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Brain-Related Challenges: Myths vs. Facts

Sandhya Basu


The human brain is beyond amazing. This part of our body is made up of 100 billion neurons and controls almost all our bodily functions. From our movement to personality, the brain forms the backbone of all our behavioral patterns. Because the brain plays a very important role in our daily activities, we need to clear up any misunderstandings that we may have regarding its functions.


Many of us have heard that a person only uses 10% of their brain capacity. Is this true? This blog will answer this and the other brain-myths that may be fascinating but not true!





Myth Number 1: We only use 10% of our brain.

Barry Gordon, a neurologist, has dismissed this myth by stating that the majority of the brain is almost always active. His statement is also supported by studies using brain-imaging techniques. Such studies confirm that even if we are performing a very simple action, our brain is mostly active and in use. A huge chunk of our brain is also active even when we are sleeping or just resting!


Myth Number 2: Brain size determines your intelligence.

Well, science says that it is the brain cell (or neurons) and not the brain size that affects our intelligence. Intelligence is neurologically determined by the number of connections our brain cells make with each other. These connections are called synapses. When we learn something new or are involved in any cognitive training, our brain forms these synapses!


Myth Number 3: Left and right-brained people have different personalities!

You may have heard that left-brained people are more analytical, whereas right-brained people are more creative. The truth is, we use both our brain hemispheres for all our mental (or cognitive functions). Even brain-imaging studies have not found any role of the right hemisphere on creativity. The entire left versus right brain theory originated from the study findings that most people (not all) process language in the left hemisphere and emotions in the right hemisphere.


Myth Number 4: Alcohol kills brain cells.

Binge or continuous drinking damages the ends of your brain cells. These ends are called ‘dendrites and are responsible for conveying signals or messages to the other brain cells. People suffering from alcohol addiction often develop a neurological disorder—"Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome”, that affects their vision, muscle control, and memory. Though some people may argue the benefits of ‘safe drinking’, like that of red wine (research shows that a chemical called resveratrol, found in grapes, may help manage Alzheimer’s disease); there are absolutely no known safe levels of drinking. Many factors such as our age, medical history, family diseases, etc., may play an important role in moderating the effect of drinking on our brain cells. At the end of the day, alcohol is a neurotoxin, and it can damage our brain cells!


Myth Number 5: Our IQ stays the same throughout our lifespan.

This is not true since research suggests that our IQ can fluctuate with age. Nowadays, intelligence quotient or IQ takes into account factors like fluid intelligence (ability to quickly think and recall information) and emotional intelligence. While fluid intelligence is at its peak around the age of 18; emotional intelligence continues to improve with age.


Myth Number 6: Our ability to learn new things decreases with age

Age is no longer a problem when it comes to learning new information! Our brain is capable of making new neuronal connections with every new experience and learning, irrespective of age. This ability of the brain to form new connections is called neuroplasticity. Through neuroplasticity, the brain is able to strengthen its structural and functional facilities. But, if the information in the brain is not rehearsed enough, then connections related to such information get weaker and eventually phase out. Due to this, brain training becomes important to not only keep our brain connections intact but also enable neuroplasticity.


Now that we are familiar with the truth about our brain functions let us pay attention to how we can improve our current brain functions.


Like everything else, eating well is the first step towards improving our brain health. Fruits and vegetables that are rich in vitamin E and beta carotene should be our first choice. Include spinach, broccoli, blueberries, sweet potatoes, and red peppers in your brain fitness regime. If you are a non-vegetarian, fish such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna can be consumed to improve cognitive (mental) functions. Other than that, walnuts and other nuts, rich in antioxidants, also promote brain health.


Regular physical exercise such as brisk walking, jogging, and swimming can reduce the risk of brain-health problems such as dementia. Cognitive training routines are also known to improve brain functions. Continuous participation in cognitive training programs can maintain overall brain health. Training that focuses on improving the brain’s processing speed is known to be the most effective.


Decades of research have enabled scientists to understand the structure and functions of the brain. Given that the brain is the most complex organ of our body, research is still in progress to capture all information about the brain. With the new advances in technology and brain imaging studies, we hope that the myths on our brain keep getting busted, and we move closer to the truth towards understanding and maintaining our brain health.


References:

  1. Brain myths. Nat Neurosci 6, 99 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1038/nn0203-99

  2. Cervantes, M., & Guellec, D. (2002). The brain drain: Old myths, new realities. Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. The OECD Observer, (230), 40.

  3. McManus, C. (2019). Half a century of handedness research: Myths, truths; fictions, facts; backwards, but mostly forwards. Brain and neuroscience advances, 3, 2398212818820513.

  4. von Bartheld, C. S. (2018). Myths and truths about the cellular composition of the human brain: A review of influential concepts. Journal of chemical neuroanatomy, 93, 2-15.

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