Of the 50 to 100 trillion cells in your body, perhaps the most interesting group of cells exists in a small, grapefruit sized bundle inside your head. For centuries, the human brain has challenged, mystified and intrigued both scientists and curious civilians alike. Just when we think we’re starting to understand the brain, new research comes out that completely throws everything we knew out the window.
Here are three surprising facts about your brain.
Fact #1: Your Brain Can Regenerate
If your high school biology teacher ever told you not to drink alcohol because “it kills brain cells, and brain cells can never grow back” — I’ve got good news. You can now safely throw that out the window.
Scientists have now shown that not only can your brain grow new cells; your brain can even regenerate though a process called neurogenesis. Though scientists have long suspected this was possible, it wasn’t until the last few decades that this was definitively proven.
One of the first studies to show neurogenesis was conducted by Dr. Michael Merzenich in the 1970s. He found that if he cut off the nerve endings in a monkey’s hands, the area of the brain that felt sensation in that area would immediately “go dark.” In other words, the monkey would stop feeling sensation.
Then, the brain would quickly start to re-wire itself. It would stop looking for neural connections through the severed nerve ending and instead rebuilt itself around other weaker nerve endings that were still working. In just a few weeks, the monkey had almost full sensory capabilities again. Since then, scientists have shown that almost every area of the brain is capable to some extent of regeneration.
Certain substances such as nootropics and cognitive enhancers may regulate the rate of regeneration in brain leading to faster regeneration rates. Neurogenesis is currently under scientific study for the treatment of many brain disorders including MS, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Other brain specific antioxidants such as astaxanthin and co enzyme Q10 / ubiquinol show promise in protecting the brain from excessive degradation and allowing from brain repair.
Fact #2: You Do Not Use Just 10% Of Your Brain
The idea that you only use 10% of your brain at any given time is a common myth. Nobody knows quite where it originated, though many scientists trace it back to a misquote of Albert Einstein.
The truth is, you use 100% of your brain every day. You won’t be using all your brain at all times, just as you don’t use all your body parts at all times. For example, your language centers might be off when you’re appreciating art, and your visual cortex might be off when you’re having dreamless sleep. However, at any given moment the majority of your brain will be engaged.
A whole slew of PET scans and MRI scans have debunked this myth for good, though it still perpetuates because it just sounds so compelling.
Fact #3: Your Brain is an Energy Hog
Your brain is a huge energy hog. In fact, your brain burns more calories in a day just by sitting there than you would burn if you went for a four mile jog. The brain takes up just 2% of the body’s weight, yet consumes 20% to 25% of the body’s energy. That’s over 400 calories a day!
In many ways, the human brain is a black box. While we may never fully understand the human brain, there’s one thing we do know: We’ve only just begun to tap into our potential.