The brain is the most
important and most complex part of the body. It controls almost all body
- muscle movement
- all five senses
The brain is also responsible for memory, emotion, behavior,
and reasoning. The health of the brain is vital to nearly everything we do.
How Is the Brain Structured?
The brain sits inside the skull, which protects it from
injury. Between the skull and the brain are three layers of tissue called the
meninges. They also help protect the brain and spinal cord.
The brain is an extremely complex structure. Each part of
the brain serves its own specific function and works together with other parts
of the brain to perform even more complex functions. The brain can be described
in four main parts.
The brain stem is at the base of the brain and connects the
cerebrum directly to the spinal cord. It controls many involuntary but
necessary processes in the body, such as breathing, heart rate, swallowing, and
blood pressure. The brain stem relays messages from the brain to other parts of
the body. We cannot survive without it.
The cerebellum is located at the back of the brain. It’s
responsible for movement, posture, and balance. Many of the motor functions
that come from the cerebrum have to pass through the cerebellum before the body
carries them out.
The limbic system is a collection of several structures at
the center of the brain. These structures control emotion and memory.
The cerebrum forms the major portion of the brain. It’s
divided into left and right halves, called hemispheres. The left hemisphere
controls the right side of the body, and the right hemisphere controls the left
side of the body. Each hemisphere is subdivided into four lobes:
- The frontal
responsible for logical reasoning, concentration, intelligence, emotions, and
- The parietal
important for spatial orientation, integrating
sensory information, and motor function
- The occipital
responsible for vision, including how we process
colors and shapes
- The temporal
responsible for hearing and speech. They help us to
remember and understand language
What Can Go Wrong With the
One unfortunate consequence of the brain's complexity is
that so many different things can go wrong with it. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), for example, researches over 600 different
neurologic diseases. There are several more common types of brain disorder.
Brain trauma may be caused by a number of things, including:
- motor vehicle crashes
- sports accidents
- being struck by an object
It usually happens suddenly and requires immediate
concussion, for example, is a sharp blow to the head that causes the brain to
collide against the inside of the skull. Symptoms usually last for a few days
and up to two week and can include:
- severe headache
- memory loss
Anyone who suffers a blow to the head needs to seek medical
attention, even if they feel fine. There could be bleeding in the brain that
may be fatal if not detected right away. More severe cases of traumatic brain
injuries can lead to an extended period of unconsciousness (coma), or even death.
A brain aneurysm is a bulge in the wall of an artery in the
brain. Common symptoms include:
- pain behind the eyes
- numbness or weakness
in the face
- double or blurry
If untreated, an aneurysm can rupture and cause a sudden,
extremely severe headache or death. A
ruptured aneurysm is a severe medical emergency.
A stroke is an interruption of blood flow to part of the
brain caused by bleeding in the brain or by a blood clot clogging an artery.
Stroke symptoms come on suddenly and may include:
- trouble speaking
- numbness or weakness
on one side of the body
If you experience symptoms of a stroke, it’s essential to
seek medical attention as soon as possible. Prompt treatment can save areas of
brain from permanent damage.
Degenerative Brain Diseases
Degenerative brain diseases cause progressive damage to the
parts of the brain that control cognition, emotion, and mobility. The damage
tends to accumulate and increase over a long period of time.
The most common form of degenerative brain disease is
dementia. People with dementia undergo a gradual loss of intellectual and
cognitive abilities over time, but this typically doesn’t start until after age
60. The initial signs and symptoms of dementia may be subtle but can progress
from lapses in memory to include:
- trouble dealing with
numbers and directions
- difficulty speaking
and understanding language
- personality changes
- an inability to
perform even basic tasks
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Despite this,
the exact cause is still unknown. Genetics is thought to play a role.
Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia typically occur in older
individuals. The risk increases as you age.
If you are concerned that a member of your family is
beginning to show signs of dementia, it’s important to talk to a doctor.
Several basic tests can help your doctor determine whether any of the symptoms
are reversible and how to support the patient as they begin to deal with any new
Epilepsy is a disease that causes abnormal electrical
discharges in the brain. The main symptom of epilepsy is repeated seizures,
which are episodes of disturbed brain function. A seizure can manifest as one
or more of the following symptoms:
- temporarily altered
perception of sounds, smells, sights, and tastes
- uncontrollable jerking
of the muscles
- staring or repeated
- complete loss of
brain can also be affected by tumors, bacterial and viral infections, genetic
diseases, metabolic conditions, and a number of other developmental disorders
How Can You
Keep Your Brain Healthy?
Like other parts of the body, your
brain may lose some agility as you get older. Some brain conditions, like
Alzheimer’s disease, may not be preventable. There are many things you can do
now to help keep your brain healthier as you age. You can take certain
precautions to reduce the risk of certain types of dementia or brain trauma, or
delay the onset of dementia.
Association and the Brain
Foundation offer the following
tips on keeping your brain healthy.
- Stay physically active and exercise to promote blood flow to the
- Engage in mentally stimulating activities throughout life, like
doing puzzles, memory games, or learning a new language.
- Reduce stress and depression. Regular exercise can help with this.
- Eat a healthy, low-fat, low-cholesterol diet that is rich in dark
vegetables, fruits, and antioxidants such as vitamins C and E. Omega-3 fatty
acids, commonly found in certain fish and nuts, may also help lower your risk
- Wear a helmet when riding a bicycle or motorcycle to prevent a
brain injury if you fall or get into an accident.
- Always wear a seatbelt when driving.
- Treat any head injury seriously.
- Get adequate sleep.
- Do not smoke.
- Get regular checkups from your doctor.
Additionally, the National Stroke
Association (NSA) has published Stroke
Prevention Guidelines to help reducing your risk of stroke. The guidelines
include the following recommendations.
- Know your blood pressure. High blood pressure is a major risk
factor for stroke. Talk with a doctor about what to do if your blood pressure
- Know your cholesterol levels. High cholesterol levels in the blood
can clog the arteries. Speak with your doctor about getting your cholesterol
- Lose weight if you are overweight. Eating a healthy diet and maintaining a
healthy weight are important for a functioning circulatory system.
- Stop smoking. Smoking can damage blood vessels and
raise your blood pressure.
- Limit your alcohol intake. If you must drink, do it in