When thinking about brain health, we may include nutrition, supplements, reading, doing memory training and exercising, but not healthy brain circulation. The foundation of strong brain functioning is circulation, and without it the brain cannot access the nutrients and skillsets we are giving it.
We have four fluids circulating in the brain: lymphatic fluid, deoxygenated venous blood, oxygenated arterial blood and cerebral spinal fluid. When brain circulation is inhibited in any way, blood flow is decreased, toxins are not removed and cerebral spinal fluid (in which the brain floats) becomes stagnant. Given small amounts of deprivation over a long period of time, the brain will slowly function at lower capacities because the cells are not fully supported.
The brain has several avenues for circulation. We have several small holes in our skull for veins, arteries and lymphatic vessels to pass through, but the largest hole by far is at the base of the skull—the foramen magnum at the suboccipital base. The suboccipital base consists of three main bones: the occipital bone, the first vertebra of the spine (the atlas), and the second vertebra of the spine (the axis). This area comprises the major highway where the brain stem exits and transitions into the spinal cord. If this area gets constricted by tight muscles, fascia or misaligned bones, it’s like putting a tourniquet on our brain. Circulation of blood, lymph and cerebral spinal fluid drastically decreases.
Over the years, through the consistent effect of gravity, as well as events such as car accidents, bike crashes, sports injuries, falls, headaches or bumping our heads, the muscles and fascia at the suboccipital base get tighter and that joint between the skull and the first and second vertebra gets more and more compressed.
The effects of this can vary widely. Pressure in the cranial vault due to lack of drainage can result in headaches. Lack of fresh, oxygenated blood and poor lymphatic drainage can result in decreased functionality of the brain, including weakened memory, mood instability, fatigue, brain fog and poor or unrefreshing sleep. Anything that the brain or brainstem control can be affected by compression at the suboccipital base.
A simple technique, called CranioSacral Therapy, created by Dr. John Upledger, DO, can be very useful in dealing with the chronic neck pain, headaches and migraines caused by this compression. Through working with this joint and other key muscles of the head, neck and shoulders, people can find long-term relief that lasts for weeks or even years.
Increasing circulation in the brain allows toxins to be removed faster, nutrients to be reintroduced and cerebral spinal fluid to flow smoothly from the cranial vault to the spine, all which nourish and cushion the brain. The potential benefits of this increased circulation include fewer headaches or migraines; better memory; clearer thinking; increased mood stability; increased quality of sleep; decreased fatigue; increased ease of breath and temperature control; and better digestion.