As a neurologist, I see the diseased brain everyday. Patients suffering from acute and chronic debilitating neurological conditions like strokes, uncontrolled seizures, brain tumors, Parkinson disease and ALS. The devastating toll of neurodegenerative conditions like Alzhemiers dementia is enormous. They affect not just the immediate patient but also family and friends.
It seems to me that as doctors we talk a lot about the brain in disease (the diseased brain) but precious little about the brain in health (the healthy brain). Why this fascination with the brain in disease? Why do we not invest more in keeping the brain healthy.
There is so much literature out there about how to keep the heart healthy. Take a low cholesterol diet, exercise regularly, keep your blood pressure under control, eat fish and keep your stress low to keep your heart healthy. What about the brain’s health? Can we extrapolate data obtained from studies done on the heart and apply it to the brain? Are the heart and brain alike? Is their physiology the same? What is good for the heart, is it also good for the brain?
At the expense of making cardiologists really angry I would like to point out here what was once told to me by my friend. The only function of the heart is to keep the brain alive!!! To pump blood to the brain so that the supercomputer, the masterboard of the human body can work smoothly. The heart and brain are not alike and what is good for the heart need not be good for the brain. The blood vessels of the heart and brain do not work in the same way. The human brain is far more intricate and complex and there is still precious little we know about it.
The decade of the brain came and went. True there has been an explosion of knowledge in the field of neurosciences but we still have miles and miles to go. I think we have reached the stage when we pretty much know everything about the heart, we can open blocked blood vessels, bypass coronary vessels and hey even transplant the heart. A few nicks here and there and out pops the old heart and in goes a new one. But what about the brain? Can we even dream of transplanting a human brain? One can imagine a neurosurgeon trying to connect billions of synaptic connections, so that the new brain works just like th old one. It is the brain which defines us, makes us what we are, the seat of our emotions, memory and intelligence. How would we make sure that the new brain still houses all the old information?
As you can see there are more questions than answers at least with our current degree of understanding of the human brain. So till we learn more, we should as doctors and patient advocates talk more about the brain in health. How do we keep this supercomputer healthy? For every one lecture a neurologist gives about treatment of stroke, he should give ten about stroke prevention. We need good quality research to figure out what foods does our supercomputer like (what are these brain foods, how much is good and how much is bad). How much sleep and down time this supercomputer needs? Does it like complementary therapies like yoga, meditation and tai-chi? Does neurobics help in keeping it hale and hearty.
An ancient Indian text says and I quote “ YOUR BRAIN IS YOUR BEST FRIEND. DO NOT HURT HIM FOR WHOMSOVER OR WHATSOEVER”
Emotions that define us as human beings such as love come from the brain. The rush one feels as he sees his beloved, the longing, the pain all come from the brain. Hmm I even propose that instead of having a arrow through the heart to display cupid, we should have an arrow through the brain, after all that is where the love center is.
So lets take a pledge to keep our brains healthy. There is no better gift we can give ourselves than a healthy brain and mind.
Nitin Sethi, MD