To understand how to keep your brain healthy, it helps to have a basic understanding of how the brain works. The brain is an organ of soft supportive tissue containing billions of nerve cells which interact with the body through the spinal cord and nervous system. There are two main types of branches connected to the nerve cells, or neurons. One type is dendrites, which receive incoming messages from other neurons. The other type is axons, which carry outgoing signals to other neurons or muscles cells. There are gaps between the neurons known as synapses. Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the synapses that are necessary to make the connection between the nerve cells.
What we call gray matter is the large part of the brain where the majority of the neurons are located. This is where information is processed, and is found mainly on the outer layers of the brain. Axons, carrying outgoing signals, are covered with myelinated sheaths, a white protein, and thus make up what is known as white matter. The myelinated axons speed up the transmission of messages being passed in the brain.
The limbic system contains pairs of structures deep within the brain, which control emotions, and long-term, and some short-term, memories. One such structure is the hippocampus, which sends memories to areas of the cerebrum to be stored, and recalls these memories when needed. The hippocampus links these memories to emotions and other senses.
The prefrontal cortex is another part of the brain involved in memory. It is thought this part of the frontal lobe is involved in retrieval of long-term memory, and may rely on the hippocampus for rapid learning and memory consolidation (D. Euston, 2012). The prefrontal cortex is also responsible for executive function, which includes complex thought and problem solving, behavior control, and decision making.
When the brain is healthy, it will function quickly and automatically. The qualities that define our humanity are all found in the brain. With over 600 neurological diseases affecting one in five people in the US, knowing how to keep the brain healthy is critical.