Ultimate Winner: The Body or the Brain?
Posted on: May 11, 2018.

Most of us would have witnessed or experienced the “Brawn or Brain” conflict in various situations. Though Brawn would have come off better in a conflict, more often than not, its victory is only temporary, short-lived, for it is Brain that eventually triumphs.

Even from the perspective of evolution and biology, the brain reserves top energy priority and has consequently helped humans evolve into a successful species through several internal energy trade-offs. Glucose, particularly, is shared between the brain and body organs when the two factions compete for physical performance, as scientists at the University of Cambridge discovered in a survey-based study reported in the journal Scientific Reports.

Empirically, it was shown that the brain “selfishly” boosts it performance when the mind and body and involved in a power struggle for superiority, suggesting that more energy is diverted to the brain than to the muscles in the body. These findings have encouraged scientists to consider the “selfish brain” theory of human evolution – that mental ability is less affected than physical capacity when the two vie for supremacy.

Not surprisingly it takes lot of energy to run the sophisticated grey matter of the brain—one-fifteen of the energy released to the body by the first meal of the day is utilized by the brain—and that comes at an evolutionary cost. Subsequently, this energy monopoly of glucose to the brain might have helped homo sapiens survive and thrive.

In a study involving 62 male student volunteers, all excellent rowers, conducted by researchers of the Phenotypic Adaptability, Variation and Evolution (PAVE) research group of the University of Cambridge, the participants were asked to perform two separate tasks: a three-minute word recall test and a three-minute power test on a rowing machine. Then, they were asked to perform both tasks together.

A comparison of the individual scores showed that both physical and mental performances of the 62 participants were reduced during the course of the challenge of rowing and remembering. It was found that the demand for the rowers to recall the three-minute-old vocabulary of words, had reduced their power output to rowing — on average, the drop in physical power (rowing) was 30% greater than the drop in cognitive function (word recall).

Obviously, the brain could prioritise its own energy needs over those of peripheral organs, such as skeletal muscle, when its performance is put to hard task. According to the study’s lead author, “A well-fuelled brain may have offered us better survival odds than well-fuelled muscles when facing an environmental challenge.”

Interesting facts about the human brain:

  1. The human brain weighs 3 pounds.
  2. It is one of the fattest organs in the human body, comprising of 60% fat.
  3. When awake, our brain has the capacity to generate approximately 23 watts of power.
  4. The brain receives 20% of the total blood and oxygen produced in our body.
  5. Our brain sustains consciousness up to almost 8-10 seconds, even after blood supply to the brain has stopped.
  6. Our brain survives even up to 5-6 minutes after oxygen supply has stopped, only after which it dies.
  7. The total approximate length of blood vessels in our brain is 100,000 miles.
  8. Our brain has 100 billion neurons.
  9. Neurons, during early pregnancy, develop at an alarming rate of 2,50,000 units per minute!
  10. Scientifically, we are unable to remember new things as we grow older, because the brain is unable to filter and remove old memories which prevent it from absorbing new ideas.

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