Are you surprised when they meet someone in their 70s, 80s, or beyond, who is sharp as a tack?
While the brain is especially susceptible to the damaging effects of free-radical stress, it is also one of the body’s most plastic structures—that is, it is always responsive to targeted nutritional support and mental stimulation. When it comes to your brain, it’s a clear case of use it or lose it. In this section, we’ll briefly touch upon the most important nutraceuticals for optimum brain health.
Memory loss ranks right up there with heart disease is one of the biggest concerns of our aging population. The wisdom and experience that comes with age is a plus, yet there is often a trade off of loss of mental acuity, brain processing and short-term recall of faces, information, names, numbers and words. We might joke about having “senior moments” at any age, but when they are your life, it’s no laughing matter. Age-related memory and cognitive decline are not necessarily inevitable and natural, nor are they automatically symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
The first thing to do, even if you have not noticed any symptoms of brain drain, is to check your brain-processing functions to determine your current level of brain capacity. You can do this online with an easy, simple brain test called BrainCHECK (www.brain.com).
Even the most sophisticated super computer is no match for the human brain, which is unlike any of our other organs. While pretty much everything else in out bodies has one job to do, the brain is filled with regions that each has a very specialized function, that is not duplicated anywhere else. That means, if we sustain an injury to even a very small area of our brain, we can end up with damage that can severely compromise our ability to function.
In order to protect our brains, we must first have a basic understanding of how the brain and nerve cells function. An individual brain cell, or nerve cell, is called a neuron. It has a body in it that receives information from other neurons and, in turn, produces a response that is sent out to other nerve cells or muscles to trigger a body function, such as a thought, movement, vision, smell, taste, tears and perspiration. Neurons receive information through thousands of little biochemical processes, with the roots (dendrites) attached to the cell body. Information is sent out from the neurons by a long extension of each cell called the axon (only one axon to a neuron), and it is best visualized as a copper wire with insulation, called myelin, wrapped around it. Myelin is essential for most nerve cells to conduct electricity normally. The axon makes contact with another cell through a junction box called a synapse. It communicates with the next cell down the line by releasing a chemical messenger into the synapse that, in turn, activates that cell. These chemical messengers are called neurotransmitters. One nerve cell can be connected to thousands of other nerve cells through the dendrites.
The brain is essentially energy, and has certain basic needs in order to function.
It needs fuel and that is glucose. The brain cannot survive long without glucose, and deprivation caused by conditions such as hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) can cause significant brain damage in a short period of time.
Second, it needs oxygen to burn the glucose fuel, which is carried to it through the cerebral blood vessels—the carotid and vertebral arteries. The heart must pump the blood, and to do that, our arteries must be open. If either of these systems – blood and oxygen – malfunctions, the brain can be permanently damaged in as little as five minutes.
Third, it needs amino acids, electrolytes, fatty acids, hormones, minerals and vitamins in order to manufacture neurotransmitters, stabilize electrical connections, maintain metabolic functions and myelin, and strengthen cell walls. Since many of these brain nutrients decline as we age, we need dietary support to replace them. On this subject, the co-authors of The Better Brain Book, neurologists David Perlmutter and Carol Colman, discuss the inflammatory and toxic environment of the aging brain.
In order to prevent memory and cognitive loss, it would help to first know what causes it. There are many theories, the most popular of which has to do with oxidative free-radical damage to cells and cell membranes. Oxidation of fatty acids in the walls of nerve cells and damage to the mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell) tend to cause an accumulation of damaged materials, a loss of dendrites, sick and dying cells and, ultimately, cell death. Depending on which regions are damaged, this could manifest as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. Other theories involve programmed cell death, or the formation of neurotoxins from ingested materials in food, water and the atmosphere. If not recognized, deficiencies of one or more brain nutrients can also result in memory loss and eventual cell death, along with an potential for an accumulation of small strokes that will eventually result in decreased memory and ability to think clearly.
Still another school of thought is that memory loss and Alzheimer’s are due to lifestyle. In his book Brain Longevity, Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D., says that chronic stress causes continued excessive concentrations of cortisol in the body, and this is toxic to brain cells. Reducing stress and maintaining a balanced and happy spirit are critical to preserving a well-functioning mind. It follows that lowering stress-induced cortisol levels can help slow down brain aging.
Alzheimer’s has been estimated to affect about half of individuals 85 years or older. As the average lifespan increases, this age group is a rapidly growing segment of the population, making this a health crisis. Whatever the ultimate causes of Alzheimer’s disease may be, symptoms of the disease arise when neurons that are damaged or destroyed by inflammation generated free radicals.
The Importance of Enhancing Brain Function as We Age
When you should start taking compounds to help preserve and heighten cognitive skills? The answer is; the earlier the better. Prevention is key here. Once you have been diagnosed with dementia, there is very little, if anything, you can do to effectively slow or reverse the process. So do whatever you can, as early as possible, to enhance, maintain, and retain your brain’s vital energy. Without cognitive function, quality of life suffers greatly.
We know there is no fountain of youth, but there are new and emerging compounds that may possibly slow, or even reverse, the memory impairment that can eventually progress to Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.Ther first priority is to preserve and maintain self-image and quality of life for as long as possible. Effective Alzheimer’s therapy needs to:
- Reduce inflammation.
- Limit the damage of free radicals.
- Enhance neural function.
Manipulation of dietary fat is a proven method of reducing inflammation. Dietary changes designed to decrease arachidonic acid, by eating less meat and eggs, and increase omega-3 levels have been effective strategies for curtailing inflammatory conditions, including arthritis, multiple sclerosis and psoriasis. The best source of omega-3s is pharmaceutical grade (purified of toxins) fish oil, the potency of which is determined by its DHA content. Borage seed oil and black currant oil are other sources of activated omega-6 fatty acids. Their potency is determined by the GLA content. Magnesium, vitamin B3, vitamin B and zinc intensify the anti-inflammatory effects of both essential fatty acids.
Recommended dose: 4 capsules OmegaRx daily
1,600 milligrams EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)
800 milligrams DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)
For more information about fish oil supplements, visit www.zonecafe.com.
These are potent free-radical fighters that can help prevent inflammation. They are present in small amounts in most fruits and vegetables, and are abundant in grape seeds and pine bark (Pycnogenol). Polyphenols are excellent for the health of the brain as they can readily cross the blood-brain barrier to nurture brain tissues and diminish inflammation.
Excellent dietary sources include berries, dark vegetables, green tea, red wine, soybeans, and herbs such as bilberry, ginkgo biloba, and milk thistle.
Recommended dose: 120 milligrams Pycnogenol
120 milligrams grapeseed extract
Limiting Free-Radical Activity
Lipoic acid is an extremely powerful antioxidant as it is both fat and water soluble, and may therefore freely enter all parts of the cells. It is rapidly absorbed and readily enters the brain to protect neurons from free-radical damage. Further antioxidant protection is derived from its ability to recycle vitamins C and E and regenerate glutathione, one of the brain’s most important anti oxidants. Lipoic acid also acts as a potent metal chelator and decreases inflammation in the brain.
Recommended dose: 50–100 milligrams a day
This ancient herb can increase blood flow, decrease clumping of blood, decrease free radicals, and increase glucose to reduce bouts of dizziness, depression and memory loss. In a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Asociation, the authors concluded that ginkgo biloba was safe and appeared to be capable of stabilizing and improving the cognitive performance and social functioning of people with dementia.
Recommended dose: 60 milligrams two to four times a day
Note: Do not use aspirin with ginkgo biloba.
Glutathione production may be complemented with the oral administration of NAC. This precursor of glutathione has the unique ability to reduce nitric oxide and, in turn, lower free-radical activity, thereby creating a less-hostile environment for delicate brain tissue.
Recommended dose: 1,000 milligrams a day
This vitamin has strong antioxidant capabilities and is highly fat soluble making it an ideal candidate to act as a bodyguard for the brain. In fact, vitamin D has been shown to be more potent against free radicals than fat-soluble vitamin E. In a Japanese study, 80 percent of the test subjects with Alzheimer’s disease were deficient in vitamin D.
Recommended dose: 800 IU a day
This fat-soluble vitamin is important for balancing free radicals. Because the brain is more than 60 percent fat, which makes it highly susceptible to free-radical assault, fat solubility is a critical antioxidant feature for preserving brain integrity. In a landmark study in the New England Journal of Medicine, one test group was given vitamin E, while another was prescribed the drug selegiline. Those supplemented with vitamin E excelled in all areas measured, including longevity and cognitive function.
Recommended dose: 400–800 IU a day
Enhancing Neural Function
Although a deficiency of coenzyme Q10 is usually associated with heart disease, there is growing evidence of the adverse effects that an insufficient supply of coenzyme Q10 can have on the brain. Since most of our cellular energy is derived from the mitochondria, the structures in the cells that manufacture and drive this energy are essential for normal brain function. When this energy powerhouse is malfunctioning, it can result in many of the diseases of aging, including diseases of the brain, and this is where coenzyme Q10 comes in. It will help to restore the fuel that allows brain mitochondria to function normally.
Recommended dose: In a recent study of patients with Parkinson’s disease, 1,200 milligrams of coenzyme Q10, given daily, significantly improved the quality of life. For healthy people, 30–100 milligrams are recommended.
Products such as barley, oat grass, and wheat powders are high in chlorophyll.
Recommended dose: Wheat grass juice or barley grass juice once or twice a day. The juice bar at your local whole-foods market is a great place to start.