Brain...Myths and Facts
Stuart Kieran, MD
1019 West Main Street
Hamilton, MT 59840
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
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!