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YOUR HEALTH

Rewiring Our Brain By Joseph C. Maroon, MD

When you mention rewiring something, especially our brain, people can become very suspicious. In this article I don’t intend for you to change your beliefs, attitudes or thoughts, although that might help.

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n this case I mean rewiring the actual brain and the connections that literally make up the pathways in our brain. This may sound impossible, but in fact, we are doing it all the time. The most rapid period of rewiring occurs as a child. We initially begin by building connections to our sensory organs and eventually use input from the outside world to build our own thoughts and actions to survive. As we get older, this rewiring continues at a slower pace. As new learning and experiences build over time, the tracks or pathways of neurons in our brain appear to remain mostly stable. In a captivating book entitled, Connectome: How the Brain’s Wiring Makes Us Who We Are, neuroscientist, Sebastian Seung, describes the emerging science of connectomics. We now have visual proof of the brain’s connectome. (see Image) By using powerful 3-D MRI imaging software, we can map the brain much like we can now map an individual’s unique DNA pattern. Neurons adjust by forming new connections or strengthening or weakening established ones. Eventually, they can form pathways or tracks that we can now see. With this connection map, we can identify basic kinds of change based on the size of neuronal tracks. Over time changes can be recorded, and we can learn how life events, new learning or habits, trauma or even aging can change your connectome.

So, What is the Benefit to Knowing Your Connectome? To use the analogy of DNA again, our genome is fixed at birth, but our connectome is plastic and malleable, thus the term neuroplasticity. This involves the ability of our brain cells to send out and form new connections to other brain cells. It is reported at his death Albert Einstein had an average-size brain, but the amount of brain cell connections was extraordinary. Fortunately, the amount of neuroplasticity and forming new connections is partly under our control. Factors like diet, exercise, the amount of stress exposure, habits (good and bad) can influence brain cells and the connections they make. So, in the case of brain injury or illness, scientists have shown specific diets, regimented physical activity, elimination of toxic substances, stress management with cognitive behavioral management,

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Summer 2018  |  www.PittsburghFiftyFivePlus.com

meditation and spirituality and neuro-biofeedback can rewire the brain, forming new connections that can lead to improved brain function. Exciting new research is now underway to determine unique connectome pattern differences in diseases like mental illness, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, autism and anxiety disorders. At the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, several grants, including one from the Chuck Noll Foundation, have been awarded to research former professional athletes who have cognitive or mood problems related to having participated in contact sports. Before and after a month-long intervention, a special connectome MRI map will be obtained. The program uses personalized wellness medicine and behavior modification in a segregated treatment facility. Interventions will include an organic anti-inflammatory diet, supplements (curcumin, omega 3 fatty acids, nicotinamide riboside, resveratrol etc.), bio-neurofeedback techniques and daily exercise. All environmental toxins are to be eliminated and stress management techniques will be taught. I will report back more as the study progresses. Imaging our brain’s wiring or connectome is now a reality. The fact that we can make better health choices, perhaps even after damage has been done, and literally rewire our brain for the better can be empowering. Take the time now to rewire your brain for the better because it is never too late! n

Summer 2018 issue!  

Dr. Shawn Richey from Neuropathy Treatment Centers of Pgh is featured on the cover with some of his thousands of patients that are living li...

Summer 2018 issue!  

Dr. Shawn Richey from Neuropathy Treatment Centers of Pgh is featured on the cover with some of his thousands of patients that are living li...