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How Traditional Chinese Medicine Views Brain Health


Keeping our brain healthy and functioning at a high level is important. The mainstream view of the health of our brain relates to how we reason, learn, judge, problem solve, communicate, build emotional connection, regulate emotions, perspective experiences, and more.

There are several things you can do to keep your brain healthy, many which will come as no surprise, and most being well known. Exercise, deep breathing (to keep well oxygenated), proper nutrition, mental stimulation, socialization and sleep are all vital to be at peak performance mentally.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the brain is called the “Sea of Marrow” and considered an extraordinary organ. Its function is to control memory, concentration, sight, hearing, touch and smell. Things we tend to give more importance—like consciousness, thought and mind—tend to be functions associated with the heart and, in part, the liver and kidneys. In general, the brain isn’t treated directly but through the other organ systems of the body. When those systems are not functioning and are unable to nourish and support the brain, symptoms like poor memory, lack of concentration, dizziness, ringing in the ears and blurred vision can occur.

Each organ system supports a type of nourishment, energy and function to the brain and body. Understanding this makes everything we can do for brain health important because it is all entwined; taking care of the entire body, mind and soul gives us the best outcomes for the quality of life we desire.

Exercise for liver qi – Smoothing liver qi provides the energy of the body to course freely and smoothly, warding off depression and providing overall health to the nervous system.

Oxygenation for lung qi – Deep breathing is important for the overall health of the body, including the immune system. When you take complete, full breaths of vibrant, life-giving oxygen into the lungs, it’s disseminated throughout the body and used for protection, including the brain. Oxygenated blood helps improve energy, decrease systemic inflammation by improving digestion and decrease acidity in the body.

Proper nutrition for the spleen – Not only does the spleen help the body digest and utilize energy from food, it’s part of the system that helps to digest emotions. The body can then use the food in the best way possible for energy and nourishment of all the organs, including the heart and brain.

Mental stimulation and socialization for the heart – Nourishing the heart yin and warming the heart yang are equivalent to feeding the soul. Having experiences that expand thinking and create community provides feelings of purposefulness and continues to bring harmony to our mental and spiritual aspects. These processes or situations allow our spirit to rest, help bring in good thoughts, and provide an internal environment for peace.

Sleep is also necessary to rest the soul in the heart so it’s functional on a daily basis. When this is accomplished, our emotions stay in balance, our consciousness is at peace, we feel more positive, and we make better decisions. Sleep also provides the downtime your organs need, particularly the kidneys, so they can continue to support the energetic functioning of all the other organs. Nighttime is the yin time of the day and all about rest and recuperation from the day’s events, providing your body, mind and soul space to prepare for the needs of the next day.

Brain health is simply a piece of our whole being. All parts of us work together to be in balance, healthy and vibrant. Creating brain health is creating systemic health: mind, body and soul.

Michelle Kitsmiller is a licensed doctor of acupuncture and Chinese medicine and an herbalist,  certified through the Mind Body Institute in Mind Body Medicine. She utilizes an integrative approach to health and wellness where functional medicine meets TCM. For more information and to book an appointment, call 952-452-8583 or visit

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