How to Increase Blood Flow to the Brain

Edited and medically reviewed by Patrick Alban, DC | Written by Deane Alban

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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.

family hanging heads upside down

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
  • headache
  • 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.

Sedentary lifestyle

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.

Tight neckties

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)

Caffeine

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.

If so, be aware that caffeine decreases blood flow to the brain by constricting blood vessels. (13, 14)

Smoking

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

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)

Stress

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.

You’re at increased risk for reduced blood flow to the brain if you have any of the following: (17, 18, 19, 20)

  • abnormal blood pressure
  • anemia
  • brain injury
  • depression
  • diabetes
  • heart disease
  • hypothyroidism
  • 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.

However, this is untrue — when blood pressure is low, your blood literally can’t make its way into your brain to feed your brain cells. (21, 22)

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.

Physical exercise may be the single most important thing you can do for the health and function of your brain. (23, 24)

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.

woman in a yoga inversion pose
Yoga inversion pose.

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.

Inversion Therapy

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

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)

Foreign Language

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.

The brains of multilingual speakers are bigger, better connected, and receive more blood flow than those who speak one language. (28, 29, 30)

Neurofeedback

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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Meditation

Meditation offers a wealth of brain benefits, including increased circulation to the brain. (3233)

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.

Read more —
We explain exactly how to do Kirtan Kriya meditation in Top 10 Meditation Techniques and Tips for Beginners.

Don’t let the mystical-sounding name put you off, this is one of the easiest forms of meditation to master.

Acupuncture

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. (3435, 36)

Acupuncture’s ability to increase blood flow makes it a promising treatment for stroke victims. (37, 38)

Bright Light

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.

Chew Gum

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:

  • acetyl-l-carnitine (42)
  • bacopa (43)
  • citicoline (44)
  • cocoa extract (45)
  • curcumin (46)
  • fish oil (47)
  • garlic (48)
  • ginger (49)
  • ginkgo (50)
  • hawthorn (51)
  • n-acetylcysteine (52)
  • pine bark extract (53)
  • PQQ (54)
  • resveratrol (55)
  • rosemary (56)
  • taurine (57)
  • vinpocetine (58)
  • vitamin C (59)
  • vitamin K (60)
Read more —
To learn more about these supplements, search our site for comprehensive articles on many of these supplements or click on the numbered citation link in parentheses.

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.

It is also found in berries, grapes, peanuts, and chocolate. (6566)

Beets are an excellent source of nitrate, a potent blood flow regulator. (67)

Chocolate has been shown to increase cerebral blood flow with the effects lasting for several hours after ingestion. (68, 69)

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.

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