Neurons are a fundamental cell type for the brain and nervous system. This is because they are responsible for receiving information from the external world and sending motor impulses to the muscles.

They are also responsible for transmitting electrical signals and for processing ideas and forming new memories and memories.

Neurons are essential for the functioning of the brain. Thanks to these cells we can think, study, work, have an opinion, form our personality, move, sing, walk and jump, among many other things. For all this, the body has developed a way to protect them.

In this article you will learn about a process that protects our neurons: myelination, what it is, what it is for and what effect it has on the nervous system .

What is myelination?

Myelination is the process by which axons, the part of neurons that send nerve impulses to other cells, are responsible for providing protection to these parts of neurons.

This coating process begins as early as the second trimester of pregnancy and will be with us for the rest of our lives. It is essential that this occurs so that the nerve stimuli sent by the brain through the neurons circulate as they should.

Note: The myelin sheath consists of a substance that functions as an insulator on the axon. Axons that are not covered with myelin have less ability to conduct electrical signals.

What is myelin?

Myelin is an insulating sheath found around nerves. These are found in both the brain and the spinal cord.

Myelin is made up of proteins and fats. This allows electrical impulses to be transmitted quickly and efficiently.

To highlight: Myelin is formed by plasmatic membranes, surrounding the axons of neurons. Thanks to this process, neurons have protection in addition to speeding up and improving intercommunication with other cells.

myelin function

The main function of myelin is to increase the speed at which the electrical impulses that occur between neurons and cells are generated. These impulses are continuous waves, but in myelinated fibers they jump and propagate faster.

Since myelin is an insulator, a neuron with myelinated axons generally transmits impulses about 100 times faster than a neuron without myelin, resulting in better functioning of the body.

myelin characteristics

A study published in Basic Neurochemistry ensures that myelin has a water content of 40%. The dry part of myelin is characterized by a high proportion of fats (85%) and a low proportion of proteins (15-30%) (1) .

Note: The curious thing is that unlike other membranes, most have a higher protein to lipid ratio.

As we have seen, the myelination process allows neural signals to propagate rapidly. In this way, the connectivity of brain regions increases, improving the neural pathways that connect separate regions, key to various cognitive and motor functions.

To highlight: Myelination is essential for sensory motor roots. These structures are necessary for reflexes and survival. Therefore, the myelination process is very important for human life.

Myelin has the function of increasing the speed of electrical impulses in neurons, since it works as an insulator for the axon. Furthermore, this prevents electrical impulses from stopping in the axons before reaching their destination.

Important: Damage to myelin can cause several neurodegenerative diseases, such as multiple sclerosis. This can happen because the process did not occur or has deteriorated. In this case the nervous system can malfunction.

When this happens, we can lose sensitivity, especially at the threshold of pain, we can suffer alterations in perception, giving way to synesthesia (seeing colors when someone speaks, for example) and agnosia (inability to interpret sensations or recognize objects or people).

How can neurons be protected?

Myelin damage poses a huge threat, and that’s why it’s important to take care of it. Here are some recommendations to protect both the myelin that covers the axons and also your neurons:

Eat properly

Experts at Harvard University suggest regular consumption of foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and antioxidants (2) . Thanks to his research, we now know that these acids and vitamins improve and protect brain health.

Note: The incorporation of many of these foods rich in vitamins, omega-3, etc., are part of a varied and healthy diet. Including these can improve your brain health and therefore mental function.

The best foods for the brain are the following:

Green leafy vegetables, such as kale, spinach , and broccoli. This is because they are rich in vitamin K, lutein, folic acid, and beta-carotene.

Oily fish are the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, healthy fats that help lower beta-amyloid levels in the blood, thus protecting us from formations that are harmful to the brain, common in those with Alzheimer’s

Try to eat fish at least twice a week, however try to stick to low-mercury varieties of fish, such as salmon , cod, tuna, and haddock.

Note: If fish isn’t your thing, see your doctor and opt for an omega-3 supplement. You can also include flax seeds, avocados, and nuts that are high in omega-3s and healthy fats.

Berries: The flavonoids present in berries, in addition to giving them vibrant colors and bright shades, help improve memory.

Highlights: According to 2012 research published in the Annals of Neurology, Harvard researchers found that women who ate two or more servings of berries each week delayed memory decline for up to two and a half years (3) .

Doing physical activity

According to a recent study published in Neurology where the results of physical examinations and cognitive tests of 454 older adults were examined for 20 years. Participants recorded their movement and physical activity throughout the day.

The researchers note that those who moved more scored better on tests of memory and thinking. Each increase in physical activity was associated with a 31% lower risk of dementia (3) .

In another study, 160 sedentary older people with mild cognitive impairment were assigned to either aerobic exercise, follow a healthy diet, or combine exercise with the DASH diet (a diet based on healthy foods to stop hypertension) or receive health education.

During the study, those who followed the DASH diet did not improve on assessments of executive function (planning, problem solving, and multitasking).

While the role of the health education group worsened. However, those who exercised showed improvements in thinking and memory, and those who combined exercise and diet improved even more.

Eliminate the cigarette

Smoking is bad for your health, we all know that. The cigarette is especially harmful to the lungs and the heart , but did you know that it is just as harmful to your brain?

A study published in the journal Plos One showed that smoking can damage our neurons and cause neuronal necrosis. The results demonstrated structural changes in smokers since smoking can damage microvessels and influence blood supply to the brain (4) .

Notable: The study concluded that chronic smoking can lead to structural changes in the brain. So if you were looking to quit smoking, here’s one more reason to do it.

Reduce alcohol consumption

And if you thought that all vices were bad for your brain, you’re right. Everything indicates that alcohol can also be harmful to your mental health.

We all know how bad alcoholism does to the body. However, even drinking in moderation can have contraindications. A study published in the BMJ found that moderate drinking can have effects similar to those experienced by alcoholics (5) .

Note: Alcohol promotes shrinkage of the hippocampus, which is the area of ​​the brain associated with memory and reasoning. The number of contractions appears to be related to the amount of alcohol a person drinks.

The results showed that those who drank four drinks a day had almost six times as many contractions as those who did not drink. Moderate drinkers were three times more at risk than non-drinkers.

rest properly

Resting is very important for the care of our brain and neurons. Lack of sleep can overstimulate parts of the brain and even cause permanent brain damage.

According to a report published by Harvard , lack of sleep can cause neurological damage . This is due to the neural plasticity of the brain, that is, the ability to adapt to new situations.

To highlight: In a Harvard study, the results of those who studied all night without sleep were evaluated versus those who rested before the exam. Simply skipping sleep, for example one night, alters episodic memory, preventing the person from being able to remember as much as people who sleep normally (6) .

So lie down in bed and enjoy a good night’s sleep.

Exercise your mind daily

Playing a crossword or sudoku puzzle can be not only entertaining but also beneficial. A recent study published in Cognitive Training Data Response showed substantial evidence showing that certain cognitive training regimens can significantly improve cognitive function (7) .

Note: Some games and activities that may interest you are crossword puzzles, reading, learning a language, visual memory games, chess, and video games.

Avoid stress

According to a Harvard Medical School health publication , chronic stress affects brain function in multiple ways. It can disrupt synapse regulation, resulting in loss of sociability. Stress can kill brain cells and even reduce the size of the brain (8) .

Note: Chronic stress has a contraction effect on the prefrontal cortex, the area of ​​the brain responsible for memory and learning.

Stress can not only shrink the prefrontal cortex, but it can also increase the size of the amygdala, the region of the brain associated with negative emotions, which can make the brain more receptive to stress and fear.

Keep a positive attitude

Daniel Goleman, author of Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, states that positive emotions broaden our attention span and change our perception.

If we take a look at the prefrontal cortex, during a positive thought, there is growth through the generation of new synapses. The prefrontal cortex allows us to control emotions, since it allows us to focus.

To highlight: This is great news since science has shown that we can protect our brain through our thoughts.

If you’re having a bad day, try meditating, listening to upbeat music, or going for a walk. Try to focus on having positive thoughts again, and you will see how little by little your brain will thank you.

Key takeaways

  • Neurons are a fundamental cell type for the brain and nervous system. Well, they are responsible for receiving information from the external world and sending motor impulses to the muscles. In the same way they are responsible for transmitting electrical signals and processing ideas and forming new memories and memories.
  • Thanks to neurons, we can think, study, work, have an opinion, form our personality, move, sing, walk and jump, among many other things. For all this, the body has developed a way to protect them called myelination.
  • Myelination is the process by which axons are responsible for providing protection to neurons. This process begins in the second trimester of pregnancy until the rest of our lives. It is important that it occurs, so that the nervous stimuli that the brain sends through the neurons circulate as they should.
  • Apart from the myelination process, there are other ways to protect our neurons that depend on ourselves, such as eating properly, doing physical activity, avoiding stress, not smoking, reducing alcohol consumption, exercising the mind and maintaining a positive attitude. .

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