Key words: Brain body connection, healthy brain, brain lobes, Nigeria.
The Brain-Body Connections in Nigerians. How are the brain and the body connected? Is there a connection between physical and mental health? Can some behavioural actions among Nigerians harm the brain? Keeping the brain healthy is very important.
The brain is the most important and the most complicated part of the human anatomy. So when the brain is ill, the body faces the possibility of becoming ill. The brain-body connections seen in Nigerians is also a global phenomenon.. This was what prompted the first Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Brock Chishlom, to state that without mental health, there can be no true physical health. This statement was further emphasized by the onetime United Nation’s (UN), Secretary, Ban Ki Moon, when he stated in 2008 that there can be no health without mental health. So there is need for one to consciously take care of the brain, just like the body.
The brain-body connections in Nigerians.
The brain is made up of two equal parts, connected together at the centre. And the two parts divided into lobes or sections. Each part of the body has its head quarters situated at the different areas of the brain. And the different areas of the brain have their different functions, just like the body parts have their different functions.
The frontal lobes:
These areas of the brain are situated at the frontal part of the head. Apart from being the center for thinking, planning, decision making, judgment, etc., they are also the centres for speech.
The temporal lobes:
These lobes are situated at both sides of the head. Not only are the temporal lobes the centres for memory, mood (i.e. sadness, happiness, etc.), etc., they are also for smell, taste and hearing.
The occipital lobes:
These are situated at the back of the head. They are the centres for vision.
The parietal lobes:
They seen at the top of the head, on both sides. That is, they are situated between the frontal and occipital lobes, and above the temporal lobes.
These are the centres for sensation. That is, these areas interpret the sensations we receive from our five senses. These include sensations from taste, hearing, sight, touch and smell. The parietal lobes help us to know where exactly our bodies are in space.
They help also in processing language. And the parietal lobes help other centers of the brain like the temporal, occipital and frontal lobes.
This is the part of the brain that is the centre for body balancing and stability. It is situated at the back of the head.
The brain stem:
This part of the brain is the centre for respiration, heart rate, blood pressure, etc. It is attached to the back of the brain like a stem.
Other deeper parts of the brain.
These parts also function to take care of the body and their organs. They have their various names.
Mental and physical health connection.
Mental health conditions can predispose to physical health conditions and vise verse. So someone suffering from stroke, hypertension, etc., can also have depression, anxiety as a comorbid condition. Someone suffering from depression can have what is called psychomotor retardation. The person speaks slowly, walks slowly, etc. Also such a person is at risk of developing hypertension, diabetes, etc. This is because the areas of the brain responsible for mood, speech, movements, etc., are affected. The stress hormone cortisol can be a complicating factor for all these illnesses by damaging the different brain areas.
Things we do that can harm the brain.
Issues in pregnancy:
The pregnant woman can, consciously or unconsciously, cause harm to the brain of the unborn baby by not attending antenatal care.
Problems with the pregnant woman’s blood pressure, can adversely affect the brain of the baby in the womb.
Diseases like rubella, chicken pox, that affects the pregnant woman, can also adversely affect the baby’s developing brain.
The poor nutrition of the pregnant woman, can also affect the brain of the unborn baby.
Anemia, lack of vitamins such as vitamin C, folic acid, etc. in the pregnant woman can affect the developing brain.
Over the counter drugs such as antihypertensive, pain relievers, sleeping tabs, etc., can harm the brain of the unborn.
If the pregnant woman takes alcohol or tobacco, these could harm the brain of the unborn.
Issues of intimate partner violence, such as partners quarrels or fights, affects the brain of the unborn baby.
A pregnant woman with obstructed labour who delivers vaginally, can cause damage to the baby’s brain. Most Nigerian women want to be like the Biblical Hebrew women who delivered their children vaginally. They believe that a woman who delivers her children via caesarean section is not woman enough. Such a woman is stigmatized in the society.
Instrumental deliveries such as forceps, vacuum, etc., can cause harm to the baby’s brain, when not properly applied.
If the baby does not cry immediately, or does not cry adequately after birth, this can affect the brain. This is due to reduced oxygen to the baby’s brain.
Many deliveries in Nigeria are carried out by inexperienced delivery attendants, especially in the rural areas. This predisposes the newborn to minor and major brain damage.
Neonatal, infancy and childhood period:
Poor feeding and nutrition of the baby, or introducing solid foods too early, can adversely affect the developing brain. And holding the baby upside down and force feeding can injure the brain.
Shaking the baby excessively, while playing with the baby can damage the brain. A lot of adult Nigerians believe in playing with babies and children. They like shaking them, throwing them up, etc.
Not immunizing the baby fully. Many children delivered in the rural areas are not properly immunized. This can predispose the baby to diseases that can harm the brain.
Trauma to the head from falls, or deliberate hits, can injure the brain. Also childhood diseases such as diarrheal diseases, pneumonias, frequent and untreated or inadequately treated malaria, etc. can affect the brain.
Convulsions from any cause can negatively affect the child’s brain. Even the concoctions many Nigerians use to treat the convulsions can also negatively affect the child’s brain.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), even from childhood, are stressors that can destroy brain cells.
The abuse of substances, be it alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, codeine, etc. can cause damage to the brain.
Eating the wrong foods like pastries, etc., and/or abusing substances like alcohol, cannabis, etc. can negatively affect the brain. Nigerians rate very high in the abuse of substances such as alcohol and cannabis.
Not taking part in activities that can stimulate the brain can damage the brain. For example, not socializing, or taking up work or other forms of responsibilities, etc. Not being able to get involved with activities that can stimulate the brain, can cause the brain cells to start dying off. One thing about the brain cells, is that, it is either you use them or you lose them. So the brain needs to be active till old age.
Living a stress filled life is another factor. Stress causes the release of cortisol in the brain. This chemical is toxic to the brain cell.
Consequences of harm done to the brain.
It is important to know that the consequences of harm done to the brain may be delayed in presentation.
For example, the consequences of harm done to the developing brain in the womb, may present during adolescence or adulthood. These consequences may present as physical or psychiatric issues.
The physical issues can include hypertension, diabetes, etc. and even premature death. This is because stress can release the harmful chemical called cortisol. And the psychiatric issues include depression, anxiety, substance use disorder, suicidality, etc. These have shown the brain-body connections which can happen in Nigerians.
How to ensure brain health.
It is important to ensure that the brain is healthy knowing that there are brain-body connections in Nigerians. So having a healthy brain will go a long way in having a healthy body.
For the unborn child:
Keeping the brain health should actually start while the baby is still in the womb.
The pregnant woman should ensure that she gets adequate antenatal care.
She must ensure that she gets treatment for any illness at the earliest possible time.
She must receive all the necessary immunizations due to pregnant women.
Her nutrition must be adequate and contain the right nutrients, such as folic acid, iron, vitamin B, C, proteins, carbohydrate, etc.
During delivery, ensure that the safest method is carried out. If the doctor recommends a cesarean section (operation) for the delivery, then adhere to it.
Immediately after delivery:
The medical personnel should ensure that the baby has a strong cry. This helps to deliver oxygen to the baby’s brain to keep the brain cells alive.
Feeding of the baby should start as soon as possible. For those whose breasts do not produce milk immediately, ask the doctor what should be done.
Stimulate the baby by talking, playing and having good eye contact with him/her. This will help brain cell growth and connectivity.
As the child grows:
There must be adequate nutrition, and only start complementary feeding at the appropriate time. So always follow the doctor’s instructions. And the baby must be fully immunized, to prevent diseases that can affect the brain.
Always nurture and love the child. Ensure adequate bonding and attachment between mother and child. Do not abuse the child, so use proper parenting and disciplinary methods.
There must be adequate brain stimulation through academic and non academic means. There should always be a balance in the two.
From adolescent period and through adulthood:
Avoid the abuse of substances like alcohol, cannabis, cigarette, codeine, etc. Good nutrition is important, and do not get overweight.
Minimize stress, live a healthy life style, and socialize adequately. Also eliminate marital conflicts. This not only harms the adult’s brain, but also the brains of the children in the house and the baby in the womb.
Adequate sleep is mandatory and 8 hours is ideal. And exercise is key to good mental health.
Listening to good music is medicine to the brain. Also make out time to smile and laugh as often as possible.
Keep the brain active by being interested in things around you, reading books or writing books, etc. Challenging the brain even in old age increases the brain connectivity and the production of new brain cells.
Do the things that you enjoy doing. Travel out with your family members, if the finance permits. If not, just spend good times with the family at home.
Take part in religious activities and become spiritual. Religiosity and spirituality are known to give protection to mental health.
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