As a medical student who loves to cook, I tend to think about medical things in a food-centric way. It may come as no surprise, then, that in my time learning here I’ve come to think of the dynamic chemistry of the brain as a delicious, complex broth. Good broth is made of stewed vegetables, marrow-rich bones, herbs, spices, and salt, all of which are added individually and cooked over time. In the same way, the synchrony and harmony of messaging systems across the brain create a complex neurotransmitter soup that generates mood, attention, cognition, agitation, and so on. A well-crafted broth takes time to prepare and it changes over the course of its life; our own brain chemistry is no different. As our minds develop, certain aspects present quickly and others take time to be fully developed. Major life events, puberty, and aging each has an impact on the complex chemistry of our brains and changes the flavor of this broth.
If the chemistry of the brain is a broth, then I consider psychopharmacologists to be the gourmet chefs who are tasting and occasionally adjusting that broth. Though each broth is the result of a unique preparation, the chef’s experience gives them an understanding of when to add chopped onion or when to leave the broth to develop its flavors more fully. The chef is interested in the ultimate balance of flavors and does what they can within their knowledge to make sure that the result is a well-rounded and savory broth. In the same way, psychopharmacologists work to balance the neurochemistry to help the patient find health and maintain their optimal quality of life. Sometimes a broth is overpowered by a certain flavor or missing another one. At times like this, the chef must slowly make adjustments to be sure not to overcorrect with any particular ingredient.
I find it comforting to know that while our brains are all made of the same basic ingredients, we are not all made to the same taste, but are our own delicious broths. Some of us are more salty, some of us have an acidic tomato kick, some of us are herb-filled and aromatic. We don’t all have to be the same but we are all working to find our own balance of flavors that will be useful and delicious. And if we’re lucky, we can get help from an experienced chef who can guide us in our journey toward a balance of our own unique flavors.
3rd year Medical Student
Touro University College of Osteopathic Medicine in California (TUCOM)