Northside SF
Health Matters
Brain and immune health

Are your brain and immune system talking to each other? They should be. Scientists are currently exploring their intimate relationship. We know the brain supports neurological functions, but it is increasingly clear it also modulates immune function.

What affects your immune system?
When the brain is tired, just one night of sleep deprivation can trigger an inflammatory immune response, even in healthy young people. The effect of psychological stress can also promote the inflammatory process, increasing the risk of conditions such as cardiovascular disease, psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis. Lesions from traumatic brain injury caused by a car accident or a stroke can also affect the immune response – your concussion five years ago may be causing your autoimmune thyroid condition or psoriasis today. Similarly, a successful recovery from a stroke may not explain lingering symptoms such as recurring infections, chronic yeast conditions, and fatigue. The brain, the immune system, and the gut form an axis. When the brain is damaged, the immune system becomes compromised.

How can we maintain brain health?
First, reduce stress. This forces the brain to remember only what is essential for survival. Chronic stress damages the hippocampus, which is responsible for long-term memory, and may cause it to shrink. When stress levels improve, our memory also improves. The next time you feel stressed, try a yoga/meditation class, take a warm bath, go for a walk outside, or have a bite to eat with a friend. Managing long-term stress and identifying what triggers stress is key to maintaining a healthy brain and immune system.

Is your brain getting enough oxygen and blood flow?
Exercise can actually improve the health of your brain by building new brain cells. Aerobic exercise increases the supply of blood and oxygen to the brain and the heart. Just 12 minutes of regular exercise a day could enhance your memory, strengthen your immune system, lower cholesterol, and prevent heart disease. Feeling blue? Exercise improves depression by increasing serotonin and dopamine. These “feel good” hormones are an important part of chemical and emotional balance. They are released during exercise, meditation, yoga, and acupuncture.

Are you what you eat?
Certain foods nourish our brain and boost our immune system. Peak brain and immune performance requires polyunsaturated fatty acids, known as omega 6 and omega 3. Fish is considered the ultimate brain food. In particular, wild salmon helps to transmit signals to the brain, improving brain function. The benefits of omega 3 fatty acids begin before birth. Eating fish during pregnancy and postpartum has been shown to lead to higher IQs in infants. Vegetarian? Here are some brain-boosting superfood antioxidants that increase learning capacity and protect your brain from oxidative stress: blue green algae, spirulina, chorella, wheat grass, blueberries, strawberries, pomegranates, acai berries, grapes, walnuts, nuts, seeds, beans, avocados, dark leafy greens, broccoli, carrots, onions, beets, spinach, turmeric, sage, grapeseed extract, orange juice, and green tea.

Are you getting enough sleep?
The brain and immune system have circadian rhythms, involving cycles of melatonin and the stress hormone cortisol. Many people have sleep problems – the inability to fall asleep, stay asleep, wake up in the morning, not feeling rested after sleep, or crashing between 4–7 p.m. Sleep deprivation can lead to not only sugar cravings and a depressed immune system, but it also affects our brain function, memory, and processing of new information. Most adults need 7–9 hours of sleep a night.
What is good for the brain is good for the body. A healthful lifestyle boosts the brain and immune system. Why not start now?

Gayatri Bhatnagar is a licensed acupuncturist and holistic healer at SenSpa.

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