The brain has forever been referred to as gray matter. Truth be told, the brain is pinkish fleshy in color. The very center of the brain is an off-white shade. The brain is very soft tissue having the consistency of tapioca pudding.
The brain uses about 20 percent of the total oxygen intake. Oxygen is used to make glucose, which is the brain’s source of energy. If the brain’s oxygen is cut off, permanent brain damage occurs after about four minutes. Hypoxia means low on oxygen and anoxia is total lack of oxygen.
A whole slew of things can go wrong with the brain. Heart attack, suffocation, drowning, high altitude, and head injury or blunt trauma can all put a damper on a healthy brain.
A stroke is caused by a disruption of blood flow to a certain part of the brain. An aneurysm happens when an artery wall in the brain is weakened. The damaged area can swell and apply undue pressure to the surrounding tissue. Tumors are growths caused by run-away cell division. Malignant, or cancerous tumors, invade surrounding tissue causing massive damage. Benign, or non-cancerous tumors, do not spread or attack other tissue, but they can apply pressure to adjacent brain tissue.
The abuse or misuse of legal and illegal drugs can damage nerve cells in the brain which leads to permanent brain damage.
Dementia is a general term that describes a wide range of brain declines, such as memory loss, demise of thinking skills, and the inability to perform everyday activities. Alzheimer’s Disease account for about 75 percent of cases.
There are three main parts to the brain: the cortex, the limbic, and the brainstem.
The cortex handles the most complicated things, such as thinking, making decisions, recognizing sights, words, sounds, and sensations. We depend on the cortex for playing sports, playing music, and for writing.
The limbic is involved with survival. The limbic lets us know when we need to eat, drink water, and put on a coat when we get cold. The limbic warns us of dangers and makes us aware of threats. The limbic also is where we experience pleasure and happiness.
The brainstem connects the brain to the spinal cord that runs down the backbone. The brainstem controls heart rate, breathing, and other vital organs. If the brainstem is badly damaged a person can lose consciousness and lapse into a coma. The cortex needs the brainstem to keep it alive. The brain weights about three pounds and has a volume of the 1300 cc (cubic centimeters) or 5.5 cups, or 1.4 quarts. Brain weight and volume varies with the size of the individual.
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Sometimes a medical examiner or coroner will order an autopsy of a body. The reason, of course, is to establish cause of death. As part of most autopsies, the brain is removed. The medical examiner uses an electric saw, called a Stryker saw, to make a round cut through the top of the skull. The cap of the skull bone is removed. The medical examiner employs a scalpel to cut the tissue that connects the brain stem to the spinal cord. The brain can be pulled out, stored in a solution, and is now available for further examination.
Albert Einstein’s brain was removed within a few hours of his death in April 1955. It is well worth reading about the journey his brain took in the next 50 years.
OK, the gruesome part is done, and you can start reading again!
The brain is a wonderful instrument. Our brain is who we are. Our body is just along for the ride, so to speak, and quite utilitarian. The brain is so complex, it has been referred to as one of the last frontiers of the unknown. Outer space and the deep ocean have also been put into the categories of “last frontiers.”
Each of the 100 billion neurons in the brain has about 1,000 connections to other neurons, creating a huge network of 100 trillion synapses. These synapse connections are “on” or “off”, like electronic switches in a mega computer.
Our brain is so magnificent and exquisite that it behooves us to take good care of it, for no other reason than it is the only one we will ever have. Realize that it is not wise to endanger our brain by drug or alcohol misuse, or failure to wear cycling helmets or seatbelts. And like muscles, we know we should exercise the brain by lifelong learning.
Sources: www.hopkinsmedicine, WebMD, Mayo Clinic.