Acupuncture and the Brain
As we begin our new year we tend to take a step back to evaluate our lives and our health to determine what is working and what needs change. Our bodies and minds have been overloaded through the holiday season, and then just like that it is over and we’re thrust back into our regular routine. For many people the holidays create a sense of urgency, as for several months they’re living in this constant state of stress as they hurry to ensure that everything is taken care of. Then, all of the sudden, there is nothing to focus that excess energy on and yet their brains are still running at a mile a minute. They want to relax their weary bodies, but their overworked minds keep them going. This can affect the memory or cause them to lose their train of thought, or even create confusion as too many thoughts fight to the forefront of the mind. This makes the beginning of the year the perfect time to take care of your brain, not only to benefit your health in the current moment but so that you can also focus on the goals for the year ahead.
Our brain is arguably our most important organ, it is the center of our nervous system and without it we would be unable to see, think, move, or feel. Though most commonly associated with old age, issues with the brain can arise at any time in our lives and have many different causes. Everything in our body is connected, and as we all know if even one small part becomes unbalanced, sick, or damaged then it can affect how the rest of the body functions. We may find that other organs become strained as they are forced to work harder, overcompensating for their weakened companion. Acupuncture not only focuses on relieving symptoms that begin to surface, but delves deeper to determine and treat the root cause.
The relationship between acupuncture and the brain is remarkable, however the brain is a complex organ so there is no one point on the body that is simply going to cure whatever ails it. Symptoms vary and can arise from a number of deeper conditions, or if the individual has suffered from a stroke or trauma to the brain. And yes, as we age our bodies do begin to wear down and the brain experiences this degeneration just as our other organs do. And while we do treat the brain directly, by also treating organs that correspond to particular functions in the brain we can help to restore it on a deeper level. This is a complicated process, however the information below can provide some insight into this delicate relationship between our organs, and how we might treat brain issues through seemingly unrelated points in the body.
When addressing memory loss, particularly long term, one of the key organs that we can strengthen is the heart. There is a direct relationship between how an event triggers feelings in our heart, and how our brain remembers it. Our strongest memories tend to be those that incite strong emotions, whether positive or negative. Studies have shown that routine actions, such as simply driving home from work each day, often fail to make an impression on our brain and we “zone out” during that time because there is nothing memorable about it. We reach our destination and can barely recall the trip. However, if we narrowly avoid an accident or come across a detour, our emotional reactions and racing heart then imprint this into our memories. By treating the heart we in turn strengthen this connection with the brain, boosting both our long and short term memory.
Our small intestine is considered to be like a second brain, which is why we often rely on our gut when making tough decisions. Common phrases like “Go with your gut” or “I had a gut feeling”, though often used in passing to refer to our instinct, indicate that we subconsciously recognize the control our gut can have in the mental process. The functionality of our digestive system also has a direct correlation with overall mental clarity. When we eat cleaner foods, and avoid overeating, this process operates more smoothly and doesn’t slow the rest of the body down. When we eat a big, heavy meal, like those we cook over the holidays, our bodies become more lethargic as our energy is being diverted to break down our food. This includes the energy in our brain, so when we’re regularly eating too much or ingesting foods that our body struggles to digest, this causes our brain to become foggy. Though eating well is our first line of defense when it comes to maintaining “brain power”, when our digestive system is sluggish we can use acupuncture to help get it back on the right course which helps to restore our mental clarity.
The feelings in our gut are also reactionary, as we experience the “butterflies in the stomach” sensation when we’re excited or constricting knots when we’re nervous. Our thoughts, particularly those that bring about strong emotional reactions, can have an immediate effect on our intestines. Those who are stressed out can regularly experience an upset stomach or loss of appetite, and when the body is out of balance like this it can also cause a loss of focus and cognition. Our cognition is how we absorb and process the information that we’re taking in. When this function is being suppressed we find it difficult to comprehend the things what we’re seeing and hearing, our brain is unable to connect the dots that we’re given. This often causes the individual to become confused, frustrated, or agitated, which compounds on an already overstressed mind and body. Though stress may be the “cause”, we also want to focus on rebalancing the digestive system as this will help to clear and strengthen the mind.
In Chinese medicine the kidneys play an important role as they house our Jing, which is our essence. We are born with this essence, and it plays a part in our mental development. The kidneys are also partially responsible for the production of bone marrow, and our spinal marrow in particular is significant in our mental development. Imbalance in the kidneys can manifest in a large variety of symptoms, which are commonly divided to represent either a Yin (cool, fluid) or Yang (heat, energy) deficiency. When the yin in particular is deficient our bodies can have a tendency to overheat. Though this can cause a number of symptoms to arise, it can manifest in our brains as dizziness and vertigo. Keeping balance between the yin and yang is important, and if one is deficient it can cause the other to also wear down. Therefore even if your symptoms are more yang deficient, such as fatigue, back pain, and weak lower limbs, over time this can eventually cause the yin to diminish and you may start displaying those symptoms as well.
Treating the brain alone, whether through TCM or western medicine, can help but we also need to look at what else is out of place. The combination of strengthening both the brain and the corresponding organs allows us to address the problem as a whole, and not just the surface symptoms. So while it is important to focus on the brain and ensure that the synapses are firing properly, we also work to strengthen the foundation, in this case these key organs, to ensure the symbiotic relationship is in balance.
Here is to a happy and healthy new year!