With Craig Stellpflug NDC, Health Coach, Neuro Development Consultant
"It's your health we are talking about!"
By Craig Stellpflug NDC
Healing Pathways Medical Clinic
Copyright 2009 Craig Stellpflug©.
Permission is herby granted to copy and distribute this article but only in its entirety
How the brain develops
The brain develops from the lower levels to the upper levels, from the simple to the complex and in a predictable order and timetable.
Myelin: the insulation of the brain and nerves
When the infant is born it has basically all the brain cells that it will ever have throughout life. The infant’s brain will be comprised of upwards to 100 billion brain cells. Yet the brain does more growing and developing in the first six years of childhood than it will grow and develop the rest of the life of that child. The developing brain completes the majority of it growth before the age of 6. The actual growth in size of the brain comes from the development and myelination of neuro pathways along with the 100 trillion connections developed between nerve cells.
As the brain grows and matures from fetal development through adult hood, it lays down layers of myelin starting mostly in the lower levels of the brain, the medulla and pons levels. Myelin is the fatty substance that the body and brain uses to “insulate” the neuropathways and speed up the conductivity of signals throughout the CNS (central nervous system). The brain develops and matures from the lower levels of the brain to the upper levels, from the simple to the complex and in a predictable order and timetable.
At birth, the medulla of the brain is thinly insulated and the nerve signals from the breathing naturally affects the heart rate. When the infant inhales the heart speeds up and when the infant exhales the heart slows back down. As the brain matures and the insulation increases in the medulla the arrhythmia between the heart and breathing lessens until it is no longer evident in the developing child. A deficiency in EFA’s or a brain insult or injury can weaken or even destroy the development of the myelin in this critical area of the brain causing an abnormal sinus arrhythmia or even death. A sinus arrhythmia in an older child is usually a fairly benign condition but is an indicator of problems in brain development and myelination.
As the brain development and myelination move from lower to higher levels of the brain. The specific functions in hearing, seeing, tactile, mobility, language and manual, functions begin to develop their specialties. Pathways to specialty centers of the brain develop as signals find the routes to and from the specialty centers. Specialty centers network to enervate other areas of involvement. For instance, as the child is developing the mobility and walking centers of the brain, other areas in expressive language function are affected by mobility and develop at the same time. As the child is developing language function other centers of hearing, seeing and tactile functions are developing and learning how to integrate and share information with the language centers.
One of the first cranial nerves to develop and myelinate is the 8th cranial nerve, or the auditory nerve. This begins at about 8 weeks of gestation as sounds are picked up by the ears of the fetus in the womb and through bone conduction. The sound signals wander throughout the brain seeking the best place to develop. The abundance of sound in the womb makes excellent hearing opportunity for neuro pathways to develop. The eyes on the other hand do not take off in development until after birth when light first becomes abundantly available to the eyes and brain. There is not much light available to the developing fetus in the womb thus limiting the eyes development. Subterranean fish do not develop functioning eyes and the human eye deprived of light will atrophy.
Function determines structure
The point I am making here will follow true throughout the life of the individual. Function determines structure. Without opportunities to develop a neuro pathway in the brain nothing much will happen. If you stop stimulating an existing pathway it will atrophy and the brain will prune the nerve cells and diminish the structure of the pathway. The more activity you send in a pathway the stronger the pathway becomes and the brain applies more myelin to that pathway. The added myelin will insulate the pathway and make the neuro chemical synapses flow faster. Normal neuro synapsis will flow at an amazing 192 mph.
The last areas of the brain to myelinate are at the top of the brain called the upper cortices. Some of the main functions that reside in the upper cortices are critical thinking, executive function (decision making), social skills and tact. Young children or even adults with immature myelination or insult or injury in the upper and frontal cortices will have problems with critical thinking, good decision making, social skills and tact.
Other problems with immature, underdeveloped or injured myelination in the brain will be cortical spillage (where the signals from one area of the brain leak out to influence other areas), Tourrettes Syndrome (Where shorts in the myelin cause tics and other involuntary movements or noises), hyperactivity (where the brain has to force extra signals down the pathways causing an excess of generalized activity) and figiting (where the brain burns up excessive signals through voluntary muscle or limb movements).
Myelination begins in the womb at about eighteen weeks of gestation and is a lifetime process but basically completes around 23 years of age. For the developing fetus, EFA’s are provided at first by the diminishing yolk sac and then by the flow of nutrients through the umbilical cord. After the baby is born the breast milk from the well nourished mother provides the abundance of EFA’s needed for proper development. Once the infant is weaned it is now forever totally dependent upon diet to provide what the brain needs. EFA’s are called essential fatty acids because, like water or air, they are essential for life and health. The body cannot manufacture EFA’s from other products in the body. Deficiencies in EFA’s not only affect brain and nerve development but also joint development and repair regardless of age.
The healthy brain by dry weight is up to 60% DHA (decosahexaenoic acid) which is an EFA (essential fatty acid).
MRI studies show that infants with developmental delays also have immature myelination patterns in the brain. Nursing mothers and toddlers given supplemental EFAs to support early brain growth has proven to give the developing brain an advantage. Studies have proven that infants and toddlers supplemented with EFAs have higher IQ’s, higher processing abilities, better psychomotor function, eye hand coordination and even better acoustical stereo acuity. Studies with rats have shown that feeding the pregnant mother lecithin (high in EFA) halfway through a pregnancy gave the consequent pups a lifetime advantage in brain development and intelligence.
Breast feeding alone adds 5% to IQ scores compared to children that are bottle fed.
All through life the brain is losing millions and sometimes billions of brain cells at a time. Environmental toxins, viral, fungal and bacterial pathogens, inhalants, food excito-toxins, gluten, alcohol, vaccine adjuvants, disinfectants, pharmaceutical drugs, anesthetics, head trauma and even small head bumps and injuries can cause the loss of neuronal cells. It is not a matter of “if” someone is losing brain cells but rather a matter of “”how many” brain cells are they losing. Keep in mind that the unused pathways and neurons in the healthy brain atrophy and are pruned, discarded and removed from the brain.
Some symptoms of poor or damaged myelination can be; Hyperactivity Tourettes Syndrome, seizures, tics, tremors, grunts, wheezes, stutters, involuntary movements, sinus arrhythmia, cortical spillage, poor coordination, poor development, fidgeting, distractibility, ADHD, tongue chewing, rudeness, social dysfunction, nystagmus, carpal tunnel syndrome, joint pain and neuropathies.
Craig Stellpflug is a Neuro Development Consultant at Healing Pathways Medical Clinic in Scottsdale, AZ where he specializes in ADHD drug alternatives, Autism and other brain disorders and traumatic brain injuries. For more information, call 480-699-7400 or visit HealingPathwaysMedical.com