If you worry that your memory is going, you’re not alone. Do you regularly walk into a room and forget what you went there for? Have you ever drawn a blank on a close friend’s name? Do you routinely forget common words? Join the club. These little episodes are embarrassing and frustrating, but are you on the fast track to Alzheimer’s? Probably not.
Memory loss can the result of a number of factors, the most common of which is your age. However, hormonal changes, diet, stress, and simply trying to do too many things at once can also mess with your memory.
There are a couple of organ systems in Chinese medicine that are related to memory. The first (that I can remember) is the Heart. The Chinese Heart is home to your consciousness, spirit, feelings, thoughts, and…yes, your memory. Memory loss is one of the hallmark signs of a Heart disharmony.
Your Chinese Spleen is the organ closely related to digestion. Good digestion helps something called clear Yang to rise upward allowing for mental clarity. When your digestion is funky, you may experience fuzzy thinking and memory problems, along with digestive symptoms, such as heartburn, stomachaches, low blood sugar, gas, bloating, poor absorption of foods, and diarrhea or constipation.
The Kidney system is also a player in memory. One of the important functions of your Chinese Kidney system is how well and healthfully you will age. As you get older, your Kidney gets weaker as a matter of course, affecting everything from your hearing to the strength of your bones, and your mental function/memory. Along with aging, your Kidney also controls things like growth, sexuality, and reproduction. When women go through menopause, their Kidney system is affected, which is why memory seems to take an additional hit during this time.
So the question is: Can Chinese medicine and acupuncture help with memory loss? There is no simple yes or no, depending on the source of the problem. However, in many instances, Chinese medicine can help. For some patients I’ve seen in the clinic, memory problems are directly related to the amount of stress they’re experiencing, and in others, the memory issues began as part of menopause. For older patients who are beginning to show the signs of senile dementia, it may be too late to reverse their memory loss.
According to Chinese medicine, there are some things that you can do to safeguard your memory. This includes:
1. Simplify your life. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, your brain is full. At a certain point, you just can’t hold onto any more details, so you start to forget them.
2. Jettison the stress. Stressful situations cause you to be preoccupied, making it difficult for you to remember anything except details about what’s stressing you out. Do whatever it takes, whether it’s steps to resolve the stressful situation, or a Yoga class, meditation, taking up a hobby, or carving out quiet time to yourself.
3. Eat good food. It sounds simple, but it’s not always so easy when you’re running from meeting to meeting or getting your kids from one activity to another. Sometimes the only solution seems to be something quick—and not so good for you. Take the time to plan what you’ll eat, and bring it with you if necessary. Good food is whole food, unprocessed, whole grains, lots of vegetables, and a little protein, with very small amounts of red meat, if any. Ditch the sugar, as it messes with your blood sugar levels and can be a direct contributor to fuzzy thinking. Remember the Twinkie defense?
4. Digest that good food you’ve eaten. Take the time to sit down and eat. Chew your food and sit up straight. In addition, cooked foods tend to be easier to digest, and ice cold foods and drinks bring your digestion to a halt.
5. Protect your Chinese Kidney. How? Well, slow down, for one. Overwork can be a direct cause of illness and depletion in Chinese medicine. Also, excessive partying, while fun, weakens your Kidney system and sends you into your senior years in less than optimal health.
In addition to Chinese medicine, Western doctors and scientists are looking for ways to protect memory as we age. They have been conducting research on memory and the various factors that may help slow memory loss. Among them:
6. Get moving. Data from a study that began in the 1930’s shows that moderate exercise (as little as two times a week!) can lower your chances of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
7. If you’re a smoker, quit now. While you can’t completely undo the damage in terms of degeneration to your brain, the sooner you quit the better.
8. Drink green tea. Results from a 2006 study indicate that as little as a cup or two a day of green tea, which is packed full of antioxidants, can cut your risk of cognitive problems by 50 percent.
9. Make lists. Memory lapses can be the by-product of simply trying to do too many things at once. At a certain point, your brain just can’t hold any more details. Make lists of the things you want to do or remember to get rid of some of that brain clutter.
10. Play mind games. Crossword puzzles, soduku, trivia quizzes, or even learning a new skill or language can keep your brain exercised and can slow memory loss.
The good news here is that small changes can be enough to yield big results as long as you keep them up. A few cups of green tea, acupuncture to relieve stress, a couple of days a week of exercise, and moderate changes in your diet can be enough to lower your risk of age related memory problems.