Anatomy And Physiology

Anatomy Physiology

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An MRI study conducted by American researchers on 1,839 people who were categorized as abstainers, light drinkers, moderate drinkers, and heavy drinkers revealed that brain volume decreased with alcohol consumption. The decrease in volume was 0.25% for every increase in drinking category. Separate studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill confirmed that alcohol has detrimental effects on brain functioning and cognition but Dr James Garbutt cautions that no studies have been done that show how brain volume and cognition are related and whether alcohol has any effect.

I am reminded of the work of the late Dr. John Lorber, a neurology professor at the University of Sheffield in England. He used a CAT scan on a student who was referred to him by the campus doctor after being treated for a minor ailment because the doctor noticed that the student's head was slightly larger than normal. Lorber discovered that the student had virtually no brain. The student had about 1 mm of cerebral tissue clinging to the inside of the skull and about 1 cm at the top of his spinal column. The rest of the cranial cavity was filled with cerebral spinal fluid. He had the condition know as hydrocephalus, wherein the cerebral spinal fluid (csf) is prevented from normal circulation by being dammed up inside. The student had a measured IQ of 126 and graduated with honors from a mathematics program. Lorber went on to specialize in the study of people with hydrocephalus and developed case files on hundreds of individuals, many with "no detectable brain" and many measuring higher than average IQ's.

Then there is the work of Dr. Michael Gershon, professor of anatomy and cell biology at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York, one of the founders of a new field of medical science known as "neurogastroenterology" and author of the book "The Second Brain". He re-examined studies first documented by a 19th century German neurologist by the name of Leopold Auerbach. Close examination of the nerves lining the esophagus, stomach and digestive tract reveals a complex network of neurons about the same in number as exist in the cerebral cortex. According to Dr. Gershon nearly every chemical that controls the brain in the head has been identified in the gut, including hormones and neurotransmitters. We have, in effect, a second brain in our enteric system.

The brain in our head is made up of a thin layer of neurons up to two millimeters thick which follow the folds and creases of the outer brain and which comprise the cerebral cortex, or the gray matter. This is the thinking part of the brain. These neurons are networked via axons and dendrites through the glia, the white matter, to the mid brain, where information processing occurs. We could essentially do without the glia and fill that space with csf, which is essentially the case with people who have hydrocephalus. The seriousness of that condition is entirely related to buildup of fluid causing pressure on the brain which can cause potentially fatal seizures, and this is why many of these patients have permanent shunts installed to drain the fluid to prevent the buildup of pressure, but their normal brain functioning is not normally impaired unless damage has occurred.

The studies relating alcohol consumption to reduction in brain volume did not specify whether this was the case for the entire brain or for the cerebral cortex. Studying cognitive impairment and brain functioning of people under the influence of alcohol need not be done in the laboratory. In any event, it's old news that the average person uses but a small amount of the full potential of their brain. That fact probably makes me a little more indifferent to the alcohol related study. That, and the bottle in front of me.

More about this author: Steve Lussing

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