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
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.