While scientists are still discovering how our most complex organ really works we know that different parts of the brain are responsible for processing different forms of memory.
For instance, there seems to be a close connection between emotions and the ability to recall.
We find it a lot easier to remember events that have connected with us emotionally. The memory is activated through the stimulation of hormones that affect a part of the brain called the amygdala. Another part of the brain called the hippocampus is responsible for the long-term storage of what we already know.
Sleep is also very important because this is the time the brain processes all the information that has been gathered during the previous day. Professional orchestral musicians have found that just having a short nap between a rehearsal and a performance really improves their ability to quickly memorise new musical scores.
It is important to know that the brain requires an enormous amount of constant blood flow to keep it alive. Intense aerobic exercise such as running, cycling or swimming is very beneficial since it stimulates blood circulation, nutrient delivery, and the generation of nerve pathways.
Research has shown that the effects of exercise on memory have important implications for improving children's academic performance and maintaining mental abilities in old age, especially for those affected by Alzheimer’s or other diseases that affect the memory.
When the brain is introduced to exercise, the hippocampus can even increase its size and improve memory.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, specific organs have a connection with specific emotions. Also, in contrast to Western medicine, it is considered that the health of several of these organs can affect the function of the brain, especially the spleen, the kidney and heart. The spleen influences short term memorisation and concentration. The kidney is associated with willpower and the ability to remember everyday events, while the heart houses the spirit, called Sheen, of a person, and the mind in general.
In that medical framework when the heart is well nourished with Qi (life energy), as well as blood, the mind will be strong, the sleep will be regular, and the mind will be stable.
When the spleen’s function is weakened, its ability to produce blood becomes impaired, affecting the functioning of the heart, thus causing insomnia, poor memory and restlessness of the mind. Due to the controlling mutual relationship between the kidney and the heart, a weakness in the lower organ will affect its superior partner and cause it to malfunction as well.
The spleen is very susceptible to overthinking (eg cramming for exams) and worrying.
This results in what we call ‘dampness’ or poor fluid regulation in the stomach. Our digestion becomes sluggish, we get bloated, tired after eating, and our ability to concentrate and memorise is affected.
The kidney organ is also responsible for the production of bone marrow, which nourishes the brain. Once again, any weakness in that organ will result in poor memory retention.
Chinese herbal medicine has for centuries been used to stimulate brain function. Gingko improves concentration by stimulating the circulation of blood to the brain. Ginseng is also prescribed to boost energy and mental activity. Even a common household herb such as rosemary can improve mental clarity to some extent. While Traditional Chinese Medicine links a weakening memory to the gradual decline of the kidney energy as we get older, Alzheimer’s disease, the main cause of dementia, results from degeneration of the brain tissue. Autopsy examinations have showed abnormal protein and plaque deposit in patients who died with the disease.
And of course diet is another important factor. In contrast to the rest of the primates, we require high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in our brain.
These polyunsaturated fats are so important for the transmission of neuron impulses associated with thoughts and emotions that a deficiency in Omega-3 can lead to higher risk of mental health problems, and suicide.
A diet loaded with bad trans fats raises the level of bad LDL cholesterol in our blood, This clogs up our arteries, which is bad news bad not only for our heart, but also for our brain.
Medical experts often recommend the Mediterranean diet which includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and olive oil. These foods are beneficial to the blood vessels, and help reduce the risk of memory damaging stroke.
The good news is that moderate wine consumption helps raise the level of good HDL cholesterol, and lowers our blood sugar more effectively.
Being a Frenchman this is music to my ears!
Olivier Lejus BHSc.MHSc. is a registered acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist practising in Sydney. A former casual university lecturer and tutor in Oriental medicine with over 15 years experience in clinical practice, Olivier specialises in Japanese- style acupuncture for the treatment of male and female infertility, migraine, pain, and insomnia.www.olejusacupuncture.com