THE ENDOCRINE SYSTEM
The nervous system isn’t the only method by which the brain controls the body and maintains homeostasis. The direct, electrochemical means by which the nervous system collects information from stimuli and then formulates responses is augmented by the endocrine system, which works with the nervous system to regulate the body’s cells. The autonomic nervous system responds to changes in the body’s dynamic balance by releasing electrochemical impulses to the body’s endocrine organs. These include the testes and ovaries, pancreas, adrenal glands atop the kidneys, thymus and parathyroid glands, and three glands in the brain: the pineal, hypothalamus, and pituitary.
Endocrine glands respond to the nervous system’s orders by releasing hormones into the bloodstream. Hormones (from the Greek for “to excite”) bind to specific cell recep- tors and affect virtually every cell in the body. For example, instructions from the brain, given at the proper time, order the endrocrine glands to release the hormones responsible for sexual development to trigger puberty at adolescence. Other hormones maintain the body’s balance of energy, keep the blood’s supply of electrolytes in balance, and muster the immune defenses against infection. The nervous system and the endocrine system share a special relationship, as their functions can seem intricately intertwined.
FOR A HEALTHY BRAIN, good foods are a key part of optimizing your brain’s performance. Here are some foods your brain will welcome:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables. These include blueberries, leafy vegetables, broccoli, and cauliflower. They contain high amounts of acetylcholine and useful vitamins. Certain vitamins, notably vitamins C and E, and beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, act as antioxidants. They neutralize destructive molecules and atoms known as free radicals, which damage brain cells by stealing electrons from cellular molecules or atoms.
- Unsalted nuts. Their omega-3 fats help keep the brain and nervous system healthy. Neurons require fats in their myelin sheaths to function properly.
- Fish. It’s a better source of proteins than high-fat meat, and it’s another source of omega-3 fats.
- Chicken without the skin and lean meats. Protein in the meat helps build tissue and supply the amino acids that form neurotransmitters .
- Fruit juice. It’s a natural source of beneficial vitamins, including antioxidants. Be sure to drink plenty of water, too, to keep your brain and body hydrated .
- Small amounts of alcohol, such as one glass of wine a day. This may increase blood flow to the brain and lower the risk of strokes .
- Small amounts of caffeine. It activates the cerebral cortex and helps release the neurotransmitter epinephrine .
- Pasta, cereal, and bread. They contain carbohydrates for energy as well as being rich in serotonin.
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