The Brain’s Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity – Norman Doidge, M.D.

What can we learn from the remarkable stories of those who have recovered from serious health issues/injuries? Don’t take no for an answer on your health situation, you have the ability to change it. Through the numerous stories of those who have gone through life changing transformations of their health condition, this book gives you hope and courage on how you too can change your health situation for the better. When people think of Christopher Reeve they usually think of him as the actor who played Superman’s character or that he had a horse riding accident that left him quadriplegic. However, what people don’t know is that despite the numerous times that doctors had told him that he’d never be able to recover from his injury, he was able to regain some feelings and control over some parts of his body towards the end of his life. Have hope, courage and change your mindset on how you deal with your health issue. Here are some of the points to the book:

 

1. People used to believe that there was only a one-way connection between the brain and the body. The brain would send signals to the body and that’s how we move. However, scientists have recently discovered that there’s also a body brain connection. The actions through our body have an affect on our brain. There was a TED talk of how just putting your arms up in a Y formation for 2 minutes can change the chemical levels in your brain. Having said that, exercise plays such an integral part of our life and shouldn’t be neglected. We also know that exercise increases the number of connections between neurons. BDNF, also triggered by exercise, very likely plays a major role here. When we perform an activity that requires specific neurons to fire together, our brain releases BDNF. This growth factor consolidates the connections between those neurons and helps to wire them together so they fire together reliably in the future. (When BDNF is sprinkled on neurons in a petri dish, they grow branches that connect them. The growth around the neurons of the thin fatty coat that speeds up the transmission of electrical signals also accelerates.) BDNF also protects neurons from degenerating.

 

2. Get more sunlight as light has an affect on our health. Sunlight has been known to have many benefits on our bodies so try to make it a habit that you get exposed to the sun on a daily basis. The ancients also sensed that healing of distressed tissues requires growth. Ancient Egyptian, Greek, Indian, and Buddhist healers all used systematic exposure to the sun to foster healing. An ancient Egyptian papyrus from the Pharaonic period describes anointing painful, ill body parts with fluids and exposing them to the sun to obtain medical benefits. Thus many recent discoveries about light are actually rediscoveries, such as the finding in 2005 that placing patients recovering from surgery in a sunlit room (as opposed to an artificially lit one) significantly decreases their pain.

 

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3. Your ability to learn is not fixed and doesn’t stop at a given age. Your brain is like a muscle in the sense that it can be worked out like one. The more you stretch it, the stronger it gets. However if you don’t exercise your brain, it gets weaker over time just like a muscle. One of the core laws of neuroplasticity is that neurons that fire together wire together, meaning that repeated mental experience leads to structural changes in the brain neurons that process that experience, making the synaptic connections between those neurons stronger. In practical terms, when a person learns something new, different groups of neurons get wired together. As a child learns the alphabet, the visual shape of the letter A is connected with the sound ‘ay.’ Each time the child looks at the letter and repeats the sound, the neurons involved ‘fire together’ at the same time, and then ‘wire together’; the synaptic connections between them are strengthened Whenever any activity that links neurons is repeated, those neurons fire faster, stronger, sharper signals together, and all the circuit gets more efficient and better at helping to perform the skill. The converse is also true. When a person stops performing an activity for an extended period, those connections are weakened, and over time many are lost. This is an example of a more general principle of plasticity: that it is a use-it-or-lose-it phenomenon.

 

4. Want to live a healthier life? Try to stick to things that have been a part of the natural evolutionary process of humans. An example is with sitting for 8 hours a day. Humans weren’t evolved to sit for prolonged periods of time; in fact there are irreversible health side effects with doing so. 1. Exercise (defined as vigorous exercise, or walking at least two miles a day, or biking ten miles a day). Exercise was the most powerful contributor to decreased risk of both general cognitive decline and dementia. 2. Healthy diet (as measured by eating at least three to four servings of fruit and vegetables a day). 3. Normal weight (as measured by having a body mass index between 18 and 25). 4. Low alcohol intake (alcohol is often neurotoxin). 5. No smoking (also a case of avoiding a toxin). All five factors promote the general cellular health of neurons and glia. All factors require that a person live close to the ways our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived and thus use the body as it evolved to be used. All these behaviors are basically subtractive: don’t do things we didn’t evolve to d, such as sit down all day, and travel sitting in cars; don’t eat processed food, inhale smoke, or drink too much.

 

By Ryan Lee

 

My rating:
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Check out the book here:
Amazon USA
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK

 

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