Bet you don't know all four!
By Austin Perlmutter, MD
Diverse Brain Cells: Contrary to common belief, only half of the brain's cells are neurons; the other half are glial cells like oligodendrocytes, microglia, and astrocytes, which play crucial roles in cognition and mood.
Depression Complexity: Recent research challenges the traditional focus on serotonin in depression, suggesting that it involves multiple brain pathways, including neuroplasticity, metabolism, inflammation, and the gut-brain axis.
Memory Improvement Tactics: While many marketed memory aids are ineffective, evidence-based strategies like better sleep, exercise, and memory techniques such as mnemonics and visualization can genuinely enhance memory.
Sleep as a Brain Hack: Good sleep is a simple yet highly effective way to improve focus, memory, and overall brain function, and it also helps in preventing mood disorders and dementia.
In the last 10 years, I’ve read hundreds, if not thousands of journal articles, spoken to the world’s top brain experts, written a bestselling book on brain health and been on more podcasts than I can count. Throughout it all, my focus has been on how to harness the power of our brains for better health to help myself and others get unstuck. In this article, I’m sharing 4 of the most incredible facts about your brain that you may not know.
1. Your brain is full of powerful cells you’ve never heard of
Here’s a fact that forever changed my understanding of the brain: only half of the cells are neurons! Neurons are always getting the spotlight, but about 50% of the cells in your brain are another cell type, called “glial” cells. Glial cells include oligodendrocytes, microglia and astrocytes, and they do so much more than simple support. Glial cells are believed to be involved in our cognition and mood, and they are significantly impacted by our day-to-day decisions. If we were looking ahead to the coming decades of brain research, you can be sure glial cells will be a BIG part of the story.
2. Serotonin isn’t the whole story when it comes to depression.
When I was in medical school and residency, I learned that the most important brain pathway involved in depression related to serotonin issues. This helped explain why selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) were the most common medication I prescribed for depression. Research in the last few years has shown that serotonin is far from the whole story in depression though. In fact, it may not be much of a player at all! Instead, what we call “depression” may be better characterized as a convergent result of issues with multiple pathways within the brain including issues with neuroplasticity, metabolism, inflammation, the gut-brain axis and more.
3. You can improve your memory, but not the way you think.
Our memory tends to get worse as we age. Even when we’re younger, we can perceive issues with remembering people’s names, places and other facts. As a result, there are thousands of companies selling us on products that are supposedly going to help us improve memory. Unfortunately, almost all “memory pills,” supplements and other solutions haven’t been shown to do much. With this said, there are real and evidence-based tactics we all can use to enhance our memory (and protect ourselves against memory loss). Some of the best strategies include getting better sleep, exercising and using memory devices like mnemonics and visualization.
4. Getting better sleep is the quickest effective brain hack.
In an age of quick-fixes and consumer products, there’s no shortage of “hacks” and other rapid solutions for our brain problems. But from energy drinks to focus supplements, most of these products either don’t deliver or ignore the root biology. This is what makes good sleep so incredible. One night of good sleep promotes better focus, better memory and generally better brain function AND it’s free. Beyond the quick benefits, good sleep seems to help prevent mood issues and dementia.