Smorgasbord Health Column – Top to Toe – The Brain – How the brain develops from conception through life by Sally Cronin


It is two years since I posted this series on the major organs of the body and how they work and I am always looking for research updates to share with you. Dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease and other related conditions are rarely out of the headlines and it is probably everyone’s worst fear. There is a genetic link to some forms of dementia,but it is not as common as lifestyle related deterioration of the brain.  Even though we are living longer, dementia is not an automatic progression and understanding how this amazing organ works and what it requires to be health, is vital.

Part One: Brain – Introduction and Anatomy

How the brain develops from conception through life

How the brain develops.

We are hard wired and from the moment of conception there will be enforced changes to the structure and function of our brains. Whilst the process of development is beyond our control, there is still a powerful external influence on how well that programming is carried out. Before birth the health, nutrition, environment and lifestyle choices of the mother can impact both the rate of brain development and the health of the brain cells. After birth during the formative years up to age 15, environment, nutrition and stimulation of those brain cells is critical and if they do not receive sufficient amounts of all of these there is a chance that irreversible damage will occur.

The development of the brain does not follow a straight upward line it comes in waves with certain parts of the brain achieving full function at different times. There is however a sequence that every brain will follow.

Egg surrounded by SpermAt conception the sperm and the egg form a single cell combining to form the genetic blueprint. Over 60% of our genes are committed to forming our brain which is after all the control centre for all our other functions. Around three to four weeks into development a thin layer of cells form in the embryo, which then fold and fuse to form a liquid filled tube. This minute start is vital as it is the first stage in the development of the brain and spinal cord. This is followed by the production of nerve cells called neurons.

Embryo 54 daysA miracle occurs as cells in the neural tube accelerate at an amazing rate reaching around 15million neurons an hour. This rate of growth continues for the first six months of a foetus’s development.

At around 14 weeks with millions of cells in place a change occurs as they begin to migrate to specific parts of the neural network and the inbuilt GPS usually sends them to the correct address. Some do however get lost or damaged in transit and die off.

Rarely however, some do reach the wrong destination and form incorrect connections and this coding error can lead to certain disorders such as autism or epilepsy, slower physical and mental development and in some cases more severe mental health issues.

At 20 weeks about half the existing cells are shed and those that remain are organised into compartments within the brain that govern virtually every automatic function in our bodies and also our senses and skills.

At birth we have around 100 billion brain cells and we begin the next stage in our development. Most of the connections between the neurons are barely formed and will need to be strengthened by the time we reach the age of three.

A baby has most of the senses working at birth such as sight, smell, hearing and the ability to respond to touch. Immediately with that first breath the brain kicks into overdrive and forms trillions of connections and pathways enabling learning.

As with the early development of the brain, it is vital that the environment, nutrition and stimulation are available to enable the brain to process and learn from experience.
These experiences trigger the electrical activity necessary to enable the brain to develop connections and grow. These connections are called synapses. The connections are formed by each neuron putting out a long tentacle like fibre called an axon. The neuron uses the axon to send messages to other neurons. The messages are sent as electrical signals and picked up by thousands of short, hair like fibres called dendrites (also produced by the neurons). Each neuron is able to connect up with thousands of other neurons.

It is then that ‘practice makes perfect’ comes into play as repeated experiences, sights, smells or movements form well-worn paths within the brain that we remember for a lifetime. By age two our brains have developed trillions of these pathways and although they continue to form throughout our lifetime they have reached their highest density.

Our higher functioning ability is usually operational by age three and we begin to think for ourselves, use language effectively and have developed personality traits.

After three years old we continue to absorb knowledge and experience like a sponge and the constant practice etches the functions into the brain. If that absorption ceases for some reason and we stop practicing certain functions, we can lose them completely as the brain discards little used pathways in favour of more travelled routes.

This pruning process and strengthening of the connections in the brain is most active in the teen years. The prefrontal cortex is the last to mature and it involves the control of impulses and decision-making. Anyone who has had children going through this phase will have a clear understanding of the ‘challenges’ that arise during this phase! This powerful surge in the brain is accompanied by the added influx of hormones which results in a chemical and electrical ‘perfect storm’.

There is a strong element of voluntary change at this stage of the development of the brain. It is around this age that we start making choices about what we eat, the amount of exercise we take, to take up smoking or drinking alcohol and to stop formal education. All these elements will affect the few years left of brain development we have left and therefore our mental capacity.

The brain continues to defrag the mainframe and the strongest connections survive. By our early 20s our brain development is matured into a powerful and functioning organ with approximately 500 trillion pathways.

At around 30 years old the physical changes will wind down in the brain and this is where even more of a voluntary contribution to growth, experience and maintenance is required to keep the pathways clear of debris such as plaque so that they continue to function efficiently.

This phase lasts for the next 35 or 40 years. The brain cells are active and we contribute to their health by diet, stimulation and avoiding lifestyle choices that kill them off. Such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol, not taking exercise, eating a diet rich in components that block our arteries and blood flow to the brain……you get the idea.

After 65 years old there is a natural dying off of cells in certain parts of the brain. This does not mean that you will lose all your mental capacity, but little things will begin to make an impact on your daily functioning. For example brain cells lost from the Hippocampus where we process memories will result in forgetfulness.

You are NOT destined to develop full blown dementia and you can make sure that you support your brain function by eating a healthy balanced diet, getting plenty of oxygen and regular exercise, reducing stress and interacting with others and events to stimulate the pathways to remain open. More so than at any other time in the lifespan of your brain, the voluntary choices and changes you make to your way of life will bring huge benefits.

©Sally Cronin Just Food for Health 1998 – 2019

My nutritional background

I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines and posts here on Smorgasbord.

If you would like to browse by health books and fiction you can find them here: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/my-books-and-reviews-2019/

Next time a more detailed look at dementia and recent research and how we can take preventative action at any age to minimise the decline in brain function.

Smorgasbord Health Column – Top to Toe Revisited – The Brain- Introduction and Anatomy by Sally Cronin


It is two years since I posted this series on the major organs of the body and how they work and I am always looking for research updates to share with you. Dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease and other related conditions are rarely out of the headlines and it is probably everyone’s worst fear. There is a genetic link to some forms of dementia,but it is not as common as lifestyle related deterioration of the brain.  Even though we are living longer, dementia is not an automatic progression and understanding how this amazing organ works and what it requires to be health, is vital.

The Brain Introduction and Anatomy.

For me, the brain has always been a fascinating part of the body as it is this organ rather than our hearts that makes us the person we are.

I remember the first heart transplant in 1967. The operation hit the headlines and because we had so recently left Cape Town I found it even more exciting. Dr. Christiaan Barnard pushed the boundaries of not just surgery but our understanding of the heart. Today the heart is just one organ that is transplanted and we also now have the ability to build artificial organs to either replace diseased parts of the body or temporarily keep us alive.

However, it is unlikely in my lifetime or for several generations to come that there will be a viable way to transplant or artificially replace our brains. There is a scientist preparing to do a full head transplant in Europe for a paraplegic young man who wants to take the huge risks involved to live a normal life.. I do feel for him and wish them well.

The brain is not just an organ that determines our who we are mentally but is also the control centre for the operations throughout our bodies. Without it we would not take that breath, swallow or digest our food efficiently. Despite its huge power and necessity we tend to take it for granted and rarely think of it in terms of nutrition or providing it with oxygen and hydration.. Of all our organs in the body, the brain is king and needs to be treated as such.

I fear losing my marbles, more than my general health. I have seen first-hand how dementia in the elderly turns a vibrant and capable person into a dependent and frightened individual. Some dementia is unavoidable but as you will see, most is definitely not a normal progression of old age.

I am going to do a very brief introduction to this amazing organ because I find that if you can understand the importance of the structure and workings of certain parts of your body you will treat it with respect.

The evolution of the brain.

It is the evolution of this organ which has distinguished us from all other living creatures. Apart from managing our life on an everyday basis, this organ is the only one we can share with others whilst alive. All the advances in science and medicine are made possible by the workings of this powerful organ and taking care of it should be our number one priority.

One of our challenges is to keep our bodies fit, healthy and functioning to a ripe old age. How wonderful to be able to look back at a lifetime of 90 or 100 years and remember every minute of it, every person we have ever met and every experience we have enjoyed. It is possible, but if the current trend of eating processed foods with poor nutritional value increases, we will begin to diminish our brain power and risk ending our lives not even remembering our own names.

Apart from direct trauma to the brain, resulting in long term damage, or genetic risk factors, it is more probable for brain cell death to be the result of nutritional deficiency or the effects of a stroke. Both of these conditions are directly affected by our lifestyle choices and diet.

Like all our other major organs, the brain requires a complex combination of oxygen and nutrients to sustain, nourish, repair and renew itself. It is not good enough to just eat a healthy diet. Nutrients need to get access to the brain and there are only a couple of options. The main arterial route into the brain, taking oxygen rich blood with the necessary nutrients is the Carotid Artery.

Like all arteries that supply blood to the various parts of the body such as the heart and brain, the carotid arteries can also develop a build-up of fat and cholesterol deposits, called plaque, on the inside. Over time this layer of plaque increases, hardening and blocking the arteries. This means that the oxygen and nutrients that your brain needs to function are very restricted. (see the blogs on cholesterol in the archive)

Unfortunately the knock-on effect of a narrowed artery is that plaque can break off and travel to the smaller arteries in the brain, blocking those pathways. Additionally, a blood clot can form and because the arteries have become so narrow it cannot pass and causes a blockage. This is what leads to a stroke.

The anatomy of the brain

Stem-&-Arteries-72dpiThe Structure

Protected within the bony and tough skull, the brain is an organ of many parts. Each part works independently of the others but with a common purpose. There are excellent communication channels between each half of the brain and each functioning unit and this provides us with a seamless operation that enables us to see, breathe, think, smell, eat, process food, make love, talk and move amongst other things without really thinking about it.

The Brain Stem is the lower extension of the brain where it connects to the spinal cord. This is the survival centre of the brain and the Medulla Oblongata at the base of the brain-stem governs breathing, digestion, heart rate, blood pressure and our ability to be awake and alert. Most of the cranial nerves are from the brain-stem, which is the pathway for all the fibre tracts passing up and down from the peripheral nerves and spinal cord to the highest parts of the brain.

Humanlobes-1-72dpiThe Cerebral Cortex. The outermost layer of the cerebral hemisphere which is composed of grey matter. There are two hemispheres that are asymmetrical and both are able to analyse sensory data, perform memory functions, learn new information, form thoughts and make decisions. The two hemispheres however have different abilities. The left hemisphere is the serious side of our brain that can interpret information, do mathematics, learn language and reason. The right hemisphere is more the fun side of the brain able to process an amazing amount of sensory input in seconds to provide a complete picture of the immediate environment. This side also governs functions such as dancing or complicated movements and we also store our visual and auditory memories here.

The Corpus Callosum connects the two hemispheres to allow them to communicate with each other. This is essential if we for example want to combine the two individual abilities into one. Taking a complicated language such as music and playing it on an instrument for example would require co-ordination between the two sides of the brain.

The two hemispheres have different lobes and the Frontal lobes are for reasoning and memory. At the front of these lobes you will find the Prefrontal areas, which determine our ability to concentrate, reason and elaborate on information. They also are sometimes called the Gatekeeper of the brain as they govern our judgement and our inhibitions. Our personality and emotional traits are also sited here as well as our movement capabilities and language skills. Damage to the frontal lobes may result in loss of recent memory, confusion, inability to concentrate, difficulty in taking in new information and behavioural disorders.

The Parietal lobes are located behind the frontal lobes at the top of the brain and again have different duties within the scope of the brain. The right lobe enables us to find our way around spaces both those we are familiar with and new ones that we encounter. The left lobe enables our ability to understand spoken and written language.

The Parietal lobes also contain the primary sensory cortex, which controls sensation, or touch pressure and behind this cortex is an area which controls finer sensations such as texture, weight, size and shape. Damage to this part of the brain can leave a person unable to discriminate between the various sensory stimuli or to be able to locate and recognise parts of their own body. They may also lose the ability to translate the speech into the written word.

The Occipital Lobes are right at the back of the brain and they process visual information and not only are these lobes responsible for visual reception but they also contain association areas that help us recognise shapes and colours. Damage to this area will affect the sight.

The Temporal lobes are on each side of the brain about level with the ears. These lobes allow us to tell one smell from another and one sound from another. They also help in sorting new information and are believed to be responsible for short-term memory. Again the two separate lobes have different responsibilities. The right lobe is mainly involved in visual memory such as pictures or faces and the left lobe remembers words and names. Damage to this part of the brain may result in loss of hearing, panic and behavioural problems.

Limbic-System 72dpiWithin the brain is the Limbic system, which contains our smell pathways and also some very important glands that affect our sex drive, anger and fear mechanisms and our emotions. These pathways are of vital importance to the efficient running of our operational systems within the bodies and the health of these glands and pathways will have an impact on our general health and longevity. Damage to this part of the brain can result in a loss of the sense of smell, agitation, loss of control of emotions and loss of recent memory.

Next time – How the brain develops from conception to adulthood.

©Sally Cronin Just Food For Health 1998 – 2019

My nutritional background

I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines and posts here on Smorgasbord.

If you would like to browse by health books and fiction you can find them here: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/my-books-and-reviews-2019/

Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives #Potluck – My Dad’s a Goldfish – For John M by Mary Smith


Welcome to the new series of Posts from Your Archives, where bloggers put their trust in me. In this series, I dive into a blogger’s archives and select four posts to share here to my audience.

If you would like to know how it works here is the original post: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2019/04/28/smorgasbord-posts-from-your-archives-newseries-pot-luck-and-do-you-trust-me/

My next guest in the new series of Posts from Your Archives is author Mary Smith.. I have two blogs to select the four posts from and the first is from her blog My Dad’s A Goldfish, where Mary shares here experiences caring for her father as his dementia worsened. In this post however, she shares the tragedy of the dementia of a school friend who she has remained in contact with, who developed the disease at a much earlier age. Very poignant…

My Dad’s a Goldfish – For John M by Mary Smith

A friend has recently gone into a care home. He has a rare form of frontotemporal dementia. It is progressive and irreversible. The brain’s frontal lobe controls planning, judgment, emotional control, behaviour, inhibition and its temporal lobe affects language, along with emotional response and behaviour.

We have been friends for over fifty years – from when he used to walk me home from school carrying my books. We did our homework on the phone. I helped him with English, he helped me with French. We shared so much over those growing up years. Our lives went off in different directions but we always kept the connection – until very recently.

He can no longer take care of himself. He is only sixty three.

I owe him a great deal for the windows onto new worlds he opened for me. I’d like to think I opened some for him, too. This is for him.

For John M

My family went to Fleetwood or
Scarborough for holidays but you –
you went to France, brought back
snails in a tin. We ate them
with garlic butter in the house
on Edinburgh Road. They were
chewy but delicious.

You played me Debussy’s
Clair de Lune, explaining how
he broke harmony’s rules.
Not a pianist, I didn’t understand
but loved the music.

You gave me Francoise Sagan novels.
I felt so grown up, worldly wise.
Introduced me to
the little sparrow, Edith Piaf,
to Collette, Camus:
opening windows onto new worlds.
I gained much from your love
of France and all things French.

Now, with clumps of protein
gumming up your brain,
you don’t read, conversation almost gone,
thought processes wrecked
you can’t remember
all you gave me.

I hope I let you know
before time ran out on us
how important you’ve been
and how thankful I am.

I think, though, you might
still remember those snails
and carrying my books home
from school.

©Mary Smith

My thanks to Mary for letting me have the freedom to browse her archives and select posts for you.. I am sure that you have felt the same emotional connection to this tribute to a dear friend.

A selection of books by Mary Smith

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A recent review for No More Mulberries

I always enjoy a love story set in another culture because reading feels like a voyage of discovery. The kindness of the Afghan people warmed my heart as I followed the central character. The setting is completely alien to me, and I loved this backdrop.

People get on with their daily routines in spite of the war in Afghanistan. Scottish born Miriam has to adjust to the rhythms of Afghan life but experiences conflict. Smith manages to identify those elements of a new culture that alienate Miriam. The simple things we value are not familiar in Afghan culture. I found the conversation between Miriam and Fatima poignant.

‘Don’t you ever feel like walking – just getting out?

‘Why?’Fatima looked startled.

In Afghan culture women do not have thinking time. All the small differences contribute to Miriam’s sense of unease. The pivotal value of Afghan culture is ‘this thing about face – respect – reputation – honour.’ But to understand how this translates into the culture one has to read the book.

Charting Miriam’s marriages, this is a love story with a difference. Miriam goes on a journey of discovery to find out ‘what happened to the woman who married Jawad’.
No More Mulberries is a sensitive examination of love and cultural barriers. A fascinating read!

Read the reviews and buy the books: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mary-Smith/e/B001KCD4P0

And Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Mary-Smith/e/B001KCD4P0

Read more reviews and follow Mary on Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5239367.Mary_Smith

About Mary Smith

Mary Smith has always loved writing. As a child she wrote stories in homemade books made from wallpaper trimmings – but she never thought people could grow up and become real writers. She spent a year working in a bank, which she hated – all numbers, very few words – ten years with Oxfam in the UK, followed by ten years working in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

She longed to allow others to share her amazing, life-changing experiences so she wrote about them – fiction, non-fiction, poetry and journalism. And she discovered the little girl who wrote stories had become a real writer after all.

Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni: Real Stories of Afghan Women is an account of her time in Afghanistan and her debut novel No More Mulberries is also set in Afghanistan.

Connect to Mary Smith

Website: http://www.marysmith.co.uk/
Facebook addresshttps://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000934032543
Twitterhttps://twitter.com/marysmithwriter
Goodreadshttps://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5239367.Mary_Smith
New Blog: https://marysmithsplace.wordpress.com/
Blog:   https://marysmith57.wordpress.com/2014/07/

Thank you for joining us today and Mary would love your feedback.. thanks Sally.

Smorgasbord Health Column – The Brain – Part Three – Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease


I appreciate that many of you who have been kindly following the blog for a long time will have seen this post before. However, if you are new to Smorgasbord, I hope you will find interesting.

The Brain – Part Three – Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

Dementia is actually a collective name for progressive degenerative brain diseases, which affect our memory, thought, behaviour and emotions. It is not a normal result of ageing and it does not seem to have any specific social, economic, ethnic or geographical links. It can effect different people in different ways, which makes it difficult sometimes to diagnose and to treat.

Certain dementia, such as vascular dementia, where plaque is blocking the blood vessels in the brain are linked to lifestyle related causes such as heavy alcohol consumption. Most dementia is likely to have an element of environmental, diet or lifestyle involved in its development.

There is no known cure, but there are ways that we can modify our lifestyle to reduce our risks of brain degeneration and to slow down any process that has already begun.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and accounts for around 60% of all cases. The disease is degenerative over a period of years and destroys brain cells and nerve cells causing a disruption to the transmitters, which carry messages in the brain, particularly those that are responsible for our memories.

As the disease progresses, the brain shrinks and gaps develop in the temporal lobe and hippocampus. These areas are responsible for storing and retrieving new information. The damage results in a reduction in a person’s ability to remember events that happened in the short term, to speak, think and to make decisions. All this is both frightening and confusing, as a person will be aware of these lapses in the early stages of the condition.

What are the symptoms of Alzheimer’s

In the beginning, there may be infrequent lapses in memory, forgetting where keys have been left or perhaps failing to switch off electric cookers or other equipment. A person will start to forget the names of everyday objects or people that they are usually very familiar with. They can also suffer from mood swings and panic attacks.

As the disease progresses these symptoms worsen and there is an element of confusion over completing every day tasks such as shopping, cooking and more dangerously driving.
The changes in personality are often attributable to fear and the awareness that something is very wrong. In the earlier stages people tend to try and hide the symptoms. This happens because, much of the time, they will be aware that there is a problem and will not want to accept that this could be as serious a condition as dementia.

In the advanced stages it is not only extremely stressful for the person concerned but also very distressing for their immediate family. We have experience of the problem with a close family friend who was in his 80’s and was looking after his wife who had Alzheimer’s for two years before she went into a home. At that point he was no longer able to cope. She was in danger of hurting herself as she was wandering off in the middle of the night, falling over and hurting herself as well as becoming terrified and disorientated. My own mother in the last two years of her life became increasingly confused but she was nearly 95 when she died. She had family and remained in her own home but for future millions who perhaps have not surviving family it will be a challenge for them and the care services.

What are the risk factors?

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of dementia, but there are several probable links that have been the subject of research in recent years.

There is some evidence of a genetic link to the disease, but that is not proven. Lifestyle most definitely will have played a contributory role as exposure to toxins from smoking, excessive alcohol consumption or work environment will cause damage to the body as a whole and certainly to the brain. There is obviously natural age related degeneration of the entire body and its systems to take into account and any previous head trauma may be part of the problem. There are links to chemical contamination including poisoning from mercury – which can be found in some of the fish that we eat – and also from aluminium, which is most commonly linked to the metal in some of our cooking utensils.

Some recent statistics suggest that at least 10% of those over 65 and 50% of those over 85 years old will be suffering from varying degrees of dementia. We unfortunately have no control over natural ageing, or our genetic background, which means that we should be looking at ways to prevent or minimise the risk of us developing the disease from a much earlier age than our 60’s.

What preventative measures can we take – starting today?

  1. The key factors to reducing your risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in particular are very simple and effective.
  2. Your brain is a major organ of the body that requires nutrients to function efficiently and to repair and protect itself. There are specific foods that provide those nutrients and including them in your diet on a very regular basis will be effective.
  3. You need to keep your heart and arterial system clear of oxidised LDL cholesterol and working efficiently to enable vital nutrients and oxygen to reach the brain. However, cholesterol is essential for the body and is involved in many processes including the production of hormones and therefore brain function. Reducing total cholesterol can therefore impact your brain health. Healthy fats are essential in various forms.
  4. You must work the brain as you would any muscle in your body. Stimulating activities strengthen brain cells and the connections between them and may even create new nerve cells.
  5. We all need people around us and it is even better if we involve ourselves in activity that requires mental and physical co-ordination.
  6. Physical exercise maintains healthy blood flow to all our organs including the brain where it will prolong the health of existing brain cells by preventing any further damage.

The one way to deal with an overwhelming fear is to face it and take control of it. For me that has meant a radical change in lifestyle. At one time I smoked over 40 cigarettes a day and drank more than was good for me. My diet was atrocious and I was morbidly obese. I was certainly in a high-risk category for declining brain health, if I had lived long enough to develop the disease.

That is not to say that you have to totally abstain from everything that gives you pleasure. We only have one life and whilst I am totally anti smoking these days, I do believe that we should balance our lifestyle with our pleasures factored in. You will often find me quoting my 80/20 rule. If you follow a healthy lifestyle 80% of the time and the other 20% indulge yourself a little then you will be on the right track.

Reduce the Risk

  • Good Nutrition and hydration.
  • Low levels of plaque in our arteries so that oxygen can get to the brain
  • Exercise your brain as well as your body
  • Social interaction

Next time – Key nutrients for brain health.

©sallygeorginacronin 1999-2018

A little bit about me nutritionally.

A little about me from a nutritional perspective. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago. I qualified as a nutritional therapist and practiced in Ireland and the UK as well as being a consultant for radio. My first centre was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Here are my health books including a men’s health manual and my anti-aging book.

All available in Ebook from:  http://www.amazon.com/Sally-Cronin/e/B0096REZM2

And Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sally-Georgina-Cronin/e/B003B7O0T6

Comprehensive guide to the body, and the major organs and the nutrients needed to be healthy 360 pages, A4: http://www.moyhill.com/html/just_food_for_health.html

Thank you for dropping in and if you have any questions fire away.. If you would like to as a private question then my email is sally.cronin@moyhill.com. I am no longer in practice and only too pleased to help in any way I can. thanks Sally

Smorgasbord Health 2017 – Top to Toe – How the brain develops from conception through life.


Smorgasbord Health 2017

I appreciate that many of you who have been kindly following the blog for a long time will have seen this post before. However, if you are new to Smorgasbord, I hope you will find interesting.

In the series Top to Toe I will be covering the major organs in the body and their health.

How the brain develops.

We are hard wired and from the moment of conception there will be enforced changes to the structure and function of our brains. Whilst the process of development is beyond our control, there is still a powerful external influence on how well that programming is carried out. Before birth the health, nutrition, environment and lifestyle choices of the mother can impact both the rate of brain development and the health of the brain cells. After birth during the formative years up to age 15, environment, nutrition and stimulation of those brain cells is critical and if they do not receive sufficient amounts of all of these there is a chance that irreversible damage will occur.

The development of the brain does not follow a straight upward line it comes in waves with certain parts of the brain achieving full function at different times. There is however a sequence that every brain will follow.

Egg surrounded by Sperm

At conception the sperm and the egg form a single cell combining to form the genetic blueprint. Over 60% of our genes are committed to forming our brain which is after all the control centre for all our other functions. Around three to four weeks into development a thin layer of cells form in the embryo, which then fold and fuse to form a liquid filled tube. This minute start is vital as it is the first stage in the development of the brain and spinal cord. This is followed by the production of nerve cells called neurons.

Embryo 54 days

A miracle occurs as cells in the neural tube accelerate at an amazing rate reaching around 15million neurons an hour. This rate of growth continues for the first six months of a foetus’s development.

At around 14 weeks with millions of cells in place a change occurs as they begin to migrate to specific parts of the neural network and the inbuilt GPS usually sends them to the correct address. Some do however get lost or damaged in transit and die off.

Rarely however, some do reach the wrong destination and form incorrect connections and this coding error can lead to certain disorders such as autism or epilepsy, slower physical and mental development and in some cases more severe mental health issues.

At 20 weeks about half the existing cells are shed and those that remain are organised into compartments within the brain that govern virtually every automatic function in our bodies and also our senses and skills.

Scan12a - Sally

At birth we have around 100 billion brain cells and we begin the next stage in our development. Most of the connections between the neurons are barely formed and will need to be strengthened by the time we reach the age of three. A baby has most of the senses working at birth such as sight, smell, hearing and the ability to respond to touch. Immediately with that first breath the brain kicks into overdrive and forms trillions of connections and pathways enabling learning.

As with the early development of the brain, it is vital that the environment, nutrition and stimulation are available to enable the brain to process and learn from experience.
These experiences trigger the electrical activity necessary to enable the brain to develop connections and grow. These connections are called synapses. The connections are formed by each neuron putting out a long tentacle like fibre called an axon. The neuron uses the axon to send messages to other neurons. The messages are sent as electrical signals and picked up by thousands of short, hair like fibres called dendrites (also produced by the neurons). Each neuron is able to connect up with thousands of other neurons.

It is then that ‘practice makes perfect’ comes into play as repeated experiences, sights, smells or movements form well-worn paths within the brain that we remember for a lifetime. By age two our brains have developed trillions of these pathways and although they continue to form throughout our lifetime they have reached their highest density.

Our higher functioning ability is usually operational by age three and we begin to think for ourselves, use language effectively and have developed personality traits.

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After three years old we continue to absorb knowledge and experience like a sponge and the constant practice etches the functions into the brain. If that absorption ceases for some reason and we stop practicing certain functions, we can lose them completely as the brain discards little used pathways in favour of more travelled routes.

This pruning process and strengthening of the connections in the brain is most active in the teen years. The prefrontal cortex is the last to mature and it involves the control of impulses and decision-making. Anyone who has had children going through this phase will have a clear understanding of the ‘challenges’ that arise during this phase! This powerful surge in the brain is accompanied by the added influx of hormones which results in a chemical and electrical ‘perfect storm’.

There is a strong element of voluntary change at this stage of the development of the brain. It is around this age that we start making choices about what we eat, the amount of exercise we take, to take up smoking or drinking alcohol and to stop formal education. All these elements will affect the few years left of brain development we have left and therefore our mental capacity.

sally wedding day 1980The brain continues to defrag the mainframe and the strongest connections survive. By our early 20s our brain development is matured into a powerful and functioning organ with approximately 500 trillion pathways.

At around 30 years old the physical changes will wind down in the brain and this is where even more of a voluntary contribution to growth, experience and maintenance is required to keep the pathways clear of debris such as plaque so that they continue to function efficiently.

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This phase lasts for the next 35 or 40 years. The brain cells are active and we contribute to their health by diet, stimulation and avoiding lifestyle choices that kill them off. Such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol, not taking exercise, eating a diet rich in components that block our arteries and blood flow to the brain……you get the idea.

After 65 years old there is a natural dying off of cells in certain parts of the brain. This does not mean that you will lose all your mental capacity, but little things will begin to make an impact on your daily functioning. For example brain cells lost from the Hippocampus where we process memories will result in forgetfulness.

Sally Cronin

You are NOT destined to develop full blown dementia and you can make sure that you support your brain function by eating a healthy balanced diet, getting plenty of oxygen and regular exercise, reducing stress and interacting with others and events to stimulate the pathways to remain open. More so than at any other time in the lifespan of your brain, the voluntary choices and changes you make to your way of life will bring huge benefits.

©sallygeorginacronin 1999- 2017

Next time a more detailed look at dementia and how we can take preventative action at any age to minimise the decline in brain function.

Buy Music for Christmas – Garry George Wilkes – Rock and Classical composer.


This Buy Music for Christmas is promoting an extraordinary man, Garry George Wilkes, a Rock and Classical Composer, Lyricist and Musician. Garry has been diagnosed with a number of mental health issues over the years and more recently, at only 60 years old the onset of vascular dementia.

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His story is one of survival, triumph and also achievement. It also highlights the role that is played by those who love and care for a person with mental illness. A support team that has to bend to accommodate the needs of a person who is driven in many ways to perform but has to live their lives with a strict code of conduct and routine.

A few weeks ago Garry talked about his childhood and young life and the traumatic events that led to his breakdown in his 20s. He also shared his music which encompasses many styles including Rock, Classical ballet scores, musicals, and as a talented lyricist. He is very honest about his mental health issues and the effect on his family and friends. He understands very well that the restrictions that he puts on himself impacts heavily on those around him. He shared his highs and lows, his passion for music and through his photographs, his life until now.

His latest project, co-written with his talented composer/musician nephew, Jameson Tabor, is a musical about his life. ReAwakeningis an opportunity not just to communicate openly about mental illness but to illustrate how it does not always define you, or prevent you from achieving success.

He is helping to fund this musical and get it in production as quickly as possible with the sale of his haunting song It Swallowed Me Whole for just 99cents. I have put the links for Amazon and also CD Baby.

It would be great if we could help this happen so please share the post. Thank you.
Website:garrygeorgewilkes.com .
You can buy Garry’s Single It Swallowed Me Whole on his website for $.99 USD and at all the major music outlets like iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, and dozens of other music stores around the Web.
http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/garrygeorgewilkesworld.
http://www.amazon.com/It-Swallowed-Me-Whole/dp/B00NMI7Z0A
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Swallowed-Whole-Garry-George-Wilkes/dp/B00NMVIIBC
Twitter:https://twitter.com/garrygwil
Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/garrygeorgewilkes
Video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-Zj8ZkPNQI

For the five interviews with this exceptional man please click on this link.
https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/dementia-interview-garry-george-wilkes/

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