How Does the Brain Repair Itself?

Plasticity refers to the capacity of the nervous system, particularly the brain, to modify and change. Whether or not a person can recover from brain damage depends on two factors - the age of the individual, and the extent of damage in the brain. For instance, damage to the left hemisphere of the cerebral cortex after 5 years of age leads to permanent disruption of language ability. This means that damage to certain parts of the brain can only be recovered at certain periods in an individual's life.

Hypothermia is considered nature's "gold standard" for neuroprotection, and its efficacy for improving outcome in patients with hypoxic-ischemic brain injury as a result of cardiac arrest is well-established. 

Effects of Mild Hypothermia on Blood–Brain Barrier Disruption during Isoflurane or Pentobarbital Anesthesia

When the blood–brain barrier (BBB) is disrupted, even minimally, circulating neurotoxins, hormones, and ions could enter into the brain and interfere with the internal milieu of the brain, resulting in vasogenic cerebral edema and potential damage to the neurons. The BBB could be disrupted during ischemia, anoxia, sudden hypertension, seizures, trauma, inflammation, and administration of hyperosmolar solution.

Several studies showed that mild-to-moderate hypothermia decreased the disruption of the BBB during ischemia or brain injury. Although mild-to-moderate hypothermia appears to preserve the integrity of the BBB, it has been reported that profound hypothermia (20°C) aggravates the disruption of the BBB during arterial hypertension and seizures.

The Natural Way of Recovering from Brain Damage

The brain repairs itself naturally in three ways - collateral sprouting, substitution of function, and neurogenesis.

  1. Collateral Sprouting happens when axons grow new branches to compensate with adjacent damaged and non-functioning neurons. Picture a spider fixing a hole in its web.

  2. Substitution of Function happens when the function of the damaged area is taken over by another area in the brain. Brandi Binder's right hemisphere was removed when she was 6 years old to prevent epileptic seizures from occurring. Although she was not able to regain the use of her left arm, her left hemisphere gradually took over the functions of the right hemisphere in controlling the left side of her body. (Note: The right side of the brain controls the left side of the body, and vice versa. In Brandi Binder's case, the left side of her brain almost completely took over the control of both sides of her body.

  3. Neurogenesis happens when new neurons are generated in the brain. Although it is widely believed among neuroscientists that the brain already contains all the potential neurons at birth, Gould and others (1999) documented thousands of new growing neurons in monkeys. As more research about this phenomenon is being conducted, hastening neurogenesis in humans might as well be the cure for degenerative brain disorders such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's Diseases.

Being in the Zone – Sport’s Holy Grail

Sportspeople often talk about being ‘in the zone’, but I’m sure many are unaware of what this actually means. The zone in question to give it it’s full title is the ‘zone of optimal functioning’ or when an athlete performs to their absolute maximum – has the perfect game. That is why it is the holy grail – it has so many variables that an athlete will be lucky to truly achieve this once or twice in their career. Anything from amount of sleep, relationship status, nutrition, training and coach input (amongst countless others) can influence performance. One such occasion when someone came pretty close to a best possible game was David Beckham against Greece in the World Cup qualifiers in 2001.

Therefore individual player’s methods for attaining the peak will vary, which the player, coach/manager must take into account in preparing for a game. Psychological tools that can help are imagery (mental rehearsal), effective goal-setting and the correct type of self-talk (inner voice) as well as how they deal with mistakes. The player themselves can also be made aware of where there best levels of arousal lie and attempt to manipulate them using psyching up technqiues:

  • Use arousing imagery of previous good performance

  • Use arousing music (calm mind – aroused body)

  • Positive Self-talk

  • Physical contact (huddle)

or psyching down techniques:

  • Breathing exercises (lowers heart rate)

  • Stretching (elongates muscles and causes relaxation)

  • Biofeedback (taking pulse or blood pressure and consciously trying to reduce)

  • Relaxing self-talk


Miami / Florida


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