Insufficient blood circulation to the brain can lead to many mental issues, from mild to serious. But there are many ways to increase blood flow.
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Your brain comprises only 2% of your total body weight, yet receives 15 to 20% of your total blood supply. (1)
There’s a lot going on up there, so your brain requires a disproportionate amount of energy and nutrients.
Why Sufficient Blood Flow to the Brain Is Critical
A steady flow of blood delivers life-giving oxygen plus glucose, vitamins, amino acids, minerals, and other nutrients that your brain needs to survive and thrive.
Cerebral blood circulation also carries away things your brain doesn’t need, such as carbon dioxide, toxins, and metabolic waste products.
The brain’s blood supply keeps it hydrated which is critical since your brain is over 70% water. (2)
Blood brings your brain the hormones and neurotransmitters it needs to function and keeps your brain at a constant temperature and pH (a measure of how acidic or alkaline it is). (3)
To do all this, one liter of blood flows through the 400 miles of blood vessels in your brain every minute! (4)
But when circulation is restricted, brain cells suffer and can even die.
There’s solid evidence that reduced cerebral blood flow puts you at risk for brain disorders like vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s. (5)
Clearly, maintaining sufficient blood circulation to the brain is of the utmost importance to brain health and function.
Symptoms of Poor Blood Flow to the Brain
Common symptoms of inadequate blood flow to the brain include brain fog, mental fatigue, dizziness, lightheadedness, memory loss, and frequent headaches. (6)
According to Harvard researcher Datis Kharrazian, PhD, DHSc, author of Why Isn’t My Brain Working?, here are other signs of impaired cerebral blood flow:
- poor focus and concentration
- relying on caffeine or exercise to kick your brain into gear
- unhealthy nails — fungus or white nail beds (they should be pink)
- cold nose, feet, and/or hands
- needing to wear socks to bed
- cramping in feet and hands
A do-it-yourself test that Kharrazian recommends is to press firmly on a fingernail for a few seconds and release.
It should instantly turn from white to pink.
If not, this is a sign of decreased circulation.
When circulation is reduced, areas farthest from the heart — hands, feet, and brain — suffer the most.
But unlike your hands and feet, your brain doesn’t have the benefit of gravity to help deliver more blood flow!
A rule of thumb is that if circulation to your extremities is inadequate, it will almost certainly be inadequate to your brain as well.
Serious Symptoms of Restricted Blood Flow to the Brain
Vertebrobasilar circulatory disorders are diseases characterized by low blood flow to the back of the brain. (7)
They are most commonly caused by stroke, brain injury, or hardening of the arteries.
Symptoms of vertebrobasilar circulatory disorders include: (8)
- changes in vision
- slurred speech
- lack of coordination
- muscle weakness
- unsteady gait
- numbness or tingling in the face or extremities
If you experience these symptoms, especially if their onset is sudden, don’t take chances.
Call your doctor or 911 immediately.
Seriously impaired cerebral circulation can lead to brain damage and even death. (9)
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Causes and Risk Factors for Impaired Blood Flow to the Brain
Diminished blood circulation can be caused by factors that range from ridiculously simple to quite serious.
They generally fall into two main categories — lifestyle habits or underlying health conditions.
How Modern Lifestyle Factors Impede Brain Circulation
Here are some of the ways the modern lifestyle can wreak havoc on blood flow to the brain.
According to a study of more than one million adults, a sedentary lifestyle may be as hazardous to your health as smoking. (10)
Sitting for long periods has been linked to a cluster of conditions, including excess body fat and high blood pressure, that negatively impact circulation. (11)
Physical inactivity is bad for your overall circulation, but sitting hunched over a computer all day with your shoulders curled forward specifically restricts blood flow to the brain.
Men, if you must wear a necktie, make sure it’s not tied too tight.
This has actually been studied and was found to impede blood flow to the head. (12)
You may be among the millions of people who rely on caffeine in the form of coffee, soda, or energy drinks to get through the day.
Smoking deals a double whammy to your brain
Not only does it reduce the flow of blood to the brain, it also decreases the amount of available oxygen. (15)
Being overweight puts you at higher risk for poor brain circulation.
Considering that three-quarters of all Americans are considered overweight or obese, this impacts a lot of people. (16)
Being stressed decreases blood flow to the brain.
Here’s how that happens.
Stress triggers the fight-or-flight response.
This stress response prepares you to deal with danger by initiating a cascade of physiological reactions.
Your heart rate increases, your digestion shuts down, and blood flow is shunted away from the brain to your muscles.
Underlying Health Conditions That Increase Risk for Low Cerebral Blood Flow
Both physical and psychological health conditions can affect brain circulation.
- abnormal blood pressure
- brain injury
- heart disease
- traumatic stress
Low Blood Pressure
It’s well known that high blood pressure is dangerous and increases the risk of stroke, but low blood pressure is generally regarded as unproblematic.
This inevitably affects brain function and increases your risk for neurodegenerative disorders.
Increase Cerebral Blood Flow With Exercise
If you want to improve your cerebral blood flow, getting regular physical exercise should be your #1 priority.
The best exercise to get blood flowing is any exercise that you enjoy enough to actually do regularly.
Any exercise that gets your heart pumping is good, but exercise doesn’t have to be overly strenuous.
Both walking and yoga are excellent options.
The best yoga poses for increasing circulation to the brain are inversion poses — those that have your head below your heart.
A simple and effective inversion that even beginners can do is the downward dog pose as seen in the image above.
If you don’t practice yoga, consider inversion therapy.
It was originally popularized for back pain, but can also be used to increase circulation to the head. (25)
Inversion therapy involves lying on a table or sitting in a chair designed to put your heart above your head.
Note: Don’t try this if you have high blood pressure, heart disease, or any diseases of the eye.
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Other Activities to Increase Blood Flow to the Brain
There are many other activities that increase blood flow to the brain.
Some, you may already do.
Others are so simple, you’ll be sure to want to give them a try.
Music does a lot of great things for your brain — it can make you smarter, happier, and more creative.
And one of the ways music delivers these benefits is by increasing blood flow to the brain.
Researchers can measure cerebral blood flow with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
They found that taking music lessons or even just listening to music increases blood flow to the brain, especially when it’s music you like. (26,
Music that sounds joyful can increase blood flow to the brain by an impressive 26%. (27)
Learning a foreign language is often cited as one of the best ways to boost your brain power, ward off brain aging, and stay mentally sharp.
Neurofeedback is a mind-body technique that teaches you to control autonomic body functions (like heart rate) by consciously altering brainwave patterns.
You can use it to train yourself to stop the stress response that directs blood flow away from the brain. (31)
You can also use it to address some of the risk factors for low cerebral blood flow, such as high blood pressure and stress.
One kind of neurofeedback, HEG (hemoencephalography), specifically teaches you how to redirect blood flow to different areas of the brain at will.
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Research has confirmed that doing Kirtan Kriya meditation for 12 minutes per day increases blood flow to areas of the brain involved in memory retrieval.
Don’t let the mystical-sounding name put you off, this is one of the easiest forms of meditation to master.
Acupuncture is an ancient practice purported to work by balancing the flow of the body’s vital energy, known as chi or qi.
And while that may or may not be the case, scientific evidence shows that acupuncture can reduce muscle tension, decrease inflammation, balance neurotransmitters and hormones, and increase blood flow to the brain without raising blood pressure or heart rate. (34, 35, 36)
Exposure to bright light increases blood flow to the brain.
While natural sunlight works best, it’s not always possible to spend time in the sun. (39)
As an alternative, you can use a lightbox, the kind used to treat seasonal affective disorder, instead.
Not only does gum chewing increase blood flow to the brain, it alters your brainwave pattern to put you in a more relaxed state. (40)
Interestingly, the more flavorful the gum, the better it works to enhance cerebral blood flow and brain function. (41)
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How to Increase Blood Flow to the Brain With Supplements
There are many supplements known to improve circulation to the brain.
Here’s a list of supplements proven to increase blood flow to the brain:
This long list can be overwhelming.
If you aren’t sure where to begin, I suggest trying curcumin.
This compound, extracted from the spice turmeric, works like “exercise in a bottle.”
Research confirms that it improves blood flow as well as physical exercise! (61)
If you have low blood pressure, try licorice root extract.
It can help raise blood pressure if yours is too low. (62)
A Supplement to Avoid
One supplement to avoid is yohimbine.
It is often taken for weight loss and erectile dysfunction.
This herb directs blood flow away from the brain. (63)
Increase Cerebral Blood Flow With Food
And finally, the food you eat really can make a difference to your circulation.
Several of the supplements mentioned above are derived from foods and can easily be incorporated into your diet.
Ginger, garlic, rosemary, and turmeric are spices that not only make food more delicious, but also increase circulation.
Shellfish and dark meat poultry are top sources of the amino acid taurine. (64)
Fish, especially cold-water, oily fish like salmon, is the original source of the omega-3s found in fish oil.
Resveratrol is a phytonutrient credited for many of red wine’s health benefits.
Beets are an excellent source of nitrate, a potent blood flow regulator. (67)
And there’s one final tip that can make a big difference to your brain circulation — drink more tea and less coffee.
The relatively large amount of caffeine in coffee restricts blood flow to your brain.
While tea does contain caffeine, albeit substantially less than coffee, it also contains l-theanine.
L-theanine is a relaxing compound that offsets the reduction in cerebral blood flow caused by caffeine. (70)
How to Increase Blood Flow to the Brain: Take the Next Step
Underlying health conditions and modern lifestyle factors take a toll on brain circulation, but fortunately, there is much you can do to get blood flowing normally again.
Music, exercising your brain with challenging activities, the right foods, and mind-body techniques like meditation and neurofeedback can help.
Additionally, you can try one of the many supplements known to increase blood flow to the brain.
And, of course, make sure to get regular physical exercise.
Walking and yoga poses that put your heart above your head are excellent ways to improve blood flow to the brain.