Overview of the nervous system
Your nervous system guides almost everything you do, think, say or feel. It controls complicated processes like movement, thought and memory. It also plays an essential role in the things your body does without thinking, such as breathing, blushing and blinking.
Your nervous system affects all aspects of your health, including you:
- Thoughts, memory, learning and feelings.
- Movements such as balance and coordination.
- The senses, including the way your brain describes what you see, hear, taste, touch, and feel.
- Sleep, healing and ageing.
- Cardiac and respiratory mechanisms.
- Response to stressful situations.
- Digestion, as well as the hunger and thirst you feel.
- Body processes such as puberty.
- This complex system is the command centre of your body. It regulates your body systems and allows you to experience your surroundings.
The vast network of nerves sends electrical signals to other cells, glands, and muscles throughout the body. These nerves receive information from the world around you. The nerves then explain the information and control your response. It’s almost like a huge information trail that runs through your entire body.
What are the parts of the nervous system?
The nervous system has two main parts. Each part contains billions of cells called neurons, or nerve cells. These special cells send and receive electrical signals through your body to tell it what to do.
The main parts of the nervous system are:
- The central nervous system (CNS): Your brain and spinal cord make up your CNS. Your brain uses your nerves to send messages to the rest of your body. Each nerve has a protective outer layer called myelin. Myelin insulates the nerve and helps the messages get through.
Peripheral Nervous System: Your peripheral nervous system consists of several nerves throughout your body that separate from your CNS. This system transmits information from your brain and spinal cord to your extremities, arms, legs, fingers, and toes. Your peripheral nervous system contains your:
- The somatic nervous system, which guides your voluntary movements.A
- The autonomic nervous system controls the activities you do without thinking about them.
What does the nervous system do?
Your nervous system uses specialized cells called neurons to send signals, or messages, all over your body. These electrical signals travel between your brain, skin, organs, glands and muscles.
The messages help you move your limbs and feel sensations, such as pain. Your eyes, ears, tongue, nose and the nerves all over your body take in information about your environment. Then nerves carry that data to and from your brain.
Diagnose conditions related to the nervous system
There are many tests and procedures to diagnose conditions related to the nervous system. In addition to the traditional X-ray, a specialized X-ray called fluoroscopy examines the body in motion, such as the flow of blood through the arteries.
Other standard neurological tests include MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), computed tomography, and electroencephalogram (EEG), which record the continuous electrical activity of the brain.
Nervous system diseases
- Epilepsy is a long-term brain condition where a person has repeated seizures. Having just one seizure is not considered to be epilepsy about half the people who have one seizure never have another seizure. Other conditions such as fever, diabetes, heart conditions and alcohol withdrawal can also cause seizures.
- Alzheimer’s disease affects brain function, memory and behaviour. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of irreversible dementia (gradual loss of memory, intellect, rational thought and social skills).
- Bell’s palsy is a sudden weakness or paralysis on one side of the face. It is caused by inflammation or damage to the facial nerve. It is usually temporary most people start to get better in 2 weeks and are fully recovered in 3 to 6 months.
- Cerebral palsy is a condition that affects body movements due to brain injury. The injury can happen before, during or after birth and does not get worse over time.
How does the nervous system work?
The basic function of the nervous system relies heavily on tiny cells called neurons. There are billions in the brain and they have very specialized jobs. For example, sensory neurons transmit information from the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin to the brain. Motor neurons carry messages from the brain to the rest of the body.
However, all neurons transmit information to each other through a complex electrochemical process, making connections that affect the way we think, learn, move, and behave.
Intelligence, learning and memory. As we grow and learn, messages travel from one neuron to another in the brain, creating connections or pathways in the brain.
In young children, the brain is well adapted. In fact, when one part of a child’s brain is injured, another part can learn to regain lost function. But in our time, the brain has to work harder to create new neural pathways, making it difficult to learn new tasks or change established patterns of behaviour. Therefore, many scientists believe that it is very important to challenge the brain to learn new things and provide new connections, and helps keep the brain active throughout life.
How can I keep my nervous system healthy?
Just like other parts of your body, your brain needs sleep for rest and repair, so a good regular sleep schedule is key. A healthy balanced diet that features foods high in omega-3 fatty acids is important, too. Those include fatty fish like salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, herring, and farmed trout.
Stress can affect your nervous system too, but there are a few things you can do to help:
- Exercise regularly
- Allow yourself to relax
- Spend quality time with family and friends.
- Meditate or practise mindfulness with yoga or other activities.