Pulse of Oriental Medicine: Alternative Medicine That Works for Regular Folks
Alternative Medicine That Works for Regular Folks

Updated October 2, 2003




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Memory and Concentration Herbs (and Why Gingko Doesn't Always Work)
By Brian Benjamin Carter, MSci, LAc

Brian is an author of international renown and public speaker. He is currently writing his book Chinese Medicine: A Practical Guide to Optimal Healing. Brian practices acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine in sunny San Diego, California.

When reading, I can't seem to focus or retain information as I once did. I was wondering if you had any suggestions, herbal remedies, or insight to offer. I appreciate your assistance.

Memory function is a complex issue that an overly simplistic herbal approach cannot solve.

Why Gingko Doesn’t Always Work For Memory

Popular magazines said that gingko was the herbal memory cure, but people's experience and science have not borne this out. I'm not surprised. In Chinese medicine, we recognize that one symptom can be have multiple causes. We have to look for the root, and look at the surrounding symptoms and signs to find the appropriate cure.

Your memory loss/concentration could be due to something that gingko can address, or to something else. If you give it to a bunch of people without first differentiating the cause of their problem, you won't know who will get better and who won't. Although gingko is a Chinese herb, we generally don't use it for memory or concentration problems. It does "move the blood," though, so problems due to "blood stagnation" might improve with it.

The Root Causes of Memory and Concentration

So what are the causes of memory loss and concentration problems? The disease of Impaired Memory (Jian Wang) is subdivided into:*

  1. Heart/Spleen vacuity: Caused by overthinking, overwork, insufficient nutrition. Symptoms of palpitations, insomnia, fatigue, poor appetite, loose stool.
  2. Kidney jing vacuity: Caused by overwork, disease, ageing, too much sex. Symptoms of loose teeth, loss of or early greying of hair, low back and knee weakness and soreness, weak bones.
  3. Non-interaction of Heart and Kidneys: Caused by constitutional (genetic) weakness, disease, too much sex, or extreme emotional disturbances. Symptoms of dizziness, ear tinging, palpitations, low back and knee soreness and weakness, feel hot in afternoon and evening, sweat while sleeping, insomnia.
  4. Phlegm: Caused by excess emotions, anger, frustration, digestive deficiency. Symptoms of sleepiness, dizziness, nausea, reduced appetite, phlegm in throat.
  5. Blood stasis: Caused by stagnation, stress, emotions, trauma. (This is the most likely of the five that might respond to gingko) Symptoms of sudden and enduring impaired memory, abdominal fullness and pain, easy defecation of dark stool.

Concentration is very similar, and the above patterns more or less fit. For more information along the lines of attention deficit disorder, see this vast bunch of info.

For herbal remedies, see an acupuncturist/herbalist. They can make sure which type you have, and help you get better.

Chinese herbal remedies are personalized, synergistic, balanced... the best way to go in my opinion - much better than a number of single herbs from the health food store.

Difficulty Reading

Although not as likely in your case, since you used to do better with reading, many people learned to read wrong. They learned to visualize the entire word as a picture (using the wrong part of the brain), instead of sounding it out (phonics - using the correct part of the brain). If you use the visual part, it takes more mental effort, and makes you sleepy. So it is possible that as you age, or if you get worn out, using the visual part of the brain for reading would be more and more impossible.

If this is your problem, you may want to see a specialist, or look into various phonics products - they say you can re-learn reading even as an adult. But this isn't my area of expertise. It's just a supplemental idea for you to think about, and pursue with others.

*Source of the Pattern Differentiation: The Treatment of Disease in Chinese Medicine, Vol 1 by Philippe Sionneau and Lu Gang.

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All information herein provided is for educational use only and not meant to substitute for the advice of appropriate local experts and authorities.

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