American poet Robert Frost once said, “The brain is a wonderful organ; it starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get into the office.“
This statement was of course meant in jest but the human brain is the most biologically complex structure in the known universe and it never switches off until we die. It weighs about 2% of our body weight but burns about 20% of our energy and this continues even during sleep. We should marvel at our brain’s continuous activity and the crucial role it plays in our lives. In this article, we will delve into the intricate world of the human brain, emphasizing the importance of brain health and the use of advanced techniques like volumetric 3D brain analysis, measurement of white matter lesions, and the assessment or perivascular spaces as key indicators of brain health.
The Complexity of the Human Brain
The human brain is a marvel of nature, consisting of around 86 billion neurons connected by trillions of synapses. It is the command centre of our body, responsible for every thought, action, and emotion. It enables us to perceive the world around us and forms our personality. The brain’s complexity is akin to a vast, interconnected city where every neuron represents a citizen and every synapse a road or communication channel. Maintaining this neural metropolis in optimal condition is vital for our overall well-being. In medicine a lot of importance has until now quite rightly been placed on our heart and our cardiovascular system but an assessment of the health of our brain has been lacking until now …
At Lumen we the first UK clinic to introduce a 4 part report on brain health powered by Brainkey.
Volumetric 3D Brain Analysis
In recent years, the field of neuroscience has seen remarkable advancements, one of which is volumetric 3D brain analysis. This technology allows us to create detailed three-dimensional maps of the brain’s structure, enabling precise examination of its size and shape. Such analysis can help detect changes in the volume of different parts of the brain and the fluid filled structures called the ventricles and can help to assess brain health. By monitoring changes in brain volume, we gain valuable insights into aging and the progression of neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. In fact this technology has been used in neurodegenerative brain research for some time and it may in the future become more mainstream. By tracking subtle changes in brain volumes over time we may be able to detect potential problems at an earlier stage.
We can now measure each part of the brain separately to compare it to the centile distribution for age and track this over time to look for unusual trends. There is already evidence that certain parts of the brain start to shrink more rapidly in cognitive decline and dementia for example.
Measuring White Matter Lesions
As we get older the brain tends to develop white matter lesions which are essentially hyperintensities seen on brain MRI scans and are analogous to facial wrinkles in that they are a sign of aging and one would rather not have them and they occur with age faster in some than in others. Now they are viewed as a nonspecific finding but they can be the result of tiny changes due to damage in the microvasculature of the brains smallest blood vessels.
White matter, the brain’s network of myelinated nerve fibres, play a crucial role in transmitting signals between different regions of the brain. White matter lesions, often indicative of microscopic damage or disease, can disrupt these neural pathways. Measuring these may be important for understanding brain aging and identifying potential risks for cognitive decline. Traditionally these can be compared over time by the radiologists eye but Brainkey has developed a technology to assess the volume of these white spots quantitatively from MRI scans so that we can more accurately compare these over time with much greater accuracy. It is thought that certain risk factors such as hypertension, smoking and raised blood cholesterol may all increase the risk of developing these small spots overtime. (There can of course be other associated causes too).
By monitoring these white matter lesions, we can try to detect negative changes at an earlier stage and try to take proactive steps to maintain brain health and cognitive function as we age.
We know that lots of white matter lesions are associated with an increase risk of vascular dementia and also a greater risk of a future stroke.
Perivascular Space as a Health Marker
Another key indicator of brain health is the assessment of perivascular spaces, the areas surrounding blood vessels in the brain. Changes in the size of appearance of these spaces can signify underlying health issues. These spaces are like the streets of our brain city, and their condition reflects the overall health of our neural infrastructure. Monitoring perivascular spaces can help us identify and address potential problems before they become severe. A lot of research is underway to assess how our brains are detoxified from the metabolites that are generated from a highly active organ and we are now learning that unlike the rest of the body which has a lymphatic system, the brain does not but has its own phytic system. It is thought that this system becomes active during sleep to help to cleanse the brain of its metabolic waste and this is why good sleep patterns are important for optimal cognitive functioning.
The Brain’s Key Analogy
To better understand the importance of brain health, consider the brain as the central processing unit (CPU) of a computer. If the CPU is functioning at its best, the computer runs smoothly, efficiently, and without errors. However, if the CPU experiences damage or degradation, the computer’s performance suffers, and it becomes prone to errors and crashes. Similarly, when our brain is healthy, our body and mind function optimally. But as it ages or faces damage, the risk of cognitive decline and degeneration disorders increases.
Four Key Reports for Brain Health:
- BrainAge Volumetric Brain Analysis Report: This report provides a detailed three-dimensional assessment of your brain’s structure and using AI it can help to assess your brain age by comparing your brain images to thousands of other images of brains of different ages.
- Keylayer Report: This report assesses the volume of each part of the brain and compares changes over time.
- White Matter Lesion Assessment: A comprehensive evaluation of white matter health, highlighting any lesions or damage that may affect neural communication.
- Perivascular Space Analysis: This report examines the condition of perivascular spaces, offering insights into vascular brain health and potential health risks.
At Lumen we feel that assessing brain health is very important and we recognise that our brains are not only our most valuable asset but also the core of our existence. Prioritising brain health through advanced techniques like volumetric 3D brain analysis, measurement of white matter lesions, and perivascular space assessment is important for optimal brain health and a full and vibrant life. We are proud to be using this new technology and by taking proactive steps to maintain brain health, we can unlock the infinite potential within us and pave the way for a brighter, more fulfilling future.
Dr Garry Savin