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The Outer Brain: Ten Amazing Ways the Skin and Brain Connect - Introduction

Over the last several years I have been working on a new book titled The Outer Brain:  The Power of the Brain-Skin Connection. I have always been fascinated by this powerful connection and started from the beginning—the embryo—to explore what makes this all happen. Join me as I provide a brief springboard for further exploration of ten ways the brain and skin connect. Here I cover hundreds of avenues of brain-skin interactions and have chosen ten here that may be of particular interest to my readers. I have also created a series of YouTube videos that cover the Brain-Skin connections.

Think of the terrain of the skin and the underlying connections. Why is the skin so connected to the nervous system? The skin, in common with the nervous system, arises from the outermost of the three embryonic cell layers, the ectoderm, which is the general surface covering of the embryonic body. The central nervous system’s primary function is keeping the organism informed of what is going on outside it. It develops as the in-turned portion of the general surface of the embryonic body. The rest of the surface covering, after the differentiation of the brain, spinal cord, and all the other parts of the central nervous system, becomes the skin and its derivatives— hair, nails, and teeth.

The ectoderm also gives rise to the sense organs of smell, taste, hearing, vision, and touch—everything involved with what goes on outside. Thus, one might consider the nervous system a buried part of the skin, and the skin might be regarded as the external nervous system. These two organ systems begin in intimate association and remain interconnected throughout life. As Frederic Wood Jones, the early twentieth-century English anatomist, put it, “He is the wise physician and philosopher who realizes that in regarding the external appearance of his fellow men he is studying the external nervous system and not merely the skin and its appendages.”

Skin defines our social identity, and our medical identity as well. For more on the cultural imperative of the skin, see The Blue Man and Other Stories of the Skin.

Our skin also reflects critical changes to the way we think, feel, and perceive, as well as our ability to handle stress and make decisions. By knowing how to read its signals, the skin can reveal the beginning stages of depression, personality disorders, dementias, including Alzheimer’s disease, and even Parkinson’s, long before these diseases wreak personal havoc.  What can we do right now to protect, enhance, and even reverse changes to both our inner and outer brains?

Here I will present ten brain and skin narratives. I will dive deep during certain inquiries and leave more room for questions in others.

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For more information, look at my YouTube series on the Brain-Skin Connections:

The Brain-Skin Connection Series - YouTube

Dr. Robert A. Norman

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