Every day, neuroscientists discover incredible, new facts about the brain. These findings all helps doctors, scientists, and researchers learn more about how to maximize and develop overall brain functionality, but it also helps them understand how to boost brain capabilities, as well. And this base of knowledge can help you as you work towards better brain health. Here are seven facts you probably don’t know about your brain.
1. Your Brain Functions Are Equal to Billions of Micro-Computers
The number of neurons in your brain range from 86 billion to 100 billion. Neurons are the specialized cell transmitting nerve impulses throughout the brain.
In a study done by MIT, researchers placed thin electrodes in the dendrites of several neurons. Dendrites are small, branchlike structures that send electrical signals to each neural cell. Researchers discovers that the human dendrite have fewer ion channels per dendrite than other species. This means that each individual dendrite has to make a decision on whether to send any electrical impulse down the chain to the neuron. These collective decisions mean that rather than relying on larger structures in the brain to control electrical activity, each neuron functions relatively on its own, behaving like a miniature computer.
Imagine having 86 billion computers in your brain helping you in all the aspects of your life. It’s incredible.
2. Your Brain Makes Neurons in Every Moment
Your brain is constantly making brain cells. During intrauterine life, the brain makes about a quarter of a million neurons per minute. After birth, the process of making new neurons slows down, but your brain continues to make neurons until it stops working. An adult brain creates roughly 700 new neurons every day. While that may seem like a small number given the billions of neurons in your brain, remember that this is already a fully formed network, so this new growth serves to optimize your current brain activity.
You can encourage neural growth through constant learning, exercise, a healthy diet, and engaging in creative endeavors. Studies show that aerobic exercise stimulate overall neural growth, but also activate neural cells in your hippocampus, the area of your brain responsible for learning, memory, and spatial awareness. Another study on intermittent fasting indicates you can stimulate new neural growth by as much as 20%.
Even though your brain develops faster in the womb, research shows that it continues to grow new neurons every day of your life.
3. Our Brains Are Constantly Programming & Reprogramming
Each neuron is connected to thousands of other neurons through synapses. And each grouping of neurons performs specific tasks and functions. In order to perform optimally and effectively, your brain will constantly work to ensure each network of connections are able to communicate quickly.
When you learn something new, your brain will work to create new connections or build onto existing neural networks to enhance your learning. This process is called neuroplasticity and helps keep your brain healthy. But you don’t want to stop challenging yourself because once you have something entrenched in your knowledge base, or you stop using that particular knowledge, your brain will also prune away unused networks. That’s why it’s so important to continue challenging yourself to both learn new skills, but to also continue building on your current foundation of knowledge.
It doesn’t have to be technical learning to keep your neural networks operating at full capacity. Hobbies are fantastic ways to keep adding new connections. Learn a musical instrument or another language. Take up dancing or pottery. Even doing challenging puzzles or playing learning games can help keep your brain happy and healthy.
4. Your Brain Needs a Huge Amount of Energy
Your brain requires a huge amount of energy to work. It’s only 2% of your overall body weight but it requires over 20% of your energy stores, oxygen levels, and nutrients to operate. To put that in perspective, in a 2,000 calorie diet, the brain takes 400 calories alone. That’s why a healthy diet and exercise are so vital for overall good brain health.
Part of the reason your brain is such an energy hog is that it is constantly working. Sending signals to your brain and heart, keeping your organs functioning at all times—including when you’re asleep. It’s also designed to react at a moment’s notice. Thoughts constantly bubble up and there is no advance notice for when you want it to remember something. Even your habits are thanks to neural networks that have automated and memorized certain behaviors, acting almost effortlessly whenever you need it to.
5. Your Brain Produces Electricity
Don’t let your brain’s small size deceive you. If you were to take the blood vessel in the brain and stretch them out end to end, they would make a street over 400 miles long. This takes a lot of power to maintain, and on average, your brain produced roughly 25 to 30 watts of electricity—enough to power a ten watt lightbulb!
It would take over 3,000 years to count all the neurons in your brain and because it’s constantly working, your brain sends more messages in a day than all the phones in the world. But it isn’t the amount of messages that produces electricity, or what makes the brain truly impressive. It’s that the speed of these messages is incredibly fast. Neurons send information to your brain at a mind-blowing 150 miles-per-hour, or 241 kilometers per hour. That’s how you can feel a raindrop on your skin within milliseconds of it landing.
6. Your Brain Is Mostly Water
It isn’t just nutrients your brain needs, but water, as well. Your body is made mostly of water, and the same is true of your brain. Roughly three-quarters, or 80%, of the brain is water. Even losing as much as 2% due to dehydration can lead to impaired thinking, fatigue, headaches, and general brain fog.
Even if you aren’t significantly dehydrated, not drinking enough water can reduce your brain’s efficiency. Water helps conduct and send the necessary electrical signals needed to communicate with the rest of your body. Half of all your brain’s energy is used sending and receiving signals, so the harder it has to work, the less efficient it will be. This means even being slightly dehydrated can reduce your ability to focus and concentrate, can hinder your problem-solving and decision-making capabilities, and can even impact your memory.
If you start to feel sluggish, drink a glass of water and watch your attention, focus, and energy levels increase.
7. Each region of the Brain is Specialized and Versatile
Each region of the brain has specific functions. But in order to operate your body efficiently, those functions require cross-collaboration with other regions of the brain. And often, these regions and functions operate independently and simultaneously with each other.
This amazing versatility is how the brain can heal itself after traumatic injuries. Other areas and regions will step in and take over to compensate for the lost functions. Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor talks about her healing process when she lost the use of her entire left hemisphere in her book, My Stroke of Insight. You can listen to her episode on our podcast, here.
Your brain is the most complicated organ in your body. Every year, scientists learn more and more about how it works, yet much of the brain remains a mystery. It’s a powerful part of your body and knowing how it functions can help you keep it happy and healthy, allowing you to unlock your truly limitless potential in learning and in life.