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Surprise! It’s another Article of the Week about nerves! When I was brainstorming for this week’s article, I wanted to talk about the healing process and how amazing our nerve system is (as if you didn’t already know).

Specialized cells called Schwann cells support the peripheral nerves (the nerves outside our brain and spinal cord) and produce the insulating myelin sheath that speeds up nerve communication. At the most extreme, when nerves are severed, Schwann cells occupy the original space the nerve occupied. The process of degeneration is followed by regeneration; nerves repair so that they return to their original target sites. Schwann cells that remain after nerve degeneration apparently determine the route.

Demyelinating neuropathies are those in which the Schwann cells are primarily affected and migrate away from the nerve. This process causes the insulating myelin to be lost, and conduction of nerve impulses down the nerve is blocked. Schwann cells may suffer immune or toxic attack, as in Guillain-Barré syndrome and diphtheria. This also leads to a blockage of electrical conduction.

Production of the specialized myelin starts at 5 months of development in the brain stem and back of the brain, but is not completed in the front of the brain until late in adolescence. Myelin is composed of about 40% water and the dry mass is composed of about 80% fats and 20% protein. The mainly fatty composition of the myelin gives it a white hue, hence the reference to the brain’s “white matter.” A diet that contains adequate amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids is essential for everyone, particularly pregnant moms and babies. Intake of these nutrients is critical during the first 1,000 days of life because of their impact on nerve development. Omega-3 fatty acids are considered “essential fatty acids” because they must be consumed from the diet. Many types of fish, flax seed, chia seeds, walnuts, spinach and Brussel sprouts contain Omega-3 fatty acids to allow your nerves to work optimally. There are also many supplements available if there are inadequate sources in your diet.

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