Healthy Beginnings

An Unhealthy and Aging Brain – Part 2 How the brain “works”

The brain controls everything in the body. Everything. That includes healing, on every level. So, what enables the brain to do this? To understand this you must first understand the physiology of the brain.

The brain is composed of billions of cells. Some of the cells are called neurons. Neurons form the primary communication network of the brain. While other brain cells, which are even more numerous, are called the glial cells. The glial cells are the immune system of the brain. Some nerve cells are very long, reaching from the brain to the foot. Others are very short, measuring less then an inch.

From the time that we are born, there is a substance that forms around our nerve fibers called myelin. The basic function of myelin is to speed transmission of nerve impulses. Myelin formation is critical to the development of our brains. There are certain “windows of development” when we are children during which nerve fibers must be myelin to activate the connections with one another. These connections must be made active, and are vital to the brains future intelligence levels and abilities to function in general. To make these connections active and strong, the brain needs the right kind of stimulation (outdoor play–not computer games). As we gather more and more new information (learning: reading, math, etc.) more and more neurons form connections with other neurons. These connections are called synapses. Synapses are where it’s at–relative to brain health and function. In fact, the number of synapses has a greater impact on intelligence and brain performances than the number of neurons (brain cells).

Synapses are where the chemistry of the brain takes place. Sodium, potassium, calcium and DHA imbalances negatively affect them. Inflammation negatively affects them. Stress and gut issues negatively affect them (see part III of this series next month) and lack of O2 and stimulation affects them. In fact, everything that is wrong in your body destroys proper synaptic activity and can cause neurodegeneration (aging and dysfunction) of the brain.

Obviously this is a problem because the areas of the brain need to communicate with each other and with the rest of the body. When the chemistry of the synapses are disturbed, communication cannot take place because neurotransmitters (more chemicals in the synapses) cannot be released. We have all heard of the neurotransmitter serotonin (some others are dopamine, acytyl choline, gaba), which is crucial for mood and digestion. When serotonin production is decreased by the above processes (lack of stimulation, inflammation, mental stress, auto-immune conditions, blood sugar imbalances, liver detoxification problems, deficiency of nutrients, hormonal imbalances and many more) symptoms can occur, depending on which synapses in which part of the brain are effected. Thus you can experience depression, anxiety, and many mood changes. You may also be interested to know that most serotonin is produced in the gut; you can get brain problems from digestive problems. Gut health is crucial for brain synaptic heath, and brain health (think stress) profoundly effects digestion if it is synaptically not working. It’s a vicious cycle, and it is complex.

One last very important concept to understanding the brain: its function and role in anti-aging and chronic pain resolution. Since you began reading this article, you have lost several hundred neurons (brain cells). Fact: you are born with all the neurons you will ever get. Neurons never regenerate. WOW! Bad news. The good news: even though you lose neurons you can develop something called neuroplasticity. Remember the concept of the more neuronal activity, the more synaptic connections in the brain? That’s neuroplasticity. So, by maintaining the health of your synapses and creating new synapses is vital. If you do these two things you will keep your brain healthy and young.

We ALL go through one or the other following process:

(Losing Brain Cells And synapses)

Brain Function

(Creating new brain connections and decreasing loss of symptoms)

If our nerve cells are degenerating faster than we are building neuroplasticity, then our brain is degenerating (or aging) faster than it should. Handwriting deteriorates, fatigue sets in. Gut function deteriorates, immune and hormonal function gets worse. As synaptic activity declines, so does our health, in every respect. This is why children respond better to all types of treatment. Two year olds have about 10 quadrillion working synapses and adults have one to five million quadrillion, which have undergone a lifetime of stress. The key to health, recovery from chronic pain, and the promotion of anti-aging is in the brain–keeping synapses “chemistry” healthy and working on neuroplasticity to minimize the effects of loss and degeneration of your allotted amount of brain cells.

Aging is really neurodegeneration. Anti-aging is not hormonal; it is about preserving the nervous system. The relationship to recovering from chronic illnesses and brain function is poorly understood. But, without proper synaptic activity you will never get truly well.

How do we do this? We’ll discuss that next month. Don’t miss it. The answers are so obvious they might blow what neurons and synapses you have left!


1. Kharrazian, Datis 2009, Neurotransmitters and the Brain – Rev (091109).DOC.
2. Park, Alice, Understanding Pain, When the Pain Won’t Stop, Time Vol 177, No 9, 2011.

For more info, contact Dr. Rutherford or Dr. Gates at (775) 329-4402, or visit them online at