Late Night Snacking Affects Brain Functioning: How Going to Bed on Time Supports Short and Long-Term Memory

I am always interested in research that gives a fuller understanding to the basic principles of Ayurveda. Recently I read about a study from the University of California that concluded that late-night snacks could negatively impact brain functioning. In the study, mice that were fed during their normal sleeping times experienced a decline in both short-term and long-term memory. The study suggested that digesting food at a time we are supposed to be asleep causes distress in the hippocampus, the area of the brain where memories are formed.

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There is already evidence that eating when we normally should be sleeping can cause an increase in blood sugar levels — which can lead to diabetes and heart problems. Now we find that irregular eating habits can impact mental cognition. The University of California study revealed that the mice that were given food when they should have been sleeping had lowered levels of a protein called CREB, which plays an important role in supporting the body’s internal clock and in the brain’s ability to form memories.

“Since many people find themselves working or playing during times when they’d normally be asleep, it is important to know that this could dull some of the functions of the brain,” observed lead researcher Dawn Loh.

This dovetails with an earlier study funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in 2013. The study showed that the space between the brain cells can increase during sleep. This allows the brain to cleanse itself of toxic molecules during sleep. Previous studies have associated the toxic molecules that accumulate in the space between brain cells with numerous neurodegenerative disorders. These toxins diminish during sleep.

The leader of the 2013 study, Milken Nedergaard, M.D., D.M., observed, “Sleep changes the cellular structure of the brain. It (the brain) appears to be in a completely different state.” (There is some indication that Shirodhara, one of the classic treatments used in the Panchakarma or detoxification therapies of Ayurveda, also put the brain into this state of detoxification.)

If we are up and active or eating during our most important sleep hours, the natural cycle of purification and detoxification in the brain can not take place.

According to Ayurveda, the ideal hours of sleep are from 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. This is the time when Pitta dosha (the principle of transformation) is supporting the body’s self-repair mechanisms. The strongest Pitta cycle of the day is from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm. During this time the Pitta quality of transformation is best directed towards digestion. For this reason, Ayurveda says the biggest meal of the day should be eaten at noon. The transformational qualities of Pitta at night are directed to a more subtle kind of work. This is when the body switches into its powerful healing and self-repair mode.

Last week we talked about how the biological clocks located in our joints (that allow for regeneration of the joints) need a regular routine of eating, exercising and sleep to be most effective. Now we see more evidence that the ideal daily routine upheld by Ayurveda does indeed lead to better health and increased well-being. We are a part of nature and living in tune with the underlying cycles of nature supports our entire mind/body system. As modern science continues to validate the age-old principles of Ayurveda, we can see how this ancient science is as relevant today as it was 4000 years ago.

When we live without regard for the natural cycles of eating, exercising and sleeping, the natural healing modalities that are build into our physiologies can not do their job and impurities can build up in the body. Removing these deep-seated impurities is the speciality of Panchakarma, the traditional purification therapies of Ayurveda.

For more information on Ayurveda and Ayurveda detoxification programs, visit The Raj website:

www.theraj.com

Nourishing Your Brain with Ayurveda: Tips to Keep Your Brain Young and Healthy

Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, a brain disorder affecting the parts of the brain controlling thought, memory and language. About 4.5 million older Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s. The number of cases are expected to quadruple by 2050. Ayurveda, the original health science of India, offers much needed knowledge on how to reverse the aging trends, even in cases of brain deterioration such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Early detection provides a greater opportunity to delay or reverse the existing symptoms of aging disorders. Maharishi Ayurveda, a systematic revival of Ayurveda, offers a comprehensive system of effective interventions.

Detection begins with a consultation with an Ayurvedic health expert using the ancient technique of Ayurvedic pulse assessment. This will help identify specific imbalances in the body which can predispose an individual to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders. This individual diagnosis is a powerful tool for designing an individualized treatment program and home recommendations.

Factors Affecting Alzheimer’s

Drugs, alcohol, stress, the buildup of toxins and poor nutrition are all factors whose effects accumulate over time and contribute to the degeneration of our brain’s ability to function properly. While available drugs have been shown to be somewhat effective in reducing some aspects of cognitive decline, changes in diet and lifestyle remain the only proven means of affecting the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s.

Don’t Let Your Brain “Dry Up”

The thousand year-old texts of Ayurveda indicate that with advancing age, the brain and body gradually become more agitated and dry. Alarik Arenander, Ph.D, a UCLA-trained neuroscientist with degrees in Molecular Biology, Developmental Biology, and Neuroscience, notes that Alzheimer’s is often associated with marked shrinkage of the brain. “The ‘drying’ effect of Alzheimer’s”, says Arenander, “must be remedied by proper diet, digestion and routine. This is the specialty of Ayurveda.”

Ayurvedic experts can offer individualized recommendations to regain balance in the physiology and nourish the brain in an effort to counteract the brain’s natural “drying” influence and establish an optimum level of mental and physical function.

In addition, Ayurvedic treatments and massages help to increase lubrication and stability and sustain quality of functioning, thereby decreasing drying, agitation and distruption of body and mind. These treatments also remove accumulated toxins and impurities which are associated with the degeneration of optimal functioning of the mind and body. The traditional Panchakarma treatments of Ayurveda are the only known means of effectively removing fat-soluble toxins from the body. Otherwise these toxin remain in the body for up to 30 years and can be passed on to one’s children.

Ayurvedic Tips to Nourish Your Brain

  • Stay physically active: Recent studies suggest that exercise which raises your heart rate for at least 30 minutes several times a week can lower your risk of Alzheimer’s. One study, conducted at the University of Chicago, looked at two groups of mice. One group was allowed to exercise and the other was not. The brains in the physically active mice had 50 to 80 percent less plaque than the brains of the sedentary mice. In addition, the exercising mice produced significantly more of an enzyme in the brain that prevents plaque.
  • Mental activity: stay mentally alert by reading, playing cards, crossword puzzles and writing.
  • Eat a wide variety of green vegetables and include milk products (only milk contains significant levels of B12 which is absolutely essential for proper nervous system function) in your diet. If you are feeling mentally weak and are experiencing memory loss, have your doctor check your vitamin B levels, especially vitamin B1
  • Include plenty of antioxidants in your diets. Free radicals and oxidative stress are major factors in premature aging. Include plenty of organic fruits and green vegetables in your diet.
  • Include high quality oils in your diet. It is good to sauté spices such as tumeric and black pepper when you use oils. Your brain is composed of over 50% fat. Nervous system tissue is most nourished by oils, especially ghee, or clarified butter. Organic ghee and olive oil are the best cooking oils. Tumeric and freshly ground black pepper have the ability to penetrate the blood-brain barrier, which helps lubricate the brain. In India, where tumeric is used in great quantity, the rate of Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases are very low.

The treatments and techniques of Ayurveda are based on age-old wisdom of how to maintain perfect balance in the physiology. This ancient wisdom sheds light on how to maintain and promote healthy, youthful brain functioning.

Learn more about Ayurvedic programs to optimize brain functioning at The Raj, Ayurveda Health Spa website:

www.theraj.com

Coffee and Your Brain: Regaining Normal Brain-Functioning with Ayurveda

arabica_catura_coffee_beanMany of my friends start their active morning routine with a stop at the local coffee shop. Most of those friends also own some kind of coffee making apparatus and even their own grinder. Coffee is now a 30 billion dollar industry in the US. It is also an industry that is self-perpetuating: caffeine is highly addictive and the withdrawal symptoms are unpleasant. The other day one friend mentioned that she had been trying to quit coffee for over a year, but just couldn’t kick the habit. Part of her problem was the terrible headache she got when she tried to stop. She asked for an Ayurvedic perspective.

First and foremost, Ayurveda always recommends gradual shifts in changing diet and behavior. This is advice is especially appropriate when dealing with an addictive substance like caffeine. While the press now regularly touts the positive aspects of caffeine, the fact is that caffeine is a drug that alters your brain’s chemical and physical make-up.

Caffeine dissolves both in water and in fat-based substances. This means it dissolves in our blood and in our cell membranes. It also means that it can penetrate the blood-brain barrier and enter the brain. The caffeine molecule closely resembles adenosine, a natural byproduct of cellular respiration—and our brain carries receptors for the adenosine molecules. Caffeine molecules fit neatly into the adenosine receptors, blocking them off and masking feelings of tiredness.

When the adenosine receptors get blocked, the brain signals the adrenal glands to secrete adrenaline, a natural stimulant.

Author Stephen R. Braun, author of “Buzzed: the Science and Lore of Caffeine and Alcohol”, calls caffeine a “stimulant enabler: a substance that lets our natural stimulants run wild”. Over time, coffee, tea, caffeinated sodas and energy drinks end up changing the way our brain is wired. The brain starts to build more adenosine receptors in response to the constant blockage of those receptors. It also starts decreasing receptors for adrenaline. Because of this, regular caffeine drinkers need to up their “dosage” over time. And the coffee (and caffeine) industry continues to grow.

It takes 7 – 12 days of no caffeine to allow the brain to return to its original configuration. During that time withdrawal symptoms can be quite intense and include fatigue, headaches and nausea.

So how to go about dropping the caffeine habit without suffering? Start by gradually increasing the amount of milk added to your coffee. Coffee aggravates both Vata and Pitta doshas (but in moderation can actually help balance Kapha). Adding milk to coffee helps modify the aggravation of Vata dosha.

Next you can start trying a combination of regular and decaffeinated coffee. Slowly increase the ratio of decaf until you have eliminated the caffeinated coffee. Or (even better) try mixing coffee with Raja’s Cup (an herbal coffee substitute). Slowly increase the amount of Raja’s Cup until you have eliminated the coffee altogether.

Raja’s Cup is preferred over decaffeinated coffee because decaffeinated coffee still contains acids that can aggravate Pitta, and because coffee in general is known to increase free radicals. Raja’s Cup, on the other hand, has been shown to be hundreds of times more effective against free radicals than Vitamin C or E.

One other note: Coffee has a bitter taste, which is one taste that American diets tend to lack. If you make sure that you include bitter foods (such as leafy greens like spinach, kale, etc.) in your diet or use spices with a bitter taste (such as turmeric, fenugreek, cinnamon and cumin), you may find that your craving for caffeine diminishes. Chocolate also has a bitter taste—and contains caffeine—so watch out that you don’t replace one with the other!

As I discussed in the blog post, “Summer to Fall Transitions: Avoiding Rashes and Hay Fever with Ayurveda”, many people find themselves dealing with both Pitta and Vata disturbances as summer turns into fall and the increase in Vata starts to “fan the fire” of Pitta. If you are drinking coffee, this is a very good time to cut down or make the change to a non-caffeinated drink. Traditionally in Ayurveda, the times of seasonal transitions are the most important times for purification treatments (Panchakarma) and Ayurvedic consultations.

For information on Ayurveda consultations and detoxification programs (Panchakarma) visit The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa website:

 www.theraj.com

 

 

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Support Brain and Heart Health With Ayurveda

While most people now understand that cholesterol is not uniformly “bad”, not everyone knows that cholesterol, a fatty acid produced in the liver, is actually essential to many bodily functions. Without cholesterol the body could not build cell membranes or synthesize vitamin D, or hormones.

Western medicine teaches us that cholesterol is available in two forms: high-density cholesterol (HDL) (“good” cholesterol) and low-density cholesterol (LDL) (“bad” cholesterol).

LDL (Bad) Cholesterol

LDL cholesterol is considered the “bad” cholesterol because it contributes to plaque, a thick, hard deposit that can clog arteries and make them less flexible.

HDL (Good) Cholesterol

HDL cholesterol is considered “good” cholesterol because it helps remove LDL cholesterol from the arteries. It is believed that HDL acts as a scavenger, carrying LDL cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where it is broken down and eliminated from the body.

From the Ayurveda perspective, cholesterol is only “bad” when it is out of balance. It is “good” when it is balanced, supporting and lubricating the body’s numerous circulatory channels, known as the shrotas. There are many kinds of shrotas. There are micro-shrotas, which carry nutrients to the cells and waste from the cells. There are larger shrotas, such as the arteries and veins, which carry blood to and from the heart. And there are delicate shrotas that lead to our brain.

For our physiology to be healthy and functioning well, all of these shrotas must be flexible and elastic. When in balance, cholesterol plays an important role in lubricating and maintaining our shrotas.

“Good” cholesterol becomes “bad” cholesterol when we have large amounts of ama in our system. Ama is the sticky waste product of poor digestion, absorption and metabolism. It accumulates as a toxin in the fat tissues. Ama thatis present for a very long time and is not cleansed from the system begins to spread throughout the body, and blocks the important channels of circulation, nourishment and detoxification.

For years, high levels of “good” cholesterol and low levels of “bad” cholesterol has been linked to a healthy heart. In December of 2013, a study was released linking high levels of “good” cholesterol and low levels of “bad” cholesterol to good brain health as well. It was established that high “bad” cholesterol levels were linked to brain deposits that cause Alzheimer’s. A healthy ratio of good vs. bad cholesterol was associated with lower levels of the plaque in the brain. An unhealthy ratio was associated with higher levels of plaque. The findings were independent of age or presence of specific a specific gene that has been linked to some forms of Alzheimer’s.

Natural Ways to Lower Cholesterol: Diet and Purification

Diet

To lower “bad” cholesterol Ayurveda recommends a two-pronged approach: Improve digestion and follow a Kapha-balancing diet to enhance fat metabolism.

A Kapha-pacifying diet favors bitter, astringent and pungent foods. Astringent foods include dried beans such as lentils, split mung dhal, and garbanzo beans. Astringent tastes also include many vegetables, such as the cruciferous family (brussels’ sprouts, food52_06-12-12-5121broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower) and fruits such as apples and pears. Bitter foods include greens such as spinach, chard, kale and mustard greens. The Kapha-pacifying grains include barely, quinoa, amaranth and oats (whole oats, not processed oats.) Avoid sweet tastes, including rice, wheat, pasta, breads, and sweet milk products. Avoid sour foods such as sour fruit (lemons), yogurt, cheese, tomatoes, vinegar, salad dressings, ketchup, mustard and pickles. Oddly enough, while it is recommended to avoid yogurt, digestive lassi, made of yogurt and water, turns out to be good for balancing cholesterol. Avoid sweet lassi and mango lassi and opt for the digestive lassi. Favor warm foods cooked with small amounts of ghee or olive oil.

Purification

Detoxification is a natural body process to reduce ama. Our natural ability to detox, however, can become compromised when our system becomes overloaded from stress, poor diet and environmental toxins. So what can we do to support the body’s natural process of detoxification? Panchakarma, the traditional purification treatments of Ayurveda, help remove ama from deep within the tissue beds. Cleansing and detoxifying the body also helps build up our natural digestive fire, which itself naturally burns ama from the body.

For more information on Panchakarma, the traditional purification and detoxification treatments of Ayurveda, visit The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa and Treatment Center:

www.theraj.com

 

 

( Picture of kale and cabbage. Source: Google Advance Image Search.
Creative Commons. The image is used under the terms of Googles Creative Commons rules:http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en. This photograph and credit do not constitute an endorsement of this blog or products mentioned.)

Healthy Diet, Healthy Brain

Continuing our celebration of fruits and vegetables, it turns out that there is a direct correlation between a healthy diet and a healthy braIn.

Days before  a first-ever G-8 summit on dementia in London, leading English physicians wrote an open letter to the Health Secretary saying that the benefits of diet far outweighed “dubious drugs” in the battle against dementia.  They urged that the best strategy for preventing Alzheimer’s and other memory-affecting diseases was a diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, fish and olive oil.

The link between diet and healthy brains is not new. Back in 1991 a study at California’s Loma Linda University suggested that meat eaters had double the risk of developing dementia as vegetarians. (No difference was observed between lacto-ovo-vegetarians and vegans.)

Good Diet Key to Regaining Memory

In 2011, researchers from VA’s Puget Sound Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Center documented an important link between diet, exercise, and the development of Alzheimers.

According to lead author Laura D. Baker, PhD, for those who are aging normally, regular exercise can help offset the “potential pathological effects of a western-type diet on Alzheimer’s disease biomarkers in the brain”.  But for adults who have already have an existing condition of mild cognitive impairment, improvement only came when a change in diet was added to the regular exercise routine. Switching to diet low in saturated fats and refined carbohydrates actually improved memory function.

Results in Only 4 Weeks!

The team found that a diet low in saturated fat and high in foods such as whole grains and vegetables could favorably alter the levels of certain markers for Alzheimer’s in only four weeks. This diet improved visual memory not just for older adults with mild levels of Alzheimer’s disease but for healthy older people too.

While these studies have been small in scope, they all lead to the encouraging conclusion that we do not have to wait for a magic drug to appear on the market to protect us from dementia. Instead there are simple life-style changes that we can make today to keep our brains alert and functioning in good order. By favoring regular exercise and a diet of lean proteins, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and by keeping sugar and refined carbohydrates to a minimum, we can reduce the risk of dementia and at the same time significantly increase our level of physical health and well being. Win/win!

To take a free dosha quiz and find out more about what fruits and vegetables create balance for your physiology, visit The Raj website:

http://www.theraj.com

Your Sugar or Your Health?

The New Year is approaching and it’s time for that commitment to better life choices: the New Year’s Resolution.  I like the “fresh start” approach to a new year. A while ago I discovered a great recipe for success. I start the year with a week of Ayurveda detoxification treatments, known as Panchakarma, and pick one New Year’s resolution. The treatments remove imbalances that trigger food cravings and the resolution resets my thinking in one manageable area. It is a winning combination. This year my resolution is to cut down on my sugar intake.

Recently a London cardiologist was in the news saying sugar is so addictive it should be considered a danger to society and should be regulated like alcohol.  The biggest surprise in reading the story was the long list of health woes connected with eating too much sugar. I expected to hear about obesity and diabetes. But reading about the link to heart disease, dementia, liver damage and cancer was a shocker. It turns out that a sugary diet messes with a number of important hormone levels, chemicals and processes in the body.  Today I’m just going to look at two studies that inspired my resolution.

Sugar makes you depressed and lethargic

Most of us know that a high sugar intake signals the pancreas to produce large amounts of the hormone insulin, often causing a huge drop in energy after the initial “sugar high”.

But did you know that sugar blocks the action of orexins — neurotransmitters that regulate appetite, energy expenditure and wakefulness? (The most common form of narcolepsy is caused by a lack of orexin in the brain.)  High levels of orexin have been linked with happiness while low levels are linked to sadness and depression. The suppression of orexin cells has been associated with obesity because that chemical has the responsibility of telling the “good fat” in our bodies to burn calories. Blocking orexins can lead to dullness, depression, lethargy and obesity.

(The good news is that amino acids, or protein, “excite” orexin cells.  So by all means reach for almonds instead of a candy bar if you need a late afternoon energy boost.)

Sugar can addle your brain

Eating too much sugar can affect the brain in other ways.  A study released in 2013 looked at 248 brain scans of people aged 60 to 64 over a period of 4 years. All participants had blood sugar levels in the normal range at the start of the program. At the end of the four years it was discovered that those with the highest blood sugar levels had higher levels of shrinkage in the areas of the brain associated with memory and cognitive function. It is already established that type-2 diabetes is linked with dementia.

As I said, there is additional research linking sugar to heart disease, liver damage and cancer, but the information about sugar’s influence on the brain was enough to inspire my New Year’s resolution.

Alternative choices

Does this mean no sugar at all?  According to Ayurveda, sugar helps to balance Vata and Pitta. So my question is, how much sugar is okay and how much is too much?

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons a day for women and 9 a day for men. 1 teaspoon of sugar is 4 grams. There are about 10 teaspoons of sugar in a can of Coke Classic. There are about 5 teaspoons of sugar in a single serving of Cherry Garcia ice cream and almost 7 teaspoons of sugar in a single serving of Haagen-Das raspberry sorbet. If a pie requires 1 cup of sugar, divided by eight that means about 12 teaspoons per slice.  In other words, 6 teaspoons doesn’t get you very far if you are in the habit of snacking on sugary foods.

Thankfully there are a few options for those of us with a sweet tooth. Stevia has zero calories and won’t cause a jump in your blood sugar. I have friends who are great fans of Xylitol, which is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol found in beets, corn and berries. Because it is only partially absorbed by the body, it has a lower glycemic index and only around 9 calories per teaspoon. Honey has a lower glycemic index than white or brown sugar. However, honey should never be used in baking as it ferments when heated and creates a sticky toxin that blocks the body’s channels.

Ultimately the best course of action is simply to get out of the habit of needing sweets. Ayurveda recommends hot milk to counter the urge for sweets. Milk is considered a “sweet taste” but also provides amino acids (exciting the orexin cells!) and classical texts say milk has the ability to nourish all the tissues in the body within 24 hours. Of course always boil your milk first to make it easier to digest.

Later on I will share additional research detailing more ways that an overload of sugar can take a toll on our health. There is certainly a growing pile of evidence out there! In the meantime I look forward to enjoying increasing energy and alertness as I transition into a healthier new year.

Visit The Raj to learn more about Ayurveda

www.theraj.com