The brain is an amazing organ. Most of us are unaware, but the brain constantly regulates our body functions: our breathing, our heart rate, our digestive system, etc. Of course, the brain processes and helps us make sense of our sensations (touch, smell, taste, vision, hearing) and allows us to use all of our body parts to move and exercise. The brain stores lots of information in our memory and it allows us to communicate with the world using language and artistic expressions.
Until recently, it was assumed that the brain develops quickly in utero and into early childhood then slower in childhood until reaching its peak development in early adulthood. Then it faced a slow decline until our death. Recent studies suggest that the brain has the capacity of regenerating and replacing dying cells and connections throughout life. Therefore, it is essential to make sure we are providing the right environment for the growing brains of our children before and after birth and that we all learn how to keep our brains in the best possible condition.
Here are a few tips:
Before birth - the fetal brain is developing quickly. It is essential for pregnant women to have a well-balanced diet with lots of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and an adequate amount of protein. As a rule, it is always better to avoid processed food. The obstetrician or other health providers monitoring a woman’s pregnancy will usually advise pregnant women to take a number of vitamins and supplements that are recommended during pregnancy. The USDA's website can help you tracking your diet:
Also, it is essential in pregnancy to prevent infections that can be transmitted by the food we eat. These conditions can have serious consequences for the developing brain. Toxoplasmosis, listeria, and brucellosis are some examples. It is crucial to wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly , to avoid eating unpasteurized milk products, and to fully cook any types of meat or fish. For more information you can check out the CDC's website.
Pregnant women should avoid toxic materials that may negatively impact the fetal brain development. Tobacco, alcohol, pesticides, bisphenol A (found in plastic containers and lining of food cans), mercury and other heavy metals are some examples to abstain from. For more information, visit the FDA’s website.
After birth - the infant brain develops quickly. Interaction with parents and others is essential during this period of life.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends for parents the “5 R’s:
Read. Read together every day with your child.
Rhyme. Rhyme play and cuddle with your child every day.
Routines. Develop Routines, particularly around meals, sleep, and family fun.
Reward. Reward your child with praise for successes to build self-esteem and promote positive behavior.
Relationship. Develop a strong and nurturing Relationship with your child as the foundation for their healthy development.
Many of the families we serve at School Health Clinics of Santa Clara Country come from a foreign country and speak a different language other than English. It is helpful for children to become bilingual as it has positive effects on brain development. Learning a language is interacting with others that are speaking the language (screen time does not count!). Click here for the link to this New York Times article.
Childhood and Adolescence - it is essential for individuals to establish a healthy lifestyle during this period, complete with a well-balanced diet and lots of exercise. In fact, children and adolescents who have high blood pressure, high cholesterol (most often related to poor diet and lack of exercise), and smoke have worse midlife cognitive performance, especially involving memory and learning. For more information, click on the link to the article.
Adulthood - this stage requires the same general nutritional, active and intellectually stimulating lifestyle mentioned before help maintain good brain function.
In conclusion, our brain is one of our more precious organs and we need to do everything we can to allow it to develop to its full capacity from conception to the time of our death--hopefully in very old age!