Brain...Myths and Facts

Bitterroot Neurology
Stuart Kieran, MD
1019 West Main Street
Hamilton, MT 59840
(406) 375-9310

There are a number of myths that have been around for many years some of which actually are true, others have been a grain of truth, and others are completely incorrect. Let's go through some of these.

#1: We only use 10% of our brain. We actually use all of our brain 24 hours a day. While the degree of activity in one part of the brain varies, all of it is used.

#2: Listening to Mozart makes you smarter. This was popular several decades ago both for adults but especially for infants as a way of improving IQ. Unfortunately this is not the case. While learning to play Mozart may actually have some cognitive benefits, just listening will not.

#3: Taking vitamins, minerals or supplements will help brain function. As a general response the answer is no, unless there's a specific deficiency that a person has, such as a vitamin B12 or niacin deficiency were certain medical conditions or under various types of stresses where various types of supplements are necessary. A well-rounded diet should include most of the nutrients necessary. There may be a mild exception where omega-3 fatty acids, which are commonly deficient in a modern diet, had some modest benefits.

#4: The number of brain cells we are born with is fixed and then declines with age. This used to be felt to be the case but small islands of brain stem cells have been found that can replicate. This has implications for people with brain damage. Some minor degrees of brain damage can be improved either from re-connections, neuron regrowth (a neuron is a brain cell), or other areas of the brain taking over.

#5: A person is either right or left brain dominant. It has been felt to be the case where the right side of the brain is creative and left side is logical. While there are some differences in the right and left side, for example language is primarily on the left side, both sides are used for most activity including language.

For example when talking, the actual words and grammar are formed on the left side of the brain but the inflection comes from the right side.

#5: Humans are getting smarter. I wish that this were so, but unfortunately the opposite is probably the case. Our more highly technical society has allowed us to make mistakes in our daily routine and still survive. 50,000 years ago, mistaking the sound of a lion for something else would remove that person from the gene pool rather quickly.

#6: Larger heads means more intelligence: the answer is just plain no. It is said that Voltaire had a very small head. Women have smaller brains than men but the fact is that brain size is related to muscle mass and body size which accounts for part of that statistic. Also women's brains are felt to be more intricately wired and therefore more efficient. Of note is that at autopsy Einstein did not have a larger brain than average.

Now some fun facts to impress family and friends:
The brain weighs about 3 pounds or 2% of our body weight but uses about 20% of the oxygen and blood supply of the body.

The brain consists of 100 billion neurons which is about the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy.

The brain has about 100,000 miles of axons which are the nerve fiber connections between cells. This is enough to circle the earth 4 times.

It has been calculated that the number of potential connections and pathways in the brain are greater than all of the particles in the entire universe put together.

All of these facts make me think of the old commercial for the United Negro College Fund which still is true: the mind is a terrible thing to waste.

This health column was provided by Stuart Kieran, MD at Bitterroot Neurology, Hamilton, MT 59840. To schedule an appointment please contact your primary care physician for a referral. Working together to build a healthier community!


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