BY DR. DAVE HEPBURN | AUGUST 18, 2010
Three things are connected
Remember the kid in school with the really big head. A forehead that jutted so far out that ravens perched on his shnozz for shade. Usually sat in front of you during assembly. Remember assembly? You might not, but chances are ol’ coconut cranium probably does. And then again, remember that pinhead in school. Get in a fight with him and it was tough to knock him down because you could never actually hit his head even though you would throw a punch directly at it. (I appreciate that many of you went to school to learn stuff but I went to a school so rough that if you didn’t set off the metal detectors on the way in they would hand you a switchblade or a crowbar.)
A new study suggests that Alzheimer's disease develops slower in people with bigger heads, perhaps because their larger brains have more cognitive power in reserve. My own theory is that a larger melon means a larger gravitational field. The pull of gravity is so much stronger that, should a memory try and flee planet Bert, the gravity sucks it back in, not unlike what a vacuum cleaner does to my cat whenever I get the chance. But I may be mistaken.
A century ago, some scientists believed that the shape of the head held secrets to a person's intelligence and personality. While those views have been since discounted, today research suggests there may, in fact, be “modest correlations" between brain size and smarts. My theory is that this is true because if you look at the Muppets, the articulate Big Bird with a big bird brain so big ravens could nest in his frontal lobe, knows all the letters of the alphabet and several numerals as well. Meanwhile, Beaker, with a head the size of a sock, is not exactly the crispiest Muppet in the lab. And it is well known that fellow Wisequack, Rob Sealey, has a tiny wee noggin. I may be mistaken but I don’t think so.
The Incas used to cut off the heads of their loved ones after they’d died or during mating season or after a Stones concert and then remove the bones from the head via the stump of the neck. This would preserve their boneheads for the future and let them see if Frank actually had any thoughts worth preserving. (These head shrinkers today are known as Dr. Smyrkobscujband-eranklshfsky over at “the Institute.”) Although this really has no bearing on the focus of this article I bring in this head shrinking concept simply for gratuitous violence and humour. This may be a mistake.
There could, however, be a connection between the size of the brain and how many neurons are available to "pick up the slack" when others shrivel up because of diseases such as Alzheimer's or, in the case of men, wading slowly into an ice cold lake.
In one study of 270 patients with Alzheimer's, investigators looked for links between brain shrinkage, head circumference (an indicator of brain size) and the progression of their disease. After adjusting their results so they wouldn't be thrown off by factors such as age, ethnicity and really bad sinus infections the researchers found that patients with larger head sizes tended toward LESS brain atrophy and their dementia was, in fact, less advanced. What's going on? One possible explanation is larger heads, and therefore larger brains, contain more nerve cells and connections between cells.
More brain cells have to die, therefore, before the threshold is crossed where brain damage leads to cognitive impairment and other symptoms of dementia. The study suggests that three things are connected: brain size, the shrinking of the brain and the progression of Alzheimer's disease.
Is this useful for you to know? Not really except:
Think about doing some head/skull expanding exercises like flying at Mach 7 with test pilots, upside down.
Think twice before mating with an ancient Inca.
Think three times before attending Nepean High School without a machete.
Think even more before measuring the circumference of your pumpkin because you might be bitter and dismayed should you discover that your head is smaller than that of a dead Inca or even Rob Sealey meaning you would get depressed and come and wait in my office to get antidepressants which may make you feel better but as an unexpected side effect could render you overly euphoric causing you to want to fly like a raven up the nose of a local Muppet or the mayor and cause you to nest in his frontal lobe and that would simply be ... a big mistake.
To learn more about Dr Rob Sealey and his remarkable cranium go to www.wisequacks.orgLike the column? You'll LOVE the book, The Doctor is In(sane) now available at Pages Bookstore, Cave Creek. Dr. Dave can also be reached at www.wisequacks.org.