Understand Your Body’s Ups and Downs

Understanding Your Brain

CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent, neurosurgeon Dr. Sanjay Gupta, delves into matters of the mind and demonstrates how the brain develops and changes as we age.


                     Brain Development              Male vs. Female Brain                The Aging Brain

How the Brain Develops
A gestating fetus develops 250,000 neurons, or brain cells, per minute. By the time the baby is born, he or she will have close to 100 billion neurons that will create approximately 10,000 neural connections – each. These neural connections create networks that allow electrical impulses and chemical interactions to occur. As the child grows, so does the brain. By the time a child can walk, those 100 billion neurons will have created 1,000 trillion connections and by age 5, the overall structure of the brain is complete.

If parents find themselves perplexed by their teenaged children, there’s a reason for that. The frontal cortex, the area responsible for judgment and rational thought, is the last part of the brain to develop. “The ability to think about things before you act hasn’t fully developed in many teenagers,” Dr. Gupta explains.

Additionally, the amygdala, considered the emotional center of the brain, is fully developed in adolescents; so many teenagers will act on emotion rather than rational thought. “Teenagers will tend to think out of fear or irrational thought, out of emotion instead of just good judgment,” Dr. Gupta explains.

If a learned behavior, language or skill is not utilized, the human brain will begin to prune itself. “They will lose that function at some point,” Dr. Gupta explains. “Things you stop doing, you lose. Things you keep doing, you gain and even get better at.”

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The Aging Brain
The brain can be affected by changes in hormone levels. This phenomenon can help explain hot flashes that women experience during menopause, a time when hormones are in flux.

Another phenomenon that affects changes to the brain is the amount of blood flow it receives. People who suffer illnesses such as dementia and Alzheimer’s have a decreased blood flow to their brains.

Keeping your brain active can help keep your brain healthy as you age. “It goes back to that whole thing with pruning,” Dr. Gupta says. “If you use [your brain], you can really maintain it. Learning some new activity or hobby makes a huge difference.”

Mind Games
Doing crossword or Sudoku puzzles can keep your brain sharp by creating new neural connections.

Yo-Yo Dieting
Charise and Dan, married for more than 10 years, have struggled with their weight for years. At her heaviest, Charise, now 33, weighed 250 pounds and Dan, now 35, weighed 400 pounds and was on the brink of developing diabetes.

Over the years, the couple yo-yo dieted, but failed to keep the weight off. Finally, before their 10th wedding anniversary, they vowed to get healthy the right way. “I knew that when it was time to lose weight, we needed to do it together,” Charise says.

The couple changed their lifestyle, started eating healthily and exercising regularly, and shed more than 100 pounds each. Looking the best they had in years, Dan, at a svelte 160 pounds, and Charise, at a sexy 150 pounds, renewed their wedding vows.

ER physician Dr. Travis Stork outlines the dangers of yo-yo dieting and why it doesn’t work.

Are you inspired by John and Charise’s story? It’s not too late to join The Doctors 2010 Health Challenge!

Do you have a success story you’d like to share? Tell us about it!

Your Body's Ups and Downs

OB-GYN Dr. Lisa Masterson and ER physician Dr. Travis Stork answer popular viewer questions.


      Fever and Pregnancy             Erectile Dysfunction                  Tilted Uterus

One in two Americans has gingivitis, or gum disease, and many are not even aware of it. If left untreated, gingivitis can develop into periodontisits, or inflammation and destruction of bone and teeth, which can lead to conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and pre-term birth.

One of the easiest things we can do to protect the health of our gums is to brush and floss our teeth every day. Dental hygienist Amy Hazlewood says Crest Pro-Health Clinical Gum Protection toothpaste can help protect against gingivitis.

Signs and Symptoms of Gingivitis:
• Swollen gums
• Gums that bleed easily when brushing or flossing
• Bad breath
• Gums change color from pink to red

How to Prevent Gingivitis:
• Brush and floss twice daily
• Be sure to floss before you brush
• Use mouthwash
• Stay hydrated
• Avoid sugary foods
• Have regular dental cleanings every six months