The human brain is a complex organ, and we’re still learning a lot about it. It is a soft mass of supportive tissues and nerves connected to the spinal cord that controls just about everything.
Some of the nerves in the human brain go right to the eyes, ears, and other parts of the head. Other nerves connect the brain with other parts of the body through the spinal cord. Specific sections of the brain control personality, senses, and body functions from breathing to walking. The nerves, together with the brain and spinal cord form the central nervous system.
TO BETTER UNDERSTAND THE FUNCTIONALITY OF THE BRAIN, LET’S EXAMINE THE MAJOR PARTS:
The Frontal Lobe which is highly susceptible to injury controls most components of behaviour. The executive functions, planning, abstract reasoning, impulse control, sustained attention, and insight is all located here. It also controls initiation, motor planning, and emotion. An injury to part of this lobe may cause an inability to move part of the body.
The Temporal Lobe perceives and recognises verbal material. It is mainly responsible for memory, speech, and language. It’s the most frequently injured part of the brain with its injury resulting in speech impairment and memory loss.
The Occipital Lobe usually results in “blindness” to part or all of the visual field and sometimes disturbance in colour recognition when injured. It is directly responsible for vision and perception.
The Parietal Lobe is largely responsible for construction ability and language. Conscious sensation and voluntary motion are also located here. With an injury to the lobe, one may become disoriented, easily confusing left, and right. Long term memory may also be disturbed.
The Cerebellum coordinates voluntary movement, balance and equilibrium, and memory for reflex motor arcs. It is located at the back region of the brain, and an injury to it could result in the inability to walk, dizziness, and slurred speech.
The brain stem plays a vital role in basic attention, arousal, and consciousness. All information to and from our body passes through the brain stem on the way to or from our brain. It’s highly vulnerable to damage and controls major functions like breathing, blood pressure, heart rate, balance, swallowing, digestion, reflexes, and the ability to sleep.
OTHER PARTS ARE:
- The hypothalamus controls your body temperature, emotions, hunger, thirst, appetite, digestion, and sleep. It is located at the base of the brain.
- Thalamus controls your sensory integration and motor integration.
- The pituitary gland controls your hormones, it also helps turn food into energy.
- The pineal gland is the primary endocrine organ that secretes hormones, such as melatonin, and controls the circadian rhythms.
- The amygdala controls your emotions such as regulating when you’re happy or sad. Without it, you could win the lottery and feel nothing.
- The hippocampus forms and stores your memories, and is involved in learning.
The human brain is a world of its own, an interconnection of networks, with key areas responsible for human function and contributes largely to our behaviour and actions.
Whenever there’s an injury to the brain, it had been previously thought that, unlike our skin and bones, the brain cannot repair itself, thus making the effect of the damage permanent. However, recent technological advancements have shown the brain has the ability to renew itself, by a process called neurogenesis, a concept that was thoroughly explained by Dr Brant Cortright in his book, The Neurogenesis Diet and Lifestyle: Upgrade Your Brain, Upgrade Your Life.
To realise your greatest potential, your brain must operate at its highest level, and to achieve this, you must first understand the key areas of the brain that are responsible for the components that form your behaviour and actions.
Key functions of the human brain
Of all the qualities of humankind, the ability to reason stands out as our most defining characteristic. It forms the cornerstone of scientific investigation and the expansion of human knowledge. Without the ability to reason, the developments of modern medicine and science, in general, would never have occurred.
This ability is located in the frontal lobe of the brain. It helps you make decisions, analyse situations, increase your knowledge, and even solve maths problems. Injury to this part of the brain makes it difficult or almost impossible to think, analyse, and make decisions.
Maybe you’ve had a hard time making crucial decisions, or you have made bad judgments because you couldn’t analyse a situation properly; there are a couple of ways you can steadily get back on track.
Chess games are a great way to train your brain in critical thinking, Improving your sleep is crucial to reasoned judgement, lack of sleep affects this ability significantly. Aerobic exercises can also sharpen your brain’s thinking faculty, a 30-minutes jog down the road could be more useful than you realise.
#2. MEMORY: SHORT TERM AND LONG TERM
The brain stores memories in two ways. Short-term memories like a possible chess move, or a hotel room number are processed in a highly developed area called the prefrontal lobe, according to McGill University and the Canadian Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction.
Short-term recollection is translated into long-term memory in the hippocampus, an area in the deeper brain. According to McGill University, the hippocampus takes simultaneous memories from different sensory regions of the brain and connects them into a single “episode” of memory, for example, you may have one memory of a dinner party rather than multiple separate memories of how the party looked, sounded, and smelled.
Memories are played through the hippocampus, the connections between neurons associated with a memory eventually become a fixed combination. This explains what happens after a breakup with your lover; when you hear a piece of music, other memories associated with the music floods your mind.
If you’re looking to have a strong memory or preserve your memory, maybe you easily forget or have short term memory loss; it’s possible to improve your memory. Having sufficient sleep helps to boost memory, nutrition can help, e.g foods rich in magnesium, calcium, and phytonutrients. Additionally, the brain’s incredible ability to reshape itself, a process known as neurogenesis, enables continual learning and improvements to memory. Training your memory through various techniques is also possible, the more you train it the better it becomes.
You can harness the natural power of neurogenesis to increase your cognitive abilities, enhance your ability to learn new information, and improve your memory at any age- a concept well explained in the book: “The Neurogenesis Diet and Lifestyle: Upgrade Your Brain, Upgrade Your Life” by Dr Brant Cortright.
#3. VOCABULARY AND LANGUAGE
When you read something, you first need to detect the words and then to interpret them by determining context and meaning. This complex process involves many brain regions.
A system of regions towards the back and middle of your brain help you interpret the text. These include the parietal lobe, Wernicke’s area (comprising mainly the top rear portion of the temporal lobe), the insular cortex, basal ganglia, and cerebellum.
These regions work together as a network to process words and word sequences to determine context and meaning.
To speak sensibly, you must think of words to convey an idea or message, formulate them into a sentence according to grammatical rules and then use your lungs, vocal cords, and mouth to create sounds. Regions in your frontal, temporal and parietal lobes formulate what you want to say, and the motor cortex in your frontal lobe enables you to speak the words.
An injury to this region of the brain may cause speech impediment, inability to understand, and epilepsy. But it is possible to manage the effects of the injury through a process called neurogenesis- the brain’s ability to renew itself. The totality of this process is explained in the book: “The Neurogenesis Diet and Lifestyle: Upgrade Your Brain, Upgrade Your Life“, by Brant Cortright.
Brant explained how neurogenesis can help our brain function at a high capacity, and can also help us avoid or manage the effects of brain injury, provided we eat the right diet or engage in activities that promote neurogenesis, examples of which is games and exercise.
According to Brant, playing puzzle games is a great way to train your brain to build understanding. Engaging in activities that enhance neurogenesis will help your brain gradually overcome future brain problems.
#4. FOCUS AND ATTENTION
If you’ve ever found it difficult to get through a challenging task at work, studied for an important exam, or spent time on a frustrating project, you might have wished you could have increased your ability to focus or concentrate.
The cerebral cortex is the part of the brain that is associated with our memory, thought, attention, awareness, and consciousness. This is also, where focus comes into play. It is a mental effort you direct toward whatever you’re working on or learning at the moment.
Some people have a harder time tuning out distractions. Age and lack of sleep can affect concentration. It’s easy to get frustrated when you’re trying to concentrate but just can’t. If you belong in this category, it’s not too late, you can achieve maximum concentration, its a case of discipline and training the mind not to be distracted.
According to Brant Cortright in his book- “The Neurogenesis Diet and Lifestyle”, here’s what you can do: First, train your brain to focus by engaging in sports, or playing puzzle games, listen to music, improve your sleep, take a walk in nature, and make time for exercise- especially aerobic exercises that improves brain health.
Many of the things we do daily like drinking a cup of coffee, or shifting our foot on the pedal while driving is largely controlled by our subconscious because of the habits we formed over time. You can learn more from the books: “The Brain- The Story of You” by David Eagleman, “Incognito” by David Eagleman, and “The Power of the Subconscious Mind” by Joseph Murphy.
#5. EMOTION REGULATION
Did you wake up on the wrong side of the bed this morning? Have times of feeling ungracious towards the world. At other times you might feel particularly gracious and sunny, for no reason at all.
Our emotion is an unstable frame of mind that influences how we think and view the world. And according to David Eagleman in his book. “The Brain: The Power of You”, It is influenced by events in our lives, the amount of sleep we get, hormones, even the weather. But what role does the brain play in shaping our mood?
The limbic system is the major primordial brain network that regulates mood. It sits under the cerebrum (the largest and newest part of the brain) and is made up of structures such as the hypothalamus, hippocampus, and the amygdala.
The amygdala attaches emotional significance to events and memories, the hippocampus, meanwhile, reminds us which courses of action are congruent with our mood. For instance, if you feel great you might like to take a walk down your favourite spot. If you feel crap, you may instead be drawn to that bar that spins melancholy albums by The Smiths.
There are ways you can improve your mood if you often catch yourself in a bad mood. Stay away from places that trigger your bad memories, Listen to upbeat music, hug someone, take a walk in nature, have a good laugh, sleep well and meditate! There is evidence to suggest that mediating has been proven to help our ability to regulate our emotions.
#6. CRYSTALLISED INTELLIGENCE
Human intelligence has two components: Fluid and Crystallised intelligence. Fluid intelligence involves both the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the anterior cingulate cortex, and other systems related to attention and short-term memory. It is the ability to solve new problems without previous knowledge.
Crystallised intelligence appears to be a function of brain regions that involve the storage and usage of long-term memories, such as the hippocampus. It is the ability to solve problems by remembering previous knowledge; e.g solving a maths problem involves remembering past knowledge.
You are deemed intelligent if you can use logic, reasoning, quick thinking, and planning to conduct daily activities effectively.
Intelligence in humans declines with ageing and stress-related problems, however, there’s some good news, you can boost your intelligence! There are many ways that you can improve this function here are some examples:
Leverage the power of neurogenesis, best explained in the bestseller by Dr Brant Cortright; engage in activities to promote neurogenesis.
Get creative, find new connections between existing ideas, challenge your brain, seek new experiences, learn new skills, staying busy with hobbies and people are great ways to keep your fluid and crystal intelligence sharp. Meditate regularly, get a good night sleep, learn a new language, or play memory games.
#7. AROUSAL AND CONSCIOUSNESS
If an individual’s brain stem is damaged, they go into a coma. The lights are off but someone might be inside.
If an individual’s thalamus or large parts of the cerebral cortex are damaged, they lose self-awareness even though they are likely still awake. The lights are on but no one is home.
Therefore the brain stem, thalamus, and cerebral cortex are the necessary components or the generation of consciousness.
On the other hand, experts note that the cerebral cortex region of the brain is also involved in all three phases of the sexual arousal cycle: wanting sex, having sex, and inhibiting sex, and each of these phases depends on distinct networks within the brain. It’s also clear that alterations in these brain networks are associated with sexual dysfunction.
“For all its primitive functions, arousal draws heavily on the functionality of the part of the brain that has evolved most recently, the cerebral cortex,” said Dr Janniko Georgiadis, lead author of the Clinical Anatomy review.
World-renowned psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Norman Doidge, in his book: “The Brain That Changes Itself“, explains in further detail that we can control our sexual libido, and overcome physiological disorders, through a process known as neuroplasticity.
#8. INTERNAL FUNCTION REGULATION
The brain, through the hypothalamus, regulates the basic functions of the body such as temperature, thirst, appetite, blood pressure, weight control, sleep cycle, balancing of body fluids, and the production of digestive juices, by a process known as homeostasis.
To maintain homeostasis, the hypothalamus is responsible for creating or controlling many hormones in the body. The hypothalamus works with the pituitary gland, which makes and sends other important hormones around the body.
A physical injury to the head that impacts the hypothalamus or other hypothalamus diseases can cause a disorder in essential body functions, where you might have an imbalance of some sort in your body’s rhythm. But can a disorder of that nature be altered? Well, yes.
Studies have shown that diets high in saturated fats can alter the way the hypothalamus regulates hunger and energy expenditure, a case which Dr Brant Cortright consolidated in his book, “The Neurogenesis Diet and Lifestyle“. He presents the latest neuroscience discoveries to increase brain power, enhance memory, and increase brain fitness by seeing what kinds of brain exercises actually work to build a better brain. The book also contains dietary recommendations to enhance neurogenesis.
Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B, and vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables are additional sources that support the hypothalamus function.