Brain Food-As-Medicine
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Brain Food-As-Medicine

Chinese medicine addresses age-related cognitive decline by harmonizing the mind, and safeguarding the Three Treasures (jing qi, and shen). This is loosely equivalent to nourishing the nerves, regulating hormones, supporting adrenal glands, and protecting genetic endowments (jing). Food-as-medicine is self-care in these regards.
Glycine is an amino acid shown to benefit memory and cognition by enhancing transmission of chemical signals in the brain. It is concentrated in animal gelatin (e.g. from simmered pork skin). Gelatin is a type of protein that is void of the amino acids associated with aging. R-Alpha lipoic acid (R-ALA) is an antioxidant shown to improve memory, cognition, prevent neurodegeneration; and is essential to the ATP cycle (the body’s power plant). R-ALA is concentrated in organic organ meats (e.g. liver), collard greens, and chard.

Silica in oats strengthens the nerves to benefit neurasthenia, a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. It is present in oatmeal, oat bran, oatstraw tea, oat milk, sprouted oats, and oat tincture. Rosemary is an antioxidant that stimulates memory, and is useful against normal brain aging. Skullcap strengthens the nerves, and is especially beneficial during detoxification from substance abuse.
The adrenals play a major role in nervous system and hormonal balance. The synergy between vitamin C with bioflavanoids (rosehips) and vitamin E tocophorols (almond milk) supports adrenal function.  Other micronutrients for added support are pantotenic acid (peas), B-complex (whole grains), magnesium (sesame seeds), zinc (oysters), and selenium (Brazil nuts, shrimp). Supportive herbs include ashwaganda, and astralagus root. For actual adrenal fatigue, a high-protein diet is important, and rest is essential:

The mind and body repair and rejuvenate during sleep. Poor sleep impacts mood, alertness, and focus (loosely interpreted as shen). GABA is a calming neurotransmitter that helps quiet the mind for sounder sleep. Many foods contain glutamate and glutamic acid, precursors to GABA. Mackerel, almonds, and wheat bran are rich sources. However, these precursors may agitate those who are sensitive to MSG. Taurine is a calming neuro transmitter that is depleted by stress. It is found in salmon, mackerel and halibut.

Chinese medicine takes a holistic approach to age-related cognitive decline. Maintaining a balance between Stillness & Stirring (sleep and activity) is paramount to health. American and Chinese ginsengs are legendary for health and longevity. American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is of particular note to enhance memory. Oolong tea, and jujube (Chinese dates) respectively detoxify the brain, and calm the mind. Dan shen (Salvia miltiorrhiza) is an herb that enhances microcirculation, and the excretion of toxins. It is prescribed for many age-related and chronic diseases.
The herbal formula called “Licorice, Wheat & Jujube Decoction” is indicated for menopause-related cognitive complaints such as dis-orientation, and absent-mindedness. Wheat bran is the calming source of glutamic acid. Licorice nourishes qi. Jujube nourishes blood. This formula is added to soup stock where meat is the source of alpha lipoic acid, and glycine. The meats classically used are black-pigmented “Silkie” chicken, glycine-rich pig’s knuckle, or bone marrowall superior tonics.
On a side note, research shows that intense aerobic exercise preserves DNA telomere length- an anti-aging marker at the gene level.

Church, T., Earnest, C., Skinner, J., Blair, S. (2007). Effects of different doses of physical activity on cardiorespiratory fitness among sedentary, overweight or obese postmenopausal women with elevated blood pressure. Journal of the American Medical Association 297(19).

Dharmananda, S. (2005). Wu chi pai feng wan: Herbal chicken soup in a pill.In Institute for Traditional Medicine.

Dharmananda, S. (n.d.). Salvia and the history of microcirculation research in China. In Institute for Traditional Medicine.

National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute. (2012). What are the signs and symptoms of problem sleepiness?

WebMed. Vitamins and supplements centers.

Peat, R. Gelatin, stress, longevity.

Rotenburg, V., et al. (2002). REM sleep latency and wakefulness in the first sleep cycle as markers of major depression: a controlled study vs. schizophrenia and normal controls. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry 26(6).

Scholey, A. (2010). Effects of American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) on neurocognitive function: an acute, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study. Psychopharmacology 212(3),

Tennant. F. (2009). Precursor amino acid therapy:  A new entry into pain management.

The World’s Healthiest Foods. Selenium.


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