The neurological system consists of two parts: the central nervous system, as well as the peripheral nervous system. I like to visualise it as if it is a massive tree, but upside down. The root ball of the tree is the brain; the spine the trunk; and the branches and leaves the peripheral nervous system.
Our neurological system, particularly the brain, often gets described as the most complex object in the observable universe.
Let’s consider a few interesting facts about the brain.
- The average human brain contains about a hundred billion neurons; approximately the number of stars in our Milky Way. Each of these neurons on average connects to about 10,000 other neurons. (Every time that we recall a memory or have a new thought, we create a new connection in our brain). That brings it to about a quadrillion connections. But wait, each of those connections can be in four different states, namely, on/off, on/on, off/off and off/on. If we multiply a quadrillion four times with itself, the number of states that our brain can be in equate to what some people calculate to be the total number of atoms in the known universe! Pretty impressive.
- The human brain is the fattest organ in the body and can contain up to 60% of fat.
- We continue to make new neurons throughout our lives, in a process called neuroplasticity. (For more on that, see my previous blog series on neuroplasticity).
- If children learn two languages before the age of five, their brain structure alters permanently, and they have much denser grey matter in the brain than anybody else.
- When we are awake, the energy generated by our brain is enough to power a light bulb.
- The average number of thoughts we are believed to experience every day is 70,000.
The spine and the peripheral nervous system are not to be outdone by the brain. Here are a few facts about them.
- The nervous system can convey nerve impulses as fast as a hundred metres per second and can in certain cases even exceed a transmission speed of 280 km an hour.
- The spinal cord works independently of the brain, as it can send out responses to the muscles directly.
- The spinal cord stops growing once we turn five.
- Our spinal cord has a memory for pain—if we have a paper cut on our finger, for the next few days, the neurons in our spinal cord will transmit signals more easily to and fro from the injured finger, using a molecule we believe to be responsible for maintaining long-term memories called protein kinase C, zeta.
- Talking about pain, neurons that carry messages of pain to the spine, transfer them quite slowly at the speed of about three km an hour.
What are the best ways to take care of this precious organ system?
- As always, hydration is key. A sufficiently hydrated nervous system improves our memory and prevents confusion.
- Using substances like alcohol is always a two-edged sword. If we take alcohol to relax, we will start becoming anxious as soon as the liver succeeds in decreasing the alcohol concentration in the blood. If we take it to sleep, we will wake up in the middle of the night for the very same reason.
- Make sure that our hearing and vision functions are as optimal as they can be. When we do not hear or see as best as we can, our brain records information more poorly, even to the extent of attaching psychotic explanations to what’s happening.
- Set daily priorities, and then concentrate on getting one thing done at the time. At the same time, constantly work at being present. (For more on this, see my series on Mindfulness in our archives).
- Exercise our focus and concentration by learning new skills, such as painting lessons, memory games and so forth.
- Move. Exercise. Get those juices flowing. Exercise has significant antidepressant properties, increases cognitive functions and enhances neuroplasticity.
- Take care of health conditions associated with decreased nervous system functioning, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
- Food. Make sure that you consume food with ample sources of vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and folate.