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Is a Big Brain Better?

People often use the expression "big brain" metaphorically, but of course there actually are differences in the sizes of organ itself. Fortunately, as long as one's brain is in the normal range of sizes there probably isn't much of a difference in mental function. Consider the fact that Einstein's brain was smaller than average, yet he seemed to use it well.

On the other hand small brains can be a potential problem if they used to be bigger. Brain size, you see, can change. That big brain of yours can shrink, and recent research has shown that mental function in an individual declines with brain size.

On average a person's brain shrinks about one half of one percent per year after the age of thirty. Regardless of the size it was to start with, the shrinkage now seems clearly linked to declines in ability to concentrate, in memory, and other cognitive functions (these results were reported in the medical journals Neurology and Radiology in 2008).

The good news is that it may be possible to stop the shrinkage, and even reverse that which has already occurred. If you are a subscriber to my Brainpower Newsletter you may recall that I have reported several times on studies which show physical exercise helps cognitive function. Now researchers at the University of Illinois have found that aerobic exercise can actually increase the size of the brain.

In a study they did with 59 patients, one group did aerobic exercise (swimming, bicycling or walking) for 30 minutes or more three times weekly. Another group did stretching and toning exercises. Only the those doing the aerobic exercises had increases in brain volume. So start walking (my own favorite aerobic exercise), or swimming or biking or chopping wood or something active if you want to keep your big brain from becoming a small brain.

In related news, researchers at Oxford University found that low levels of vitamin B12 were correlated with brains getting smaller. In fact, it was found that subjects studied who were in the lowest third of the group in terms of levels of B12 were six times as likely to have accelerated brain shrinkage (this was also reported in the journal Neurology). Correlation does not prove causation, so further research is being done to see if taking vitamin B12 supplements can stop and/or reverse brain shrinkage.

Now, I don't know about you, but I certainly wouldn't be afraid to take B12 pills just in case the research does prove its usefulness. It is safe enough to try. Unfortunately, as we age, it is harder to absorb vitamin B12 from the stomach. With that in mind, if you do decide to take it, you might want to use the sublingual variety, which you just place under your tongue. As it dissolves it's absorbed through the mucus membranes and passes into you blood stream. Doctor David Williams, in his newsletter Alternatives, recommends 1,000 mcg daily.

I have one last note about big brains and small brains. A study at Kent State university found that the more overweight a person is the smaller their brain is. I'm not sure what the connection there is, but there are certainly enough other reasons to watch one's weight.

For more about that bg brain of yours...

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