Our brains may not be the biggest in the animal kingdom (sperm whale brains weigh in at a whopping 17 pounds compared to our average of 3 pounds), but size isn’t everything. The human brain still outperforms all of the world’s fastest supercomputers with the capacity to perform at least 1,016 processes per second. To put that into perspective, it took Japan’s K computer (one of the fastest in the world) 40 minutes to crunch as much data! Like the sea, there is much about the brain that is yet to be discovered, but today’s experts still have a lot to say. Together we’ll explore some more incredible brain facts, debunk a few common myths, and discuss what you can do to care for that irreplaceable machine between your ears.
Did You Know Your Brain Can Do This?
Research conducted at Cambridge University suggests that reading the following paragraph should be a breeze:
It deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are in odrer to raed tehm. The olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.
How was that? In addition to this neat mental quirk, what else can your brain do?
- Of your estimated 86 billion brain cells (there are 200–400 billion stars in the Milky Way for context), each neuron can transmit 1,000 nerve impulses per second and forge tens of thousands of synaptic connections with other neurons.
- Though it takes up only about 2% of body weight, the brain is a hardworking organ that can consume at least 20% of your energy and oxygen intake.
- A grain-sized speck of brain tissue can hold as much as 100,000 neurons performing 1 billion synaptic connections with each other.
- Your brain can also generate enough electricity to power a low-watt LED light (12–25 watts) and send out information at a speed of 268 mph.
This list can go on and on, but there’s another list that’s important to discuss: what your brain can’t do.
Debunked Brain Facts
You’ve probably heard that the average human uses only 10% of their brain, but brain scans show that our entire brains are active while we’re awake and asleep. Here’s a few other debunked myths to keep handy at the next dinner party:
- “You’re born with a fixed amount of brain cells/intelligence.” “Brain plasticity,” or the ability for the brain to change throughout your lifetime, enables a process called neurogenesis, the formation of new brain cells.
- “There are 10,000 miles of blood vessels in the brain.” There are closer to 400 miles.
- “Your brain records memory like a camera.” Memories are deconstructed and distributed to different parts of the brain, and then reconstructed at the moment of recall from the fragments, allowing for eventual breakdown. People with good memories exercise their ability to recall things with accuracy using memory techniques (mnemonic devices).
- “Your brain is finished developing at adulthood.” Adulthood is an arbitrary milestone in some respects, but studies show that the brain doesn’t reach full maturity until 25, though even then it’s subject to change via external influences.
- “Alcohol kills brain cells.” Severe inebriation will inhibit the formation of memories in the moment while excessive, prolonged consumption will eventually damage the connective tissue between neurons, but moderate use will not kill brain cells. Lack of oxygen, however, will start killing brain cells after five minutes of deprivation.
What Does a Healthy Brain Need?
Your brain is 73% water, so drinking plenty of water should be a given as it only takes 2% dehydration to impair your cognition. The rest of your brain is fat, giving it the consistency of tofu or gelatin.
To keep your brain performing at top capacity, you want a diet with the appropriate amounts of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, protein, and carbohydrates.
Proteins build neurotransmitters while the glucose derived from carbohydrates provides your brain with fuel. Other nutrients you want to keep an eye out for are the B vitamins, vitamin E, calcium, iron and magnesium.