Brain uses a third of its energy on "housekeeping"

The brain consumes 20 percent of your body's energy, but what for? Turns out a third of the energy is spent on "housekeeping":

A new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA indicates that two thirds of the brain's energy budget is used to help neurons or nerve cells "fire'' or send signals. The remaining third, however, is used for what study co-author Wei Chen, a radiologist at the University of Minnesota Medical School, refers to as "housekeeping," or cell-health maintenance...

"Housekeeping power is important for keeping the brain tissue alive," Chen says, "and for the many biological processes in the brain," in addition to neuronal chats. Charged sodium, calcium and potassium atoms (or ions) are continuously passed through the membranes of cells, so that neurons can recharge to fire. ATP supplies the energy required for these ions to traverse cell membranes. Chen says there must be enough energy to maintain a proper ionic balance inside and outside cells; if too many get stuck inside, it can cause swelling, which can damage cells and lead to strokes and other conditions.

Link (via Monochrom)


  1. No wonder being completely sedentary is so exhausting. I’ve got an area of low entropy to maintain!

  2. It is well known that we do not use but a small part of our brain’s capabilities. Tapping into even a small percentage increase in utilization would presumably pay large dividends. However, this study seems to indicate that much of the brain’s power is used in “housekeeping.” That is to say, in maintaining the necessary infrastructure to allow the rest of the brain to work. Perhaps there is not as much under used capacity as we once thought?

  3. Mmm, Brains are a good source of calcium and potassium! Good to know when the zombie overlords claim me as one of their own.

  4. #3, I really hope you are kidding, and are making fun of the “we do not use but a small part of our brain’s capabilities” myth.

  5. #3- That’s a well known urban legend. Usually phrased “We only use 10% of our brain’s capacity,” or something similar. It popped up in an episode of Star Trek: TNG. Deathstroke the Terminator is said to use 90% of his brain’s capacity. But it’s complete nonsense.

    They say that belief comes from the observation that only about 10% of neurons fire at any given time. Then a different 10% fire. Then a different 10%. Much more than that and you’re having a seizure. If, say, 50% of neurons fired at once, signals would get crossed.

    Before I knew that, I thought it came from the observation that only about 10% of the brain’s cells are actually neurons. Most of the rest are glial cells, the maintenance crew of the brain.

  6. I think I use only 10% of my brain…at a time. I believe it’s true we use a greater portion of our cerebral system during certain, more complex situations; less at other times. IMO

  7. There’s a German expression which translates to; “Did somebody shit in your brain and forget to sweep it out?” Apparently it’s self-cleaning.

  8. Well, it says 1/3 of the brain’s Energy budget, which is 20% of the body’s energy. Not quite the same thing as total brain capacity and usage.

  9. Ever seen an MRI or EEG? Most of your brain is doing something most of the time.

    Snopes has a great article on the 10% myth.

  10. The sodium-potassium pumps are just charging up the cells, to get the neurons ready to fire. Tis like charging a capacitor. you are separating the charges with the pumps, but they can leak back across, and you loose the charge buildup. so basically you have to constantly be pumping the ions across the membrane to keep the charge there. That way each neuron is ready to fire at any moment.

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