the amydala centers of emotion.
LANGUAGE, LEARNING, AND ATTENTION
Language is organized in the dominant hemisphere and is on top of the cortex and up front to the forehead. The angle of the temporal and frontal lobes is the language area. The front part is named Broca's area (cant translate words into speech); the posterior area is Wernicke's area (cant understand words).
Learning may be completely unconscious but can still be stored in memory. Serotonin must be present to learn. When we sleep no seratonin is released and we can perceive, but do not remember. No seratonin, no memory.
Attention is needed for conscious thought. Once we analyze a problem, we can act more deliberately and program and time our actions. The prefrontal area of the cortex processes thoughts that are pressed into action.
To know the world we must first have the primary functions that lower animals have: sensations, instinct, learning and reflexes. Without these we cannot have advanced functions asperception, emotion, memory, and reflection.
BRAIN AND BODY TEMPERATURE
Body and brain temperature fluctuate 1-½ degrees every day as we sleep and dream and awaken within the circadian rhythm. Our biological clock in the hypothalamus regulates the body temperature.
The temperature drops as we get sleepy and stays low as we sleep. The temperature rises in the late morning and it is difficult to sleep. When brains get hot or cold they go out of whack. Babies, who still have brain circuits developing, can get seizures with temperature shifts.
EFFECT OF ANESTHESIA ON THE BRAIN
(Penrose Hameroff Theory)
During anesthesia, gases given off cause structural changes in the brain proteins. These disrupt our consciousness by limiting the electrical activity of the brain.
These brain protein molecules are very sensitive to changes. The energy of the water pockets in molecules are reduced. This disrupts the neuronal membrane dynamics and synaptic transmission.
Drugs block brain secretions. Cocaine blocks norepinepherine ( in the locus coeruleus). LSD blocks serotonin (in the raphe nucleus). Nerve gas blocks acetylcholine.
When the brain is deprived of oxygen for 6 minutes, brain cells are dead forever. Encephalitis viruses are small enough get everywhere in the brain and disturb the cell's DNA and even wipe out the cortex. The brain stem is smaller than the cortex and is in a smaller space. With swelling in this area caused by stroke, tumor or concussion, cortical neurons in the brain stem die.
Staying awake beyond our normal limits make us feel anxiety, stress, and fatigue. Physical activity as walking and exercise decrease our demand on thinking and attention and can reduce anxiety and fatigue feelings.
We can stay wide-awake for 6-8 hours and even up to 12 hours but then fatigue sets in. The eye moves up to 20 time per second. Each of these eye movements sends excitatory signals to update the brain's view of the world.
The eyelid controls the access to visual data to the brain. After 6-8 hours of alert work, we are ready for a break. Hobbies, family, socializing, and watching TV, boosts our emotional state of being.
Most of us have a second career after we come home from a hard day of work. Being anxious and stressed out during the day and being deprived of sleep at night, we become all wound up. We are always moving between being awake and dreaming.
We don't have time to sleep and are very determined to stay awake. Our eyes scan the newspaper pages but the info does not enter the brain because the thalmo-cortical system has shut down. Many times we can't sleep because we can't turn off the thalmo-cortical system.
The mentally ill are not qualitatively different from the rest of us. Psychosis and mental illness are all functional and organic. Healthy people also find it advantageous to turn off thoughts from feelings.
We can flatten our affect if it gets in our way or becomes unbearable. Being always conscious is a balancing act. In 1955, with the discovery of Thorazine, we were able to empty all our mental hospitals. With new drugs like Prozac we were able to close most mental hospitals.
ALCOHOL EFFECT ON THE BRAIN
Alcohol turns down the anxiety machine by depressing the frontal cortex (as in sleep). It causes muscles to relax, emotions to run free, and loosens our tongues. The sub cortical engines are no longer blocked by our pickled frontal lobes.
Alcohol is not a good sedative. Its breakdown products cause arousal later in the night. A dreamy state occurs when suppressive REMs are awakened. This buildup of REM pressure is released causing visual hallucinations and disorientation to occur.
AGING AND STRESS
You are responsible for your own old age. After the age of 70 we can retrieve information about 70% slower and our short-term memory is also slowed down. There is decreased blood flow noticeable after age 55. There is no loss of cognition unless we have diabetes or hardening of the arteries.
Each brain cell has thousands of energy factories called mitochondria. They bring oxygen to energize the cells; these cells release oxygen free radicals. These radicals attack the walls of the mitochondria and invade the inside DNA.
They also cut the connection centers of the brain. You have a defense system of fighters that vaporize and destroy these free radicals. After the age of 30 the defense system weakens.
The brain cells start dying in the hippocampus and Alzheimer's begins. Only 4% of people under 75 display this drop; after 85, 50% of people show signs of brain damage.
The good news is that the brain makes new neurons when old ones die (Gould & Gage). However, stress causes a rapidity of brain damage, cortisol is released and new brain cell production stops.
A stimulating life style switches on genes in nerve cells and proteins are made that help new connections, neurons, and new blood vessels all grow. This boosts our performance and adds nearly 20% more brain cells.
By stimulating our minds we increase our memory banks. This means taking on new pursuits not just being active. The reticular cells in the brain stem need novelty to survive.
NUTRITION AND THE BRAIN
Our brains have been growing for over 2 million years. The brain is changed by the foods we had then. The enzymes in the fruits, vegetables, and wild plants we ate set up communication systems.
Our diet has changed radically especially in the last 50 years. The brain wants the nutrients it had for the last 50,000 years and we feed the brain cells things that the brain never had 50 years ago.
We started with vegetables, meat fish, and fruits. Then we started cultivating grains and raising animals. Then we added to our diets dairy products, bread and grain. Yet this was not part of our original genetic makeup.
Today, over on half of our diets are made up of new foods (sugar, alcohol, milk products and sugar substitutes and sweeteners. Our intake of omega 3 is scanty and our intake of omega 6 is overwhelming.
Allergic reactions from grains have caused headaches, bowel disturbances, and arthritis. The dairy products lack the enzymes to digest milk. Carbohydrates are full of empty sugar calories that make us obese.
Our fat intake is full of transfatty fats and hydrogenated fats that are bad for the brain and the waistline. We should get 700mg of potassium daily only found in fruits and vegetables.
THE BRAIN THAT CHANGES ITSELF
Norman Doidge’s (a psychiatrist from Toronto) has written an exciting new book:" The brain that changes itself”. In it he describes the latest developments in understanding the brain.
The brain changes its structure and function through thoughts and with every different activity it performs. It perfects its circuits to handle the task at hand. The brain has specialized parts that are malleable. When a part fails, other parts can sometimes take over.This is an excellent read.
In the last 30 years we have found the brain to be a growing changing organ. It is a living organ that is either improving or deteriorating. What we eat, how we exercise and what drugs we take, all effect this growing organ we call the brain.
We do everything wrong to ruin our bodies. We eat the wrong type of fats, eat too many calories and too much sugar, exercise too little, and skip the fruits and vegetables that we need.
The brain is continually being rewired and produces new receptors and dendrites all the time. New connections are made at any age. But these connections require proper diet, supplements and mental and physical activity.
Brain chemicals flash through our neurons and carry every thought and feeling. Over 55 brain chemicals have been identified. The good mood chemical (seratonin) requires a food amino acid tryptophan.
The memory chemical (choline) requires egg yolk to make acetylcholine. The motor coordinator chemical (dopamine requires tyrosine found in high protein foods.
We are often stuck in the left-brain mode that is always analyzing how we behave.. We criticize our past decisions. We have a plan for all different situations and anticipate how we would react to them. Once the event of over, we want to know how well we did and how we could have done better.
As we get older we accept that death is inevitable. We must go with the flow. A healthy mind cannot control everything. We must recognize and accept the unknown.
To keep the brain healthy we must exercise regularly, free ourselves from toxic substances, let our brains wander and daydream at least once a day and get plenty of sleep.
Acupuncture can restore the healthy brain connections and enhance brain chemical secretions that may be blocked by stress and abnormal neuronal activity..
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