Your brain is part of your central nervous system, and is the control centre for your body. It can be divided into 3 main sections – the cerebrum, cerebellum and the brain stem. Your brain is made up of billions of nerve cells, called neurons, which control all the essential functions of your body. The brain also enables you to think, remember, learn, and feel.
Throughout life, there are many factors that may affect the health of your brain, and how well it works.
Factors that affect brain health
Many cognitive functions - such as learning, memory and attention can be affected by age. These age-related changes may even begin as early as your 20s and 30s. There are also physical changes to the brain that occur as you age, which can affect brain function – these include: accumulation of fat deposits in the cells of the brain, and neurone loss, which results in the brain getting smaller with age.
When you are exposed to stress, your body goes through a series of reactions known as the ‘stress response’. Part of this stress response is the release of neurotransmitters (chemicals that transmit nerve impulses), and hormones called glucocorticoids. Long term exposure to these stress hormones can have an impact on brain structure, in adults these changes are seen in the hippocampus – an area of the brain involved in memory, and thinking.
Cigarette smoke contains thousands of compounds, many of which are toxic to the brain. Smoking may cause physical changes to the structure of your brain, and may also accelerate the decline of cognitive functions such as memory, learning and processing speed.
Good nutritional status is important for the health of your brain. Ensuring that you have adequate amounts of B vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids may help support brain health, and cognitive decline associated with normal aging.
Diets that are high in fruits, vegetables, cereals and fish are associated with better brain health and cognitive function, while those that are high in fat – especially trans fats, and saturated fats, may have negative effects on brain health.
Dehydration can affect the structure of your brain, and may also decrease your brain fluid volume. Dehydration of the brain can lead to shrinking of brain cells within the brain known as astrocytes, resulting in water being unable to move between cells, blood and the ventricles of the brain. This can have negative effects on cognitive function.