How to build a healthy brain.

Humans are amazing down to our genetic code, and there are no other creatures on the planet that can compare. Although we are a part of the primate family phylogenetically, clearly we are vastly different in many ways. One major difference is humans have the largest heads, yet the smallest birth canals. Besides a considerably more difficult birthing process, this is due to the fact that our brain nearly triples in size by age of 3 years old. We are only born with roughly 20-25% of our total brains. This means that early in life it is vastly important to help out babies develop physically and neurologically. 

The best way to build a healthy brain is to shower your child in stimuli whenever it is possible. This can include; light, sound, vibration, odors, tastes, temperature, gravity, and most importantly touch! Even though we are born with a good amount of our total brain cells our brains are rapidly developing, through branching between one another, as well as developing in maturation. Total brain growth is mainly connecting cells with branches either on the same, or opposite of the brain. 

The more a brain is stimulated the more it will increase in size, connectivity, and speed of overall processing. Success in engaging your child in proper neurological stimulation is based upon: how often they are exposed, how long they are exposed, and how intense the overall stimulus is. Overall the rule of thumb is to get your children moving at all chances possible, play music for your baby and don’t be afraid to speak with your child using a low tone of voice while still in mom’s tummy. Lastly, ensure your child is getting enough sleep to recover and grow. Early on in life baby will be sleeping most of his/her life, but even as your child gets older 8-10 hours of sleep is vital to ensure proper development. 

There was a study conducted on kittens many years ago looking at brain development changes. One of the groups of cats were never allowed to walk on their own. These cats were introduced to their environment by being carried around, and then returned to their cages. In the end the cats eyes never developed enough to see. It is estimated they were able to see some movement and most likely in black/white but overall considered blind. This goes to show how important it is for our children to be moving around and experiencing their environments through exploration. 

Our automatic reflexes that coordinate a majority of our lives during year 1-1.5 all live in our brainstem (area circled above). This area holds a lot of our body regulatory functions, and evolutionary simple aspects of life that are needed, but we do not directly coordinate. This can include options like: heart rate, breathing, digestion, etc. As we develop our brains grow and make new connections, getting more and more advanced during development. The dark line on top of the circles is outlining our motor cortex, which just like the name suggests helps control all body movements in part. This is an incredibly important area to develop early in life because our frontal lobes grow directly out of this strip (direction of arrow). Many scientists believe our frontal lobes are the main reason we have advanced so much as a species, and what makes humans special. Our frontal lobes control executive function, planning, impulse control, and really everything we are as a cumulative person. If early development does not progress properly to allow a child to learn to move their bodies efficiently, overall development may perish. Skipping steps or abnormal steps of development can make it difficult to grow a frontal lobe, and the rest of the brain. 

With a vast topic such as this, the direction can be taken on a variety of routes from: nutrition, sleep hygiene, body hygiene, socialization, toxin exposure, stress exposure, and so much more. All of these play an important roll in proper development, but I believe one of the most important overall is MOVEMENT. This means proper coordinated movement based on the child’s age. Beginning with early squirming, then batting at objects, then grasping at objects, into army crawl, regular crawl, propping themselves up, and then finally walking. Even after a child begins to walk there is nearly 20 years left of brain development so that importance does not end! Make your child go outside, make them get away from screens, take the steps, go for a hike, learn to ride a bike, teach them to cook, sign them up for sports, dance, theatre, etc. These will each aid in growing a brain that is well rounded and equivalent side to side. All of these steps are important, along with others, and will give your child the best odds to develop a happy & healthy life. 

If you have any questions or concerns reach out to me anytime or set up a free consult to talk in person! 

Dr. Jacob Boraas

Functional Healing Institute

Drjakefhi@gmail.com

Handedness and Brain Development.

Your child’s hand preference can shed light on the progress of their overall brain growth.

Handedness is one of the easiest and most accepted way to prove that each brain may look similar, but can express individually. In fact, even most radiologists cannot look at an image of a brain and tell you a person’s hand preference. It has been suspected for years that hand dominance can play into someone’s skill set. These increased skill abilities can be as simple as being more inclined in art style activities (left handed people) or numbers (right handed people). Of course, this does not mean those are the only options, but can prove once again that each hemisphere is specialized in certain activities more than the other.

During the first year or so of life our brains are simply focused on growth and development. In these first days of life specialization has not even begun to emerge. This means that each task a child performs should be completed equally on both sides. This includes; rolling, swatting at objects, breastfeeding, grasping, and any other movements big or small. Towards the end of the first year, and heading into the second a child begins to gain a handed preference. This is a very important milestone to be completed, because it shows that their brain has developed to the point of specialization.

Besides just a handed preference we should have a dominant ear, eye, and foot! All of these should be on the same side in order to show proper differentiation. Now this instantly raises a red flag for many when they think about people that are ambidextrous. Some individuals, including myself, share skill sets with either hand or either foot. When it comes to sports these athletes are looked at as “lucky” to have the ability to throw with either hand or bat from either side of the plate to throw off a pitcher. Although these traits may come in handy when it comes to athletics or simple tricks, this actually is a bad thing to see. With a short review in the literature you will find that people who are ambidextrous have an increased chance of many mental diseases, MS, some chronic diseases, and even earlier death!

This should be truly eye opening to see that when the brain is not working in coherence with itself the issues that can potentially arise. Of course, many of these studies have smaller cohorts and at times are not reproducible in further trials. But just the mere fact that someone has made any kind of correlation shows that brain specialization and development is vital in order to live a long and happy life. This is true no matter if you or your child expresses issues like ADHD, SPD, ODD, dyslexia, or not. It can simply just show because they kick a ball with their left foot and throw a ball with their right.

This is not a scare tactic, but simply an idea to bring to light that most people are not aware of. Brain differentiation/development goes hand and hand with sided preference. If dominance does not show to be equal side to side then that means most likely their brain is immature in some areas, and they likely still have primitive reflexes or some areas in the brain that need to be worked on. Luckily our brains are “plastic” which means they have the ability to grow, develop, and repair themselves until the day that we die.

When these areas are helped through the development process or weaker areas in the brain are worked on, sometimes things will equal out to one side. The more I learned about this I realized that my own brain has some developmental issues, through performing therapy on myself my eye dominance actually changed! Most of the time in older kids and adults large changes in hand or foot preference most likely will not happen but sometimes in younger kids especially, these will be seen as specialization occurs.

Whether your children are young or old, keeping an eye on their overall development is the best way to ensure their success in life. This also includes being informed on signs to look for to track if issues arise. Remember, for the most part no one spends more time with your children than you. If you suspect something strange or potentially problematic, spend the time to find an answer from a licensed healthcare provider that will hear you out.

As always if you or someone you know is experiencing issues that they are looking for answers for do not hesitate to reach out to Dr. Jake to set up an appointment or free consult.

Dr. Jacob Boraas

Functional Healing Institute

Drjakefhi@gmail.com

Why therapy may not be benefiting your child (as much as it could).

Growing a brain is similar to growing a tree. A trees strongest, and most important part is usually the roots. The roots are where the nutrients come from, and without them, a tree would just fall over and die. This can be compared to a brain in the way that a brains initial growth and development begins in the brainstem (like the roots). The brainstem is mainly under control when we are first born it holds reflexes to keep us safe, and aids in proper development. At some point the brainstem needs to hand over the controls to the rest of the brain to take over during the maturation process. 

As a tree begins to grow, large limbs reach out and eventually blossom into leaves, but this is all dependent on proper supply from the roots. A brain is the same way, initially growing from the brainstem upwards into an area called the motor cortex and then blossoming in all directions into proper development of a brain through connections in our brain cells called neurons. This process of development and neurologic expansion is all dependent on the idea that initial growth has properly been achieved, but the fact your child is in need of therapy indicates that somewhere during development something did not go as planned. 

Luckily this is nothing to be worried about, because proper development can still be achieved with the correct modalities. The problem is most therapies involve advanced tasks in problem solving, speech, advanced movements, and more. If a brain did not mature properly, areas of the brain that control these difficult tasks is not reachable. It would be much like trying to put leaves on a tree that has not grown limbs, it is simply not possible. 

Underdevelopment of the nervous system is many times held up by things called primitive reflexes. Some of these reflexes come online before birth, and help us in many ways to thrive when we are young. During the first two years of life our brains go through a specific sequence in growth with some reflexes going away, and new ones coming online. Many times abnormal development can be linked to just the persistence of these reflexes past their time frame. 

These reflexes may also return even if they did go away at their intended time initially. This is a protective mechanism that our brain goes through during trauma, both physically or emotionally. Our brains actually have the ability to “unhook” certain pathways in the brain to avoid remembering trauma or to salvage areas that are still functioning properly after physical trauma (I.e, concussion, stroke, etc). Similarly these reflexes need to be worked through again, additionally adding advanced therapies to promote growth of these pathways again. 

The goal of this write up, is not in any way to discourage therapy. Once proper bottom-up growth of the brain is achieved therapy is vital to continue growth and development of the brain for your child. This is simply to shed light on the fact that proper development must be ensured before working through issues, and can be a potential barrier if progress in care seems slow. Under development of the nervous system can cause more of a wrestling match then the synchronous harmony it should be and may cause; sensory processing, dyslexia, speech issues, behavioral problems, and nearly every other neurodevelopmental delay in children. Beginning with working through developmental milestones will lead to a smoother progression in learning advanced tasks, and overall progress. 

If your child or someone you know is experiencing issues in development, school, interacting with others, or have other concerns, reach out anytime for a free consult. We would be honored to come along side you in your child’s care to ensure they become the proper adults they aspire to be one day. 

Dr. Jake Boraas

Functional Healing Institute

(563)-265-5494