Everyone experiences some moments of “brain fog” from time to time, whether you are trying to find your keys or are struggling to remember a name. As we age or our daily stress increases, these little moments of forgetfulness become more worrying.
The good news is that foggy thinking and poor memory do not have to be a normal part of aging. And the steps for protecting our brain health can also help the rest of our bodies—further evidence that everything is connected when it comes to our optimum health!
In Ayurveda, proper brain function involves balancing Vata-Pitta-Kapha. Brain function is also linked to hormonal balance. An imbalance in cortisol levels, estrogen, melatonin, pregnenolone, testosterone or thyroid can all contribute to memory loss, confusion and concentration issues.
So, what can you do to maintain peak brain health? Check out these tips!
Sleep: optimize your brain health overnight
A great deal of research supports a link between brain health and adequate sleep. Age-old scientist “sages” of Ayurveda and Yoga have referred to sleep as one of the three pillars of good brain health along with proper nutrients and clean digestion. To regain cognitive health, reduce stress and improve the brain performance, a few simple bedtime rules go a long way. Ayurveda and Yoga advocate:
- Going to sleep before 10 pm. Your circadian rhythm is your natural sleep cycle, which is ideally before the Kapha time of evening ends—around 10 pm. Fighting it and staying up later triggers an adrenaline rush in your body due to Pitta and Vata dosha aggravation, which keeps you awake.
- Practicing good sleep hygiene by sleeping in a dark and quiet room and paying attention to when the body wants to sleep, which is a feeling of heaviness, slowing down and wanting to ground.
- Wearing clean, loose, cool, light-coloured clothing to allow proper circulation in your sleep.
- Using white and light-coloured bed sheets and pillow covers that are non-synthetic as well as an organic pillow with natural fillings. This allows your skin to breathe and eases your entire body, so you remain rested.
- Avoiding the use of any substances like caffeine or alcohol that are considered mentally stimulating or “rajasic” before bed.
- If sleep is an issue, applying warm ghee on the sole of the foot in a circular motion can be very beneficial.
- Gently applying sesame seed oil around the nostrils, ear openings, between fingers and toe webs helps pacify your trapped Vata and induces sleep.
Nutrition: a plant-based diet with plenty of healthy fats for brain health
Ayurvedic Medicine states that food has instant impact on one’s digestive power “jatar agni” and brain power “manas agni”. Evidence-based nutritional studies support the fact that good nutrition fuels our brain. Processed, low-nutrient foods can lead to inflammation and oxidative stress. The result can be cognitive and mood issues. Up to 95 percent of the serotonin in our bodies is produced in our gut, so what we eat can have a profound impact on our emotions, thoughts and brain abilities.
Some important nutrients for brain health include:
- Kapha diet must include Vitamin K: Several studies suggest Vitamin K helps prevent cognitive decline. To boost Vitamin K intake, focus on leafy greens, such as spinach or kale.
- Vata diet must include healthy fats such Omega 3, 6 and 9: Essential fatty acids have been shown to lower levels of beta amyloids, which are the building blocks of the amyloid plaques in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Look for plant-based sources like ghee, almonds, coconut, walnuts, sesame seeds or avocados.
- Pitta diet must include flavonoids: These phytonutrients are found in many fruits and fresh vegetables, particularly brightly coloured, flavourful foods like strawberries and blueberries. Flavonoids have been found to play a role in preventing memory decline.
Clean Digestion: movement keeps your digestive tract clean and brain active
Internal movement (that is, a regular bowel movement) and external movement (such as your regular exercise regimen) is a must when it comes to brain health.
A consistency in eating habits, timely eating, chewing food well and a balanced diet maintains proper functioning of the digestive tract. A healthy digestive tract reduces the build-up of undigested food, which can clog the tract and impede bowel movements. Brain fog and a lack of coordination in Ayurvedic Medicine often leads to investigating possible toxins built up due to improper digestion. A weak memory and indecisiveness are considered Vata build-up, primarily in the colon.
External movements such as regular walking, jogging, biking, swimming and stretching provide rhythmic circulation to all the vital organs of the body including liver, heart and brain.
Which exercise is best? The best activity is always the one you’re most likely to do, but health experts say to strive for 75 minutes of intense activity (more suitable for Kapha) or 150 minutes of moderate activity every week (more suitable for Pitta and Vata). As an added bonus, exercise can help you sleep!
Maintaining a Youthful Brain
Both the ancient health sciences of Ayurveda and Yoga have indicated that a human brain can stay young if one follows these simple steps:
- Keep Learning. You are never too old to learn something new. In fact, acquiring new knowledge can help keep your brain young. One study found that adults who learned a “complex skill” such as quilting or basic coding had improved memory function after only three months. And knowing a second language (even if you learn it late in life) can help slow memory loss.
- Recite, Repeat and Memorize. The brain is well connected with your ability to speak, see and hear. Using all three abilities at the same time—reading, repeating after oneself and hearing one’s own sound—empowers the brain’s function. Try a new paragraph or a small poem from a book, or a verse from a religious scripture. Recite the selection loudly and repeat it many times until you have memorized it. Then move to another one. Such daily practice will keep your brain active.
- Relax. You have probably noticed that when you’re stressed, your thought process isn’t as clear as when you’re relaxed. Scientists confirm that even short-term stress can affect the hippocampus. It’s important to note that most studies refer to a relationship between perceived stress and memory. We all have negative events in our lives and some of these can’t be avoided. But we can change how we react to them and how we deal with daily stress. It’s possible to reframe the stress of daily life and change how we perceive it. Yoga, meditation, breathwork, tai chi, gentle musical instruments or sounds of nature are all effective ways to reduce our feelings of stress.
It’s important to remember that there isn’t necessarily a “magic bullet” solution to protect your brain function. As with all elements of well-being, maximum health is the result of a wholistic approach. By taking conscious steps to protect your brain health, you can minimize memory loss, balance cognition, improve mental skills and preserve the integration of the mind, body and spirit.
If you are experiencing challenges with sleep, stress, loss of memory or have questions about your brain health… if you’ve noticed any symptoms that worry you, it’s important to check them out right away. Our faculty consists of Ayurvedic Medicine practitioners.
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Article prepared by Ismat Dhala-Nathani, Doctorate of Natural Medicine, Ayurvedic Practitioner