The idea that specific parts of the brain were dedicated to specific functions was reinforced with the brain research I pursued in college and was one of the key themes in my early publications in the Journal of Neurosurgery.
Medical school further stressed the notion that specific parts of the brain were “assigned” to particular functions, and certainly this mentality was pervasive throughout my years in neurology training. Indeed it was often said that neurologists learned functional brain anatomy, “stroke by stroke.”
That is, when a patient was admitted with a stroke in a particular area of the brain, correlation with the physical disability would show what function the damaged brain area subserved.
This structure/ function relationship began to unravel, at least for me in the late 1980s when I began to note that some patients would regain considerable function of a particular area following a stroke even though there had been no observable change in their imaging studies.
So while a patient’s MRI continued to show damage in, for example, the part of the brain controlling the left hand, not infrequently, the brain would “heal,” an observation not uncommon amongst neurologists, therapists, and the general population as well.
How The Brain Reorganizes Itself
The ability of the brain to change and reorganize itself and its function is called neuroplasticity, and it a gift on par with neurogenesis, our ability to generate new brain cells throughout our lifetimes.
Neuroplasticity provides us with a brain that can adapt not only to changes inflicted by damage, but more importantly, allows adaptation to any and all experiences and changes we may encounter, freeing us from merely responding reflexively as a consequence of genetically determined hardwiring.
Harvard Medical School’s Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone recently stated that neuroplasticity “… is an intrinsic property of the human brain and represents evolution’s invention to enable the nervous system to escape the restrictions of its own genome and thus adapt to environmental pressures, physiological changes, and experiences.”
Learn more in Neurogenesis: How to Change Your Brain
David Perlmutter, M.D., FACN is recognized internationally as a leader in the field of nutritional influences in neurological disorders. A board-certified neurologist, Dr. Perlmutter is the author of bestselling books including Power Up Your Brain: The Neuroscience of Enlightenment and The Better Brain Book .
Dr. Perlmutter has appeared on 20/20, Larry King Live, CNN, Fox News, Fox and Friends , the Today show, The Oprah Show, and The Early Show on CBS. He serves as medical director of the Perlmutter Health Center in Florida and is an adjunct instructor at the Institute for Functional Medicine.
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