The 13 emissary veins that literally drain your brain through your skull are much overlooked by Western medicine and well-understood by Ayurveda. In most people, there are 13 holes in the skull that veins pass through—and the clinical significance of this is astounding.
First, these veins are bi-directional (4), which means that can either take waste out of the brain back into vascular circulation, or they can potentially transport nutrients or dangerous toxins and infections from outside of the skull into the brain. (3)
These emissary veins help drain the sagittal and transverse sinuses of toxic waste, old cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) and venous blood. (3) The recently discovered glymphatics that drain three pounds of toxins out of the brain each year were found primarily as lymphatic vessels that follow cranial nerves along the sagittal and transverse sinuses. (5,6) These veins continue through tiny skull foramen (holes) to the outside of the skull as emissary veins.
While not confirmed as yet, the emissary veins may also be a pathway for glymphatic vessels that help drain dirty CSF from the brain and its ventricles. The science shows that these emissary veins and the glymphatics both drain into the vascular system in the neck at critical junctures of the jugular veins. (4,5)
Head Massaging Matters
One study found that gentle massaging of the scalp produced abundant drops of blood on the inner surface of the bone each time the scalp was massaged—an indication that cutaneous blood can flow inward through the bone or through the emissary veins. (1) This suggests that massaging the scalp can, in fact, elicit dramatic changes in the blood flow inside the cranium.
Ayurveda has numerous therapies geared to increase the circulation of the vasculature of the scalp, the emissary veins and the inner, cranial circulation. A deep and even vigorous massage of the head called shiro (head) abhyanga (massage) is commonly a part of a traditional Ayurvedic daily routine. With this new science, we have a deeper understanding of the value of a traditional head massage and the ancient technique called marma therapy.
Hair Products Matter
In another study, researchers combined the drug methadone with an Ayurvedic massage oil (sesame oil) and massaged that into the scalp in an attempt to determine if any of the methadone would penetrate the skull and enter the brain chemistry. As a control, they measured the amount of methadone that entered the brain through an oral dose as well. (2)
The results were amazing! They found that there were almost the exact same levels of methadone in the brain from the head massage with sesame-methadone oil as the oral dose of methadone. Methadone is typically given orally as a drug to wean addicts off of heroin.
One of the hallmarks of Ayurveda are the specific types of oils that are used. These oils traditionally combine sesame oil with herbs cooked into the oils. The oils act as carriers for the herbs, in the same way the sesame oil carried the methadone into the brain.
While this research indicates a daily Ayurvedic oil massage may help increase CSF flow and brain lymphatic drainage by stimulating these marma points and boosting the flow of the emissary veins, use of chemical-laden shampoos and conditioners may also be using these emissary veins to deliver dangerous toxins into the brain.
Try to source the purest products for your hair, because what you put on your head may, in short order (two hours to be exact), be in your brain. (2)
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- Indian J Pharm Sci. 2009 May-Jun; 71(3): 264–269. doi: 10.4103/0250-474X.56024
- Neurol Res Int. 2015; 2015: 794829. Published online 2015 Nov 30. doi: 10.1155/2015/794829
- Neurosurgery. 2012 May;70(5):1312-8; discussion 1318-9. doi: 10.1227/NEU.0b013e31824388f8.
- Journal of Experimental Medicine.
- Neurochem Res. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2016 Dec 1. Published in final edited form as: Neurochem Res. 2015 Dec; 40(12): 2583–2599. Published online 2015 May 7. doi: 10.1007/s11064-015-1581-6. PMCID: PMC4636982. NIHMSID: NIHMS683594
Author: Dr. John Douillard
Image: Flickr/Tambako the Jaguar
Editor: Travis May