Sunday, October 15, 2006

ACTIVATE for dendrite growth

What are dendrites?
Dendrites, or dendritic processes, extend from the body of a cell in branches. These are the fibers that conduct signals toward the cell body of the neuron. One characteristic of a dendrite is its many possible branches. If the palm of your hand was the body of the cell, your fingers would be the dendrites. In nerve cells, the dendrites can grow longer and more complex by certain kinds of stimulation. I call this stimulating process “activation.” Dendrites can also shrink and die off.

Above, an oak tree in winter with its branches outlined in the sky, is a beautiful analogy to some kinds of nerve cells. The seaweed shown above also reflects our anatomy with its lacy branches.

*The goal of Activation is to produce an extensive dendritic network.*

Current science has revealed that our brain neurons, or nerve cells, can continue to grow new and more intricate branches. This multiplicity of dendritic growth may be a major protective factor in slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

Is slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease of any real benefit?
YES! In multiple studies, research has shown the presence of AD in the autopsied brains of people who never exhibited the symptoms of this disease. What this means is that you may HAVE the disease, but literally never experience it.

Another important reason to stimulate dendrite growth is to enjoy the increased cognitive function throughout the aging process. Aging is known to decrease the brain chemicals, or transmitters, needed for smooth, productive thought. But, in the presence of an extensive dendritic network, the necessary brain chemicals have a shorter distance to travel in order to complete the synapse and connect with the next neuron. This means that growing an elaborate dendritic “tree” can offset the effect of the decrease in brain transmitters.

HOW can we stimulate dendrite growth?
The most important aspect in growing dendrites is what I call ACTIVATION.
We can ACTIVATE dendrite growth by using the brain in specific ways. For example, we can choose interesting new activities which require more than one kind of learning. The chosen activity will be unique to the individual. A person who has excellent language skills but has never been good at dancing, for instance, might venture into beginner’s dancing classes. Two of the most powerful stimulants of brain power are activities which involve social interaction, and activities with emotional content. Doing the same thing you have always done, even if it is stimulating, probably does not produce new dendrite growth. Change and diversity are required for new pathways to be formed in the brain.

While ACTIVATION is listed as number six in my Six Essentials for Brain Health, it is the “‘big one.” Everything leading up to ACTIVATION is designed to give your brain the necessary foundation to make Activation possible. First, provide the chemicals the brain needs in order to function well. Glucose, proper hydration, balanced Omega fats, antioxidants, and oxygen. Then – ACTIVATE.

WHEN is it important to start stimulating dendrite growth?
Our brain chemicals actually begin their decline in the 20-something ages!
Studies have shown the potential for improvement in cognition at all ages. Patients with Alzheimer’s disease have shown a slowing of progression of the disease, increased daily performance and even some increase in independence. People of all ages have been shown to benefit from the addition of critical brain chemicals. Some of the benefits cited include better moods, improved memory, and ease of learning.

Children also have special considerations as their brains run full tilt in the learning and growth process. While it is never too early to begin paying attention to the needs of our brains, it is also never too late!

"The science of Activation aims to implement vibrantly healthy brain activity throughout all the years of life."
Suzanna B. Stinnett
Graton, California
October, 2006
[All text copyrighted material from upcoming book]