Brains Versus Brawns; How Selfish Our Brains Are?

3년 전


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Even with the most rigorous exercise, I would never admit that I'm brawny. Maybe that's because I've committed myself all this while as an academic and thinking about stuff is relatively tiring. Does that mean people who were brawny are just people without brains? Do they ever think at all? Well, that's not my point. It just extremely difficult to commit to two separate objectives when both of them were sharing the same resource. People have said that multitasking can lead to a much productive and satisfactory outcome but according to science, you should have prioritised your objective. It's like being a doctor and for those who are not familiar, I would make it as simple as I could. You should know, there are a few sides of medicine but overall, it can be categorised into two components which are the medical and surgical components.

People who were specialising in the medical side (internal medicine, family medicine, psychiatry and paediatric) were committed to the theoretical part of medicine while people who were involved in the surgical part were trained to master the technical side of medicine. As you were specialising into something, your focus would be much more specific. Cardiologists, despite their interest in internal medicine, would have to study in cardiology (a branch of medicine related to heart and the blood circulation). We can say, in parts, our brains are primed to be more specific but in the other, it might do well in multitask; hearing to music while doing some work for example. We just need to know what part of the brain the activity stimulates and other factors which could have made it okay or not for you to multitask certain activities.

The brain and muscles are both expensive organ. They share the same resource but the priority of giving out nutrients, in the most difficult situation, would always be for the brain. Once upon a time, we have a small brain and a large digestive system, both were important factors for the survival of human species. In time, our digestive system began to shrink and we end up with a large brain. Digestive systems are important as they were capable of distributing nutrients to various organs but our survival often depends on our wit which can be considered as one of the best bets for us to live when trying to escape from predators. When we stumbled upon a predator, we can either outrun it or outsmart it; since most of them were stronger and faster than us, the latter would be the best bet. We need the brain for almost everything and in every possible situation which could be described as a moment whereby nutrients were scarce, brains always win over others. In our situation right now, even though nutrients were sufficient, the brain would always earn their first.

In the field of Paleobiology, having an enlarged and complexed brain has been considered as one of the most defining features as a human. Along with it, we were capable of executing a much more complex social strategy, being innovative in solving problems and being resourceful by manipulating the environment to produce our basic necessities. This is the factor which has been shielding us all this while from extinction and at the same time, improving our chance at survival (reducing mortality rates through specified means). Regardless, with all of those perks, we surely have to sacrifice something in return and that is our glucose.


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Although glucose can be considered as one of the most dangerous substances when they were retained in the blood circulation for a significant amount of time, it acts as our primary source of energy and has been running our brain since we were born (although the % differs through ages we are not going to discuss that here). The selfish brain hypothesis (or theory) was coined in 2004 which explained that, among all organs, the brain has been considered as the highest priority and all of the resources should go to the brain first before it can be distributed to other peripheral organs such as muscles. This is a clue to say that our brain would be the most important organs that we would depend on when it comes to our survival.

Am I saying that having a bigger muscle would be disadvantageous for our survival? Not quite so. If we were too obsessed with a single theory, then it would be better for us to just focus on the brain without paying much attention to the other aspect of our physical side; that would be our doom. Sometimes, whatever we were doing for the muscle would be good for the brain too. Take cardio exercise for an example, the heart is an important organ which has been pumping our blood that contained nutrient and gases so that it can be distributed to other organs including the brain.

Cardio exercises are good for the heart and numerous studies have shown that whatever things which are good for the heart are good for the brain too. It ensures a much effective delivery mechanism by increasing blood flow to the brain, giving it an ample amount of nutrients so that it can function effectively; all of this beneficial effect can be exerted by simply walking. You don't need to be a bodybuilder to be healthy, in fact, some of them are not even healthier than you. Most of the competitive bodybuilders were affected by a condition called body dysmorphic disorder which I would write in my next article. Some even at high risk of heart diseases and other medical conditions courtesy of anabolic steroids and other "supplements" they were using to boost up their performances which seem plateau.

It's difficult to make use of what I'm telling you here, especially if you were an athlete, but I'm not saying it's better for us to abandon sports and go for academic stuff instead; we should know when and how to prioritise which goal so that it can be achieved. Last year, Daniel Longman et al conducted a study to investigate the hypothesis which has been claiming preferential treatment between the brain and muscles during the state of glucose deficiency. The study involved 62 athlete rowers who have been visited the laboratory at Cambridge University on three separate occasions.

Their first task was purely mental. They were asked to sit in a room while looking at the screen that showed dozens of words which need to be memorised and after three minutes, they need to write as many words they can remember on a piece of paper. The next day, they need to row rowing machines as hard as they could for three minutes and their power was recorded in watts. On the last day of their test, they need to row while memorising words on the screen for three minutes and wrote it down on a piece of paper. I think by now, you can already guess on which day they would have the most terrible performance; it's the last day. They can memorise fewer words and generate fewer watts than when they were done separately.


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What's most important is, their rowing performances were significantly lower compared to the downfall of their memory performance (by approximately 30% in difference compared to memory performance which suffers 13% reduction). To perform whatever they were assigned to, they need to us glucose (either for the brain or muscles) but since they have to do both of those tasks on the last day, both of these organs were competing to get their hands on the same resource; of course, the brain always wins. To compensate for this deficiency, muscles which are being used vigorously for physical activities would produce lactate which can be used by the brain as an alternative form of energy, providing a glucose sparing effect but even with this perk, there is still a much-heated competition between those two.

Even in the most challenging life situation, the brain is always treated as highly as one could. We can find a normal brain mass in people who suffered from prolonged malnutrition, starvation and even in babies who were affected by a condition called as intrauterine growth restriction, typically seen in the baby which is born from a hypertensive mother. The explanation is rather simple; that's the way they can function as effectively as they could to survive the deficiency. Can you think a time whereby muscles are prioritised?

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