The Myelin Sheath, Practice and Intelligence

Double Vision

Kerry Volk

The brain is made up of white matter and grey matter. That grey matter is your neuron cell bodies, grey in colour. The white matter is myelin. Myelin is about 50 per cent of our brain and it exists to allow signals to send information more efficiently. The production of myelin is called myelination and can make us better at the things we do.

We’ve been told to take omega 3 fatty acids and fish oils in order to make ourselves healthier, but what exactly do these supplements do for us? According to the National Center for Biotechnology (NCBI), the myelin sheath is around 80 per cent lipid. These lipids are fats typically provided by the diet because they cannot be produced in our body.

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Essential fatty acids, like omega 6 or omega 3, according to livestrong.com need to be consumed either from foods or from supplements, but can positively influence the growth of the myelin sheath.

In a Ted-Ed video by Annie Bosler and Don Greene, mastering any physical skill takes practice, but yet there may be a way to aid those hundreds of hours we put in. Practice is the repetition of an action with the goal of improvement, often considered learning when a new behaviour is produced. When we learn a new skill, we then perform these tasks with more ease, speed, and confidence.

This is where myelin comes into the picture.

For our bodies to move information, these signals need to travel from our grey matter along axon paths to our muscles. If we’ve ever met someone good at a physical skill, they may have mentioned to us the term muscle memory. According to the Huffington Post, muscle memory is when a once difficult skill becomes second nature, as if conscious control slowly drops out and we perform the physical task with less concentrated effort. This learning is not in our muscles. It is in our head.

Bosler and Greene determined the myelin sheath seemed to be altered with practice and referred to the myelin coating as similar to insulation on electrical cables. It prevents energy loss when these electrical signals travel in the brain and through the nervous system. Bosler and Greene discussed whether it could be the myelination of neural pathways that give athletes and performers their edge.

Fatty acid supplements, oatmeal, a B-complex and you’re set. Livestrong.com recommends the following: Choline is a member of the B-complex family and is a component of myelin.

Supplementing with choline or eating foods high in this vitamin may support myelin production.

Foods high in choline content include oats, eggs, fatty cuts of meat, peanuts, sesame seeds and flaxseeds.

Fish oil contains large amounts of EPA and DHA. Myelin cell membranes that are more fluid and have improved nerve impulse conduction tend to contain these fatty acids. According to author Judy Graham, myelin-destroying diseases tend to be lower in places where fish consumption is high.

Lecithin is a fatty substance comprised of fatty acids, choline and other lipid molecules. Lecithin can be found in dietary sources such as egg yolks, soy beans, wheat germ and liver. Significant levels can be found in brussels sprouts, peanut butter, shrimp and chocolate.

There are many other opinions on what else leads to myelination and if it may even help with intelligence. Sleep, exercise, vitamin D, and melatonin are just a few of the things one can find when doing research on what helps myelin growth and if it actually has these discussed positive effects.

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