The developing brain has been a fascinating area of study for many scientists in recent decades – partly because of the development of new technology – it’s much easier for us get a look under the hood of consciousness to see what factors are creating our subjective experience.
Teens in transition from child to adult are sole owners of brains that are going through A LOT. That is why we want you to have as much knowledge as possible to growing brains and how they can be affected.
We understand the physiology of our brain largely determines the makeup of our mind. We also understand that what shapes our physiology is affected by some major elements in our early lives. Such as parent attachment, nutrition – nutrigenomics, levels of inflammation, our feeling of safety in the world, and negative experiences such as ACE’s – we’ll come back to that.
Our brain is composed of billions of neurons that connect through synapses that make communication throughout our nervous system possible. The basic layout gets formed the most extensively in our first few years and continues to rewire itself for the rest of our lives through a process called neuroplasticity.
In the initial formative years, the brain is making millions of connections a second. After that, it becomes more efficient through a process called pruning – use it or lose it. The most basic and simple neural connections are formed first to lay the groundwork for us to build more complex skills off of later.
The connections formed early on in life is setting the architectural framework for how well our brains functions later; how well we adapt to stress, how we learn, and our behavior.
A solid and nurtured brain has a sturdier foundation versus a brain that is nutrient deprived or overly stressed.
It is said there are more connections in the brain than there are stars in the galaxy, which is part of what makes this organ so enchanting. These connections make lightning-fast communication between different areas of the brain feasible.
Eloquently stated below is the relationship between genes, experiences, and how that can lead to problems in function:
“The interactions of genes and experience shape the developing brain. Although genes provide the blueprint for the formation of brain circuits, these circuits are reinforced by repeated use. A major ingredient in this developmental process is the serve and return interaction between children and their parents and other caregivers in the family or community.
In the absence of responsive caregiving—or if responses are unreliable or inappropriate—the brain’s architecture does not form as expected, which can lead to disparities in learning and behavior. Ultimately, genes and experiences work together to construct brain architecture.”
Basically, the constructs of the brain operate in tandem; cognitive, emotional and social abilities are inextricably intertwined. Emotional and social stability in early life lay the building blocks for behavior development and ability to learn throughout our lifetime. Below are four things every parent should be educated on when it comes to brain development.
Adverse Childhood Experiences
ACE’s also known as Adverse Childhood Experiences range from physical and emotional abuse, holding witness to household violence, neglect, or mental illness of designated caregiver can be enough to add what is called Toxic Stress to a developing brain.
Regular amounts of stress are manageable because we’re built for it. On the other side, too much stress is like being in full sprint all the time without recovering. And we all know that we get stronger by recovery, not from burn out.
When a nervous system doesn’t have time to recover, we refer to that as toxic stress and the effect can be full on damage to our self-regulation, and executive function.
Nutrition – Nutrigenomics
A critical component of stress is nutrition. Nutrition can never be talked about enough because its so important, so complicated, so misunderstood, and the data is still largely being roamed through. The problem with nutritional studies is there are so many factors involved with them.
Every BODY is different and nutritional studies are generally observational studies making them correlational studies. Which is why it is up to each person to do the diligent work and figure out what works best for them.
There are some underlying factors that everyone should be aware of like the bacteria in our microbiome (what digests our food) feeds off of fiber so eating a plant-based diet is highly recommended. So is making sure our diet is high in minerals and omega 3’s. As well as low in inflammatory foods like processed sugar.
Nutrigenomics is how our nutrition habits can play an effect on our genes – sort of like Epigenetics which is the study of how our environment affects our gene expression. Nutrigenomics is a detailed look at how out nutrition or lack thereof will affect our genetic expression.
We all have thousands of genes that turn on or off due to stress, nutrition, experiences, etc. Understanding where we have autonomy over our wellbeing is essential to making better choices and recovering from the adverse experiences we may have been exposed to early on in life.
Inflammation is a natural part of the response of your immune system to heal injury and fight infection. It gives you the ability to heal as an area will swell and blood and other important nutrients congregate in that area.
But chronic inflammation, just like chronic stress can become toxic when your body doesn’t get a rest from it. Effects can be detrimental to the brain, to your microbiome, and many other areas of the body.
The best fight against inflammation is simple and simply irreplaceable: sleep, nutrition, and movement.
It could be our culture. Most of us are not born in tribes where we are known and accepted since birth. Being the social creatures we are, that has an impact on our psychological well-being.
As science is discovering, it turns out the impact is bigger than we knew. Many of us in our culture are isolated. As many as 25% have nobody they can turn to when struggling with a problem.
As interdependent creatures, we need each other… a lot. We need to know our parents are going to take care of us when we’re young. As we get older, we need close friendships that we know we can rely on during times of stress.
The longest study ever conducted on human happiness was an 80-year research study from Harvard. The findings were people that were happiest belonged to a community and had strong relationships within that community. Imagine the brains on those humans!