5 Brain Myths You Shouldn't Believe
The internet is truly one of the marvels of modern society. Where once you had to visit the library and flip through the pages of an outdated Encyclopedia Britannica in order to find information, now it’s all there at your fingertips, updated in real time. The internet has opened up a world of possibilities for learning and allowed information to spread at an unprecedented speed.
But all information is not created equal. And while the internet has allowed the light of day to shine into some dark corners, it’s had a darker side. It allows misinformation to spread just as fast as the real deal—and sometimes faster. Like the old-fashioned chain letter, internet memes can spread at the speed of fiber optic cable.
This allows misinformation, urban legends, myths and outright lies to circulate as freely as valid information. And probably no topic on the internet is more rife with misinformation than that of health, healthcare, and disease. I get dozens of emails a day promising a miracle cure for this or that. A dozen more promising to help me lose weight or increase my manliness. And of course, there are the emails that promise to make my brain 10 years younger.
Part of my job is to set the record straight when it comes to these myths and mistakes. After all, you can’t make informed decisions about your health if you don’t have good information to base them on. So with that in mind, here are 5 die-hard myths about your brain that you just shouldn’t believe:
Myth # 1: You only use 10% of your brain
This claim had no basis in science in the first place, and the advent of brain imaging thoroughly debunked it. And yet I still see it and hear it all the time. I’m not sure why this idea is so attractive to us, but it’s one brain myth that just refuses to die.
Here’s the truth: you use your entire brain. Every day.
You don’t use it all at once, of course. You use different areas for different things, and often you’re using multiple parts of your brain at the same time. But over the course of the day, you use virtually every portion of your brain. We can see this through PET scans and functional MRI. And if we needed more proof, the fact that a stroke or other damage anywhere in the brain has an effect should tell us something. Each and every brain cell is important, and you use 100% of your brain. Which leads me to another myth that just won’t go away:
Myth # 2: Drinking alcohol kills brain cells
No. It doesn’t.
Alcohol has a definite effect on your brain, yes. It hurts brain cells’ ability to talk to one another—which is why drinking interferes with your ability to talk, walk, and so on. But it doesn’t kill them. And unless you’re an alcoholic, this is a passing state—what we call “being drunk.” There’s some evidence that actual alcoholism causes damage to the dendrites of neurons—the “arms” with which they reach out to one another and make connections—but it also appears that this damage can, given a chance, heal itself. And that brings us to myth #3:
Myth # 3: Brain damage is irreversible
This idea is partially based on another piece of misinformation, myth #5. The truth is that whether brain damage is permanent or not depends on a lot of factors: what type of injury it is, where in the brain it’s located, how severe it is, your age, general health, and much more.
Your brain is both incredibly delicate and amazingly resilient, and it can recuperate from a lot of injuries. Not only can it grow new cells and make new connections between existing cells (thus “rerouting” around a problem area), if one part of your brain is damaged, often another part can “learn” to do the job the damaged part once did. This is why you hear stories of people having to “re-learn” how to speak, read, or do other things after a brain injury. It’s a case of one part of the brain taking over the job of another.
Even in cases of serious injury, such as a stroke, people often recover at least partially—and even completely more often than you think. So while some types of brain injury—such as prolonged oxygen deprivation—that affect the entire brain can’t be overcome, the idea that all brain damage is irreversible is simply not true.
Myth # 4: You’re either “right-brained” or “left-brained”
We all learned it in school: the left side of the brain thinks in words, while the right side thinks in pictures. The left side deals in facts, the right side in emotion. People whose left brain is dominant are logical and analytical, while right-brain people are creative. If you’re right-handed you’re a left-brain person and vice versa.
In a very broad sense, this is partially true. The different halves of our brain do specialize in different areas to some degree. However, there’s also a great deal of back-and-forth between them. For example: the left side of the brain processes the actual words involved in language. It examines the syllables, the sentence structure, the syntax. But the right side of the brain decodes the subtler aspects of language.
The right brain filters for things like the subtle shades of meaning in pitch and intonation. Saying “the left brain processes language” isn’t strictly true. Both sides work together to get the job done, but they’re each tackling different parts of the problem. So while we may rely more on one aspect than another, none of us is truly “right-“ or “left-brained.”
Myth # 5: You don’t grow new brain cells once you reach adulthood
While some of the most die-hard health myths are simply old wives’ tales, until fairly recently this one was “accepted scientific fact.” (Something to keep in mind whenever someone pulls the old “the science is settled” card.) Once, we believed that you stopped growing new brain cells once you reached adulthood, and that any neurons you lost were gone forever.
However, as we’ve found new ways to look into the brain, science has discovered that we do continue to grow new brain cells, at least in certain parts of the brain. One of these areas is the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with memory and emotions. In fact, Big Pharma is currently working on drugs that increase the rate at which new brain cells are formed, and lifestyle factors like exercise and diet can also either increase or decrease the number of new cells born.
The bottom line? Don’t believe everything you read on the internet—especially when it comes to your health. Check your sources, and take things with a grain of salt if necessary.
Scientists Want to Bring the Dead Back to Life A few days ago, I came across one of the most shocking headlines I’ve ever ... READ MORE
2 Discoveries Could Explain Why Plaque Builds Up in the Brain Causing Alzheimer's Astounding. Breakthrough. Game-changing. Usually when we hear words like these applied to ... READ MORE
HALF of Alzheimer’s Cases Caused by This: True or False? Earlier this year, the health news headlines were noisily trumpeting a very suspicious statistic. ... READ MORE
New Stem Cell Treatment May Cure Arthritis, MS, Cancer and More An amazing scientific breakthrough could mean that hundreds of thousands of people suffering from ... READ MORE
"Mental Healthcare" Finally Gets Something Right I’m not usually a fan of psychiatry or even psychology. I think the whole “mental ... READ MORE
Ambien Makes You Sleep-Drive, but Abilify Does THIS Bristol Meyers Squibb really, really wants you to take Abilify. And keep taking it. They want ... READ MORE
Big Brother Wants to Monitor Your Every Step—Literally If you have a smartphone, you may have noticed that every time you install an app it asks for ... READ MORE
A Psychedelic Cure for Depression? Imagine this: you’re depressed. Yes, I know that’s not something any of us want to ... READ MORE