Three Amazing Facts About Blood and Brain Function
Unless it’s visible, we probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about blood. It’s a part of our anatomy that’s taken for granted. We know it’s in our veins. That it’s part of our circulatory system. But blood is vital to our overall physical and brain health.
Blood delivers oxygen to the brain
When we breathe, our lungs fill with oxygen which is then pulled into our bloodstream and into red blood cells. Our heart then pumps that oxygenated blood throughout our body. This process is called diffusion. From our lungs, this oxygen-rich blood flows directly to the heart, where it gets pumped to the rest of our body. As our blood deposits oxygen, it picks up carbon dioxide where it filters back into our lungs, which we then release every time we exhale.
The brain uses 18% of the oxygen in our bloodstream, with up to 1000 milliliters of blood flowing through our brain tissue and oxygenating our cells every minute. Low oxygen levels in the brain can result in loss of awareness, being unable to follow directions or complete tasks, memory loss, problems with motor function, and the inability to think clearly. We can elevate our blood oxygen levels by practicing deep breathing exercises, making sure we expand our diaphragm to maximize our lung capacity.
Blood delivers nutrients to the brain
Similar to how oxygen is absorbed into our bloodstream from our lungs, nutrients are absorbed into our bloodstream from our digestive system. From there, they travel to the liver, and whatever isn’t metabolized is taken up to the brain. These nutrients are allowed through the blood-brain barrier so they can be absorbed into our brain tissue. This happens primarily through plasma cells.
Our brain doesn’t only require a high level of oxygen, it requires high levels of nutrients. In fact, metabolizing the proper nutrients in the levels the brain needs takes a lot of oxygen, so the two processes are dependent on each other. Eating a diet rich in vitamins and other brain-healthy nutrients ensures that not only does our brain get the nutrition it needs to function properly, but it keeps our blood vessels free of plaque and other artery build-ups. This means we can get high levels of the vitamins and minerals necessary to maintain high levels of cognitive processing and functionality.
There are a number of brain-healthy foods to include in our daily diets. We can get omega fatty acids from eggs, flax, hemp, and fish. Eating green, leafy vegetables provides vitamins and minerals such as magnesium. Dairy products, beans, seeds, and nuts provide the brain and body with calcium. And because digestion health is pivotal in ensuring we are breaking food down efficiently, eating enough fiber is an important part of a brain-healthy diet.
Blood is a transportation system for our immune system
Our white blood cells fight off intruders such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites, rendering them harmless. They also produce antibodies, which fight off infections from specific bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites. In addition, they produce specific proteins that attack tumors and abnormal cells found in the body. All of these processes combined help keep our body and brain healthy by resisting most infections from occurring. When it can’t resist the infection, these blood cells work to eradicate the infection and use the infected cells to build resistance for future illnesses.
Previous understanding of the brain made researchers believe it was separate from the immune system. However, recent studies in the field of neuroimmunology demonstrate that there are connections between our immune system and our brain function. Even though immune cells seem to function independent of neural input or direction, they are actually equipped with chemical messengers, enabling communication between the cells and the brain. This back and forth communication ability can strengthen hormone response in the brain, facilitating and strengthening immune response in individual cells, making our immune system smarter and stronger.
Maintaining a strong and healthy immune system is imperative in not simply being physically healthy, but also in protecting our brain. We can implement healthy daily routines such as getting a good night’s sleep, eating brain-healthy meals, and getting plenty of exercise. Other ways to bolster our immune system is by engaging in brain training exercises, practicing meditation techniques, and maintaining healthy social contacts. This all works to not only reduce stress but helps our immune system and our brain operate efficiently.
Blood is more than a red liquid that pumps in our veins. Our entire cardiovascular system plays an important role in providing oxygen and nutrients to our body and brain. Staying healthy, eating a brain-healthy diet, and practicing deep breathing are all key in ensuring our brain performs at optimal levels.