Geology Talk

Hey! Have you got rocks in your head?

Sometimes when I was a kid and I did something stupid, my dad would say: “Hey! You got rocks in your head?”

I should have replied: “Absolutely, that’s why I am so smart!”

That would not have gone over too well. But it is true – at least the “rocks in my head” part! There are numerous elements that are critical to a healthy brain, most of which come from rocks.

People used to think the brain cells we were born with are the only ones we will ever have, and that when they die they’re kaput.

However, recent research suggests at least one part of the brain – the hippocampus – continues to create new cells throughout a person’s life. The hippocampus is involved in the formation of memories, with learning, and with emotions, so you want to keep it healthy.

This cellular regrowth, as well as other brain functions, requires a lot of energy. (When we are resting the brain uses about 20 per cent of our calories.)

Most of our energy comes from eating carbohydrates, which are composed of carbon (C), hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O). If the brain does not get enough energy (calories), we can experience confusion, irritability, forgetfulness, and even blackouts. 

OK, so C, H and O come from the atmosphere. But the brain relies on many trace elements that come from rocks.

Different elements occupy different parts of the brain and if those elements are not present in the right amount, a mental weakening occurs that affects memory, concentration, alertness, ability to learn, and ultimately the quality of life.

For example, a deficiency in iodine can lead to brain damage. Iodine is the 61st element in terms of abundance, making it one of the rarest elements needed for life. Fortunately, iodine can be found nearly everywhere in trace amounts in water, soil and rocks. Iodine is taken up from the soil by plants and from seawater by algae, seaweed, and other sea vegetables, and is then propagated through the food chain to humans. Fish (such as cod and tuna), seaweed, prawns, animals, fowl and dairy products and eggs are generally rich in iodine.

The brain also needs zinc, the 24th most abundant element in the Earth’s crust. Zinc is one of the eight essential micronutrients crucial to plant development, so when you eat a plant you probably are consuming some zinc.

But beware: brain performance drops significantly when the diet is poor in zinc, so eat your veggies!

Another critical element is boron, which is believed to be important for attention, perception and short- and long-term memory.

Boron is another of those micronutrients essential for plant growth. However, unlike iodine and zinc, boron has more limited distribution and there are many areas where plants suffer from boron deficiency. But never fear, you can get your boron from dried fruit, nuts and – get this – from wine!

The brain’s health relies on maintaining a delicate balance between too little and too much of the elements it contains. Too little calcium and magnesium can lead to diminished awareness and mental fatigue.

Too much metal such as copper, iron, chromium, and manganese can cause brain fog, mood swings, confusion and excess emotions. Metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, nickel, aluminium and beryllium can also be neurotoxins.

So maybe when I did something stupid I should have told my dad that I didn’t have enough rocks in my head.

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