Saturday, February 12, 2011

Brain Blend

I have been exploring a combination of herbs that help the brain. There is a book called THE EDGE EFFECT by Eric R. Braverman. The book proposes that there are four major chemicals in the brain that we need to keep in balance in order to have optimal brain health and longevity. The book, in general, confirms my theory that we need to keep our brain healthy in order to achieve biological immortality. The four key chemicals are dopamine, acetyl-choline, GABA, and serotonin. These chemicals can sometimes be taken directly, but in terms of supplements they are usually delivered indirectly through taking metabolic precursors, chemicals that get converted to these four main chemicals. GABA can be taken directly. Serotonin usually comes from tryptophan, dopamine from tyrosine, and acetyl-choline from carnitine and a few other compounds.

I have been exploring getting these four key brain chemicals from herbal sources, rather than through supplements. I tried supplements and found that I did feel something, but found that herbal nutrients seem to have a better deliver system to get these nutrients to where they are needed in the body, even though theoretically they sometimes have less of these nutrients that a pharmaceutical pure powder. It could be that herbs have built in metabolic co-factors that the body is used to expecting from millions of years of evolutionary adaptation.

I am not against the use of pharmaceutical products, but want to be realistic about them as an option. There are some disadvantages. One is that there is a testing gap in scientific research about them. The nutrient tested in the research may not be identical to the actual product being used by people. I have run across a few consumer studies which have shown that what is labeled a certain chemical sometimes does not even have any of the chemical in it. There are also additives, fillers, and shelf life to consider. Even when you have the right purity and a good company behind it, very often they cannot afford to duplicate the original studies. I came to the conclusion I was only going to keep using stuff that I can feel working with at least a subjective sensation of feeling at least a little better and healthier. Even when considering the possibility of a placebo effect, many products have failed to meet this level, even when I have taken the product with some sense of optimism about the possible results. There is some danger of a misread, like perhaps something like a temporary caffeine boost that makes you feel better but does not in the long term. But I find that it is possible to use personal experience here and just keep sensitive in the long term to see what the effects are. I feel that the body can sort out temporary boosts from long term health strategies. There is also the herbal traditions on the past to check with in this regard. We have collective history experience to check with.

I have found that Macuna Puriens is a good herbal source for dopamine. Nettles, walnut oil, sesame oil, figs, walnuts and tahini are good sources for serotonin (through tryptophan, though Nettles does seem to directly give some serotonin). For GABA, Kava seems best with a GABA Oolong (Oolong cured in a nitrogen environment or high mountain Oolong) as also being very good. For acetyl-choline, soy lecithin is one possibility (which is oddly enough found in chocolate bars, if you take the 88 percent dark it is very low in sugar and has no dairy). I am still exploring the last one some to see what options I have. It seems that Rosemary, Fenugreek, Horsebalm, Gotu Kola, Gingko, Dandelion, Mung Bean, Fava Bean, Brazil Nuts (but sometimes these can carry a mold if not transported or preserved well), Nettles, and Willow all seem to help in some way.

In addition to those mentioned, Ginseng seems to be very helpful. There was a legend of an herbalist who lived in China that lived to about 256. He taught, at least according to one author, being vegan, doing Chi Kung (the Eight Silken Brocade or Jam Jung exercises), doing Chi Kung breathing, and taking Ginseng, Foti, and Gotu Kola. Ginseng was so important and powerful by itself that when he chose to let go of his body he could not die until he had stopped taking Ginseng for two weeks. There is some mention also of the Reishi mushroom in some formulas connected with him. I do not know if this was integral to his formula or not. It may have been his general knowledge of Taoist herbal medicine which is meant to be used as well.

I found when scanning the literature for "immortalist herbs" that several have appeared, from White Tea, Reishi, Ginseng, Ephedra (Ma Huang), Gotu Kola, Foti, Licorice, and Aloe. There are a few others that seem to come up from time to time. I hope to at least footnote the promising ones. I have found a number of herbs that have a positive effect on the brain and on mood, from Saint John's Wort, Kava, Ginseng, Mugwort, Chamomile, Ephedra, Macuna, Ashwaganda, good quality Green Tea, wild mint, Valerian, Cardamom, Gingko, Turmeric, Cinnamon, Pineapple, and Coconut Milk. Some of these are not potent by themselves, but help other herbs. Kava has many healing alkaloids and some of them extract in hot water, some through pineapple enzymes, and some through coconut milk. Kava can be very potent in a green smoothy with banana (potassium), cucumber (alkalizer), pineapple (enzymes), rice protein powder, and Vita-Mineral Green (or anything with dehydrated greens, though this is the best one that I have found).

There is a tricky part to this exploring, because I find I do not always have time to fully extract the potencies of the herbs. I suspect that mere pill popping of vitamin pills also has a similar limitation. Some herbs combine well with each other, others need special separate extractions. Roots tend to combine well and need more boiling time to extract their potencies. Too much boiling of leaf herbs can even weaken the formula (too long a boil and more tannins come out of Green Tea, ideally you bring to boil for about one minute and steep for about five minutes, and then take the leaves out of the water). I have learned to treat herbal brews with the same attitude as gourmet medicinal food cooking. I have been able to standardize the formulas some, but not perfectly yet. I am still working out an ideal set. I almost always improvise in practice, adding a few extra things according to some temporary felt need. If I am getting a cold during the winter because of "moist damp chi" energy in the Oregon rains, then I might add more thermogens. I like Ephedra a lot, but have to measure it carefully as it is very strong. My brother gets a racing heart if he takes too much. I have used it more over a longer period of time and my body has adapted to the herb. However, I have to be careful of hidden synergists and how they may multiply the potency of each other. I suspect that Bitter Orange synergizes very well with Ephedra and makes the former have an effect similar to Ephedra. While this is good for me to have, my brother may need to take an even smaller dose of the two combined than when they are separate. I put Ephedra is a salt shaker type bottle and only sprinkle a little into a brew, one shake for every cup.

My main meditation practice these days is a kind of Tumo Yoga where I visualize Hreeh in red at the base of the spine, Ah in silvery blue at the heart, and Om at the 3rd eye in white. This is not exactly the usual practice but is a valid derivation of the principles when linked to chanting Om Namo Amida Buddha Hreeh and calm abiding in the primordial state as a support. I have recently concluded that an "herbal tumo support" is possible with a skillful combination of herbs, some thermogens to support the hreeh, some brain nutrients to support om, and some lung openers for ah (the aromatics, cardamom, and hawthorn berry).

I have recently been exploring Gynostemma which has similar potencies to Ginseng but, being a leaf, can grow more easily, cheaply, and productively. Because it is a leaf, too, it can brew with other leaves in the same pot and matures in about the same amount of time. It synergizes with Gingko and Green Tea. I am suspecting that it is not a perfect replacement for Ginseng, but may substitute for a certain amount. It could be that while the active ingredient is similar that the root has more grounding properties. It could be that adding some licorice, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, and burdock to the three synergists just mentioned may help the ginseng like active ingredient in gynostemma. I would recommend only a small amount of each of these so as to not overwhelm the brew (so that all five together in mass is equal to only one third of the total mass when combined with the three leaves). And maybe a pinch of Ephedra...

Green tea varies in quality a lot and it is worth finding something organic and loose. I would shy away from the tea bag herbal blends. It is more affordable to buy in bulk. I have been very happy with Mountain Rose Herbs in Eugene, Oregon, but I am sure there are other sources. I have a friend who wild crafts herbs, especially Nettles, and who finds some very good ones in this local region. I prefer using herbs fresh when possible, but drying them, tinturing them, or refrigerating them is useful for the seasonal downtimes. Mugwort seems ideal for winter hibernation and needs to be dried and preserved for then. It makes a "lucid dreaming tea" when combined with "calming herbs" like chamomile, Saint John's Wort, Kava, and Valerian (the last one is very strong and you do not need very much, just a few pinches, in its essential oil form, one drop per a pot in enough and is very strong, take it only when you are ready to fall asleep within 30 minutes). Young leaf Green Tea is naturally low in caffeine. I have found that some caffeine seems essential to deliver the herbal potencies to where we need it in the body and so staying totally away from caffeine is something I would not advise. Powdered Sencha tea is very very good, but also is a little expensive (worth it).

In another blog I would like to go into some cleansing herbs and routines. I wanted to write this entry in more stream of consciousness fashion and give a sense of some of the considerations I have been processing in my mind about various brain, health, and longevity herbs that I have found useful and where my research edge is. I feel I am gaining a lot of useful knowledge about herbs, but it is not as linear as simply saying herb X is good for problem Y. There are issues of best preparation, seasonal changes that alter how much some herbs are needed, some need to sense what you need from time to time, what kind of key herbs work best together, and which support herbs are worth adding or omitting according to need. I think there is some room to experiment and find out what works best for you, especially with the safe herbs. I think there are also herbs that are too potent to be too experimental with unless one is extra conscious, like Ephedra and some possible thermogenic synergists like Bitter Orange. I do feel that having a meditation practice is integral to herbal medicine and makes all the herbs work better and visa versa. I would suggest that one put aside experimenting with anything more than a pinch of Ephedra unless you really feel you know what you are doing and/or check in with a health professional who can monitor you.

I am planning on mentioning a number of formulas and have shared some already. The above represents the general flavor of my research. Blessings.

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