Besides the heart, the brain is the most important organ in the body. Many people don’t recognize that the brain needs to be routinely nurtured. Since nearly all of the body’s functions rely on this organ, it requires special care. Have you ever experienced “brain fog”, cloudy thinking, or forgetfulness? Now that people are living longer, conditions like dementia Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s are becoming more common and negatively affecting our quality of life. Alzheimer’s is one of the leading causes of death in some Western countries. When we get older, we understand how important our mind really is. We shouldn’t take it for granted! The latest scientific findings indicate that diet, physical exercise, mental exercise, socialization and stress reduction positively affect human brain health. Using scientific research and a natural medicine perspective, we can become better informed about mental health.
From a holistic systemic perspective (Chinese medicine and Ayurveda), brain function is dispersed, and dependent upon, the function of the five major organs. Thus any disorder of the brain naturally involves other parts of the body. Western biomedical science has reiterated these connections, with studies suggesting that how we fuel and use our bodies has direct implications for brain health. Social interaction is proving to be critical for brain development and health.
The brain can be viewed as a hydroelectric organ that depends on the flow of electrical signals and the synovial and cerebrospinal fluid that connects the brain via the spinal cord to the rest of body. If the body via the digestive and kidney system does not maintain sufficient vital fluids, the brain eventually becomes affected. The Optimum flow of electrical signals via nervous system depends on the balanced ph levels. If the ph goes too high, the cellular environment becomes acidic and inflammation can develop. Inflammation is one of the key indicators of overall health, and it is especially important in brain and heart health. It has also been linked to Alzheimer’s and heart disease. The best way to maintain a healthy ph level is by a balanced diet and sufficient hydration.
What you eat really does good for your brain. It can also reduce heart disease and diabetes. A brain-healthy diet includes a high percentage of Omega-3 DHA and unsaturated, non-hydrogenated fats and low consumption of trans-saturated fats found in animal products. Omega-3 is found in high percentages in microalgae consumed by cold-water fish, like salmon. Cold-water fish, healthy fats found in olive and COLD PRESSED olive oil, almonds, walnuts, avocados, and dark-skinned fruits (like blueberries and plums), microalgae, green leafy vegetables and shiitake mushrooms have all been positively correlated to brain health. Its preferable to eat organic when possible. The combination of vitamin E and C, which act as antioxidants, was found to be particularly good for the brain. Refined sugars definitely have an adverse effect on the brain and glucose levels. Avoiding environmental exposure to substances such as pesticides, mercury, and lead is also critical. Toxins usually end up lodged in the fatty tissue, and the brain is mostly fat!
What you do with your body also affects brain health. Research indicates that exercise targets many aspects of brain function and has broad effects on resilience, learning, memory, depression, and overall brain health, particularly in elderly populations. One study found that exercise increases brain plasticity, or the brain’s ability to grow and structurally change. Beyond physical exercise, mental exercise also improves brain health . Studies show that the more mentally and socially active have a lower risk of dementia. Reading, playing board games or musical instruments, and learning something new are all beneficial, as well as remaining socially active. A variety of challenging and novel activities, such as problem solving increase brain stimulation and thereby create new connections in the brain. Stress has been negatively linked to brain health, with studies suggesting that stress can actually shrink the brain’s memory center if left uncontrolled; thus, mindfulness and relaxation practices such as yoga and meditation have been linked with better brain function. Recent studies show how certain parts of the brain structure can be altered and activity increased as a direct result of meditation and slow, deep breathing. These activities affect gray matter density (in the brain and spinal cord) in the hippocampus and amygdala, areas that affect stress and memory.
Research continues to reveal the ways in which diet, physical exercise, mental exercise, socialization and stress reduction can improve, if not eliminate, symptoms of such conditions as dementia and Alzheimer’s. These findings reflect the ancient understanding that the body and mind are inextricably linked and changeable.
Keyvan Golestaneh M.A., L.Ac. is a natural and Chinese medical practitioner, herbalist, bodyworker, psychotherapist and writer with 30 years experience in Yoga, meditation and Qi Gong. He is the director of the Conscious Health Institute. www.LapisHolisticHealth.com & www.ConsciousHealthInstitute.org