To understand the complex interaction of the human nervous system, we want to start by discussing the basic functional unit of the brainthe neuron. At a fundamental level, the neuron is the operational cell of the central nervous system. Neurons do you really only two basic actions, they turn on or turn off other neurons that they are connected to. This is referred to as excitation or inhibition. How neurons KNOW to turn on or turn off its neighbors, is one of the ongoing mysteries of neurology. It is complicated, and it is made more complex by the fact that there are actually hundreds of different types of neurons. With that said, however, we do have a good understanding of how neurons stay healthy. There are basically two requirements that a neuron must have in order to maintain his functional capacity – or as we like to say, “to stay alive”: FUEL Whenever we talk about the brain’s fuel supply, there are two critical areas of concern:
1. Adequate gaseous exchange. This is mainly focused on oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange and maintaining a healthy ratio of carbon dioxide in the body. Respiratory movement patterns and habitual breathing behaviors are critical to evaluate if you are dealing with an athlete that you suspect is suffering from a fuel supply issue.
2. Next, is sufficient supply of nutrients to the brain including glucose and a wide variety of necessary cofactors. ACTIVATION Neurons function on the USE IT OR LOSE IT PRINCIPLE. This means that neurons must be stimulated (active) in order to be healthy. When a neuron receives neurological communication – whether that be inhibitory or excitatory signals – it allows for the DNA that resides in the neuron to do its job. The end result of this process is that the neuron can produce the necessary components such as proteins and neurotransmitters to perform its functions. The simple rule here is that you DO NOT WANT to leave most neurons under-activated for very long!