Understanding a Complicated System

Have you ever studied so hard your brain hurts or feels tired? How delicate is our brain? Why does a person with a traumatic brain injury drift in and out of consciousness? I’ve researched some sites on the brain and meshed information together from two of my favorite sources, which are listed at the end of my article.

Our brains weigh about 3.4 pounds of extremely delicate soft tissue, being the consistency of jelly or soft butter. So delicate it can’t even support its own weight. Fortunately, it’s well protected in the hard bones of our skulls, durable tissue and surrounded in a bath of cerebral spinal fluid. Because the brain is immersed in a liquid, its weight is reduced to a point at which it can support itself. The cerebral spinal fluid provides further protection to the brain by its presence within a series of hollow, interconnected chambers, called ventricles. Aside from contributing to the structural support of the brain, this bath of fluid also provides a water cushion that protects your brain in a collision or if you just bump your head.

The brain has no ability to maintain long term energy reserves; it must be constantly supplied with blood. This occurs through the vertebral arteries and the internal carotid arteries. Within the brain itself, these arteries are interconnected, allowing for a continuous supply of blood to all portions of the brain when one or more arteries become blocked.

Brain scans show that thinking uses up a lot of energy, which is revealed by increased blood flow. It uses as much as a fifth of all the energy we get from food. Since our brains can’t store much energy and because they’re tightly enclosed inside our skulls, there is a limit to how much blood and therefore energy can be supplied to the active areas. Consequently, thinking hard tires your brain.

Image credit: File:Neuron.svg

Image credit: File:Neuron.svg

Specialized cells called neurons perform the information processing that occurs within the brain. This processing occurs as a result of the transmitting and receiving of electrochemical signals by these cells.

Many of our brain’s nerve fibers are wrapped in a fatty sheath, which makes 10% of our brain fat. This fatty sheath, called myelin, is vital as it insulates the nerves. This allows electrical impulses to travel quickly around your brain.

Image credit: Imgarcade.com

Image credit: Imgarcade.com

If you hit your head hard and the skull is broken, the pieces of the broken bone may dig into the brain and tear the delicate tissue. Even if your skull isn’t broken, it’s possible to sustain serious brain damage if the brain impacts onto the inside of the skull or twists against its rough surface. When there is sudden speeding up and slowing down, such as in a car crash or fall, the brain can move around violently inside the skull, resulting in injury causing bruising or bleeding. Bleeding is particularly dangerous, causing further damage. A person with this type of injury may seem fine initially as the effects take several hours to reveal themselves.

The severity of injury refers to the degree or extent of brain tissue damage. The degree of damage is estimated by measuring the duration of unconsciousness, the depth of coma and level of amnesia or memory loss. MRIs or CT scans are also used to project the injury.

Research shows that just like with muscles the more you use a part of your brain, the larger it will get. Also like muscles, as you use a particular part of your brain, more blood is pumped to that area to provide energy. Finally, as with muscles, the more you use your brain, the better it works, subsequently it can improve.

The human brain is a complicated system comprised of over 1 billion specialized cells called neurons. These neurons get damaged in a collision and take time to heal. Amongst these neurons there are countless connections. “To comprehend this fully, one needs not look further than the Amazon rainforest, where there are some 1 billion trees. If one counted every leaf on every tree, the sum would closely parallel the number of connections in the human brain.”-unknown author.

Your brain is constantly monitoring and fine tuning what is going on in your body – 24 hours a day, year after year – without you even being aware of it. What do you do to ensure its health and safety?

Resources:

http://www.brocku.ca/stutter/frpgs/brain.html

http://www.youramazingbrain.org.uk/insidebrain/yourbrain.htm

 

 

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