Are you wondering why the brain needs oxygen?
Oxygen levels and brain function go hand in hand. Having enough oxygen in the brain is crucial to brain function and, therefore, to the body as a whole.
The brain requires a constant supply of both oxygen and glucose. Without enough oxygen or with low blood-oxygen levels, the brain has trouble signaling where to send blood to oxygen-hungry muscles and tissues.
Here’s what you need to know about oxygen levels and brain function.
How Does the Brain Work?
The brain is a complex and energetic organ that tells your body how to function using a system of nerves. It contains billions of nerve cells or neurons, and it coordinates thought emotion, behavior, movement, and sensation.
The largest part of the brain is the cerebrum, and the outermost layer of the cerebrum is the cerebral cortex or gray matter. The deep folds in the brain increase the surface area of gray matter, which helps process more information.
The cerebrum is divided by a deep fissure into two hemispheres, which communicate with each other through a thick tract of nerves or corpus callosum.
Even though it may seem surprising, messages to and from one side of the body are typically handled by the opposite side of the brain.
The brain sends messages to the peripheral nervous system, consisting of all nerves aside from the brain and spinal cord.
The peripheral nervous system is a communication relay structure sending messages between the brain and the extremities.
The Outer Parts of the Brain
The hemispheres of the brain are divided into four lobes:
- the frontal
- temporal lobes
The frontal lobes control thinking, problem-solving, planning, short-term memory, and movement. The parietal lobes interpret sensory information, like taste, touch, and temperature.
The occipital lobes process images and link that information with images stored in memory. The temporal lobes process smell, taste, and sound information playing a role in memory storage.
The cerebellum is a wrinkled ball of tissue situated below and behind the rest of the brain. It combines sensory information from the eyes, ears, and muscles to help coordinate movement.
The brainstem links the brain to the spinal cord, which controls many vital functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and even sleep.
The Inner Parts of the Brain
Inside the brain structure, known as the limbic system, which controls emotions and memories. These structures come in pairs; each part of this system duplicates the brain’s opposite half.
These limbic system structures include the thalamus, the hypothalamus, and the hippocampus. The thalamus is like the gatekeeper for messages passed between the spinal cord and the cerebral hemispheres.
The hypothalamus is the structure that controls emotions, regulates temperature, and controls urges like eating and sleeping.
The hippocampus sends memories to be stored in the appropriate sections of the cerebrum, and it can recall memories as needed.
The Risks of Low Blood Oxygen in the Brain
Because the brain uses about 25 percent of your oxygen intake, supplying it with enough oxygen is essential. For people with chronic lung diseases, getting enough oxygen is difficult.
When the brain doesn’t receive the oxygen it needs, cerebral hypoxia can occur.
Cerebral hypoxia, also known as brain hypoxia, is a serious medical condition that can be caused by smoke inhalation, carbon monoxide poisoning, choking, cardiac arrest, drowning, stroke, and other conditions.
The symptoms of cerebral hypoxia can be mild to severe and include:
- Poor judgment
- Decline in cognition
- Uncoordinated movement
- Complete unawareness and unresponsiveness
- Pupils do not react to light
- Respiratory Failure
Cerebral hypoxia requires immediate emergency treatment to return the flow of oxygen to the brain. If you suspect cerebral hypoxia, call 911.
Benefits of Maximizing Oxygen Levels and Brain Function
The brain requires a steady amount of glucose and oxygen to function properly, so finding ways to increase its oxygen levels could help. Keep the air at home fresh and clean by adding plants to naturally increase oxygen.
Consider natural air purifiers such as salt lamps, peace lilies, and bamboo charcoal. Having plants in the home can reduce carbon dioxide levels while increasing oxygen levels.
When you’re calm, breathing becomes easier and lower stress levels. Deep breathing, meditation, and positive thinking exercises are good ways to help you relax.
Exercise also increases the oxygen in your blood. Walking, yoga, and Tai Chi are effective forms of gentle exercise.
Proper hydration and nutrition can help improve oxygen levels. For example, eating antioxidants helps the body maintain blood oxygen properly. Try eating blueberries, cranberries, artichoke hearts, blackberries, and strawberries.
Because items such as stoves, portable propane heaters, charcoal grills, automobile engines, and anything that burns coal, gasoline, kerosene, oil, propane or wood can produce carbon monoxide, it’s important to have a carbon monoxide alarm and detector.
Remember to discuss any questions, concerns, and symptoms with your doctor and diet and exercise before starting or changing your treatment plan. Oxygen levels and brain function go hand-in-hand.
When your brain has enough oxygen, your body functions better, and you’ll feel better. As your blood oxygen levels improve, you might notice improved cognitive function, better balance, and an overall improvement in your health.
Christine Kingsley, APRN is the Health and Wellness Director at the Lung Institute where she focuses on providing helpful online resources for people looking for information on various lung diseases, breathing exercises, and healthy lifestyle choices. She advocates for holistic care that involves working with your doctor to explore all options including traditional and alternative care while focusing on diet and exercise as proactive measures.