Monday, May 5, 2014

Maximize Your Brain Health

Protecting brain health

Protecting brain health is imperative at any age, but this concept is particularly meaningful after 50. Scientific and medical wisdom suggest that some degree of cognitive decline is part of the aging process. The possibility of living longer and healthier lives are within reach, but brain health must be preserved while achieving this goal.

For this reason, it’s quite encouraging to learn that scientists have discovered that neurological structure and function can be preserved and even restored. We can now offer scientifically substantiated approaches to enhancing our cognitive health.

Factors contributing to the gradual decline of mental acuity

Various factors contribute to the gradual decline of mental acuity as we age. Recent studies suggest that inflammation, high blood pressure, elevated insulin levels, obesity, arterial inelasticity, and a condition known as metabolic syndrome are all risk factors that can lead to an accelerated decline in brain health.

Anxiety and depression can also predispose an individual to a deterioration of brain health. A good strategy for preserving brain function starts with preventing illnesses that are known to contribute to cognitive decline. The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” definitely applies here. Good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle are obviously beneficial to brain health and should be addressed daily.

A healthy neurological system is also dependent on keeping blood pressure and body weight in check, avoiding diabetes and its precursor metabolic syndrome, as well as treating depression and anxiety disorders.

Well-known dietary supplement ingredients support brain health

A number of well-known dietary supplement ingredients support brain health. Nerve cells (neurons) have a high energy demand, and for this reason, free radicals are abundant due to a high level of oxidative metabolism within neurons. Antioxidants scavenge these free radicals and thus minimize neuronal damage.

Alpha-lipoic acid is quite valuable for neuronal protection because of its solubility characteristics that allows considerable free radical neutralizing activity within nerve cell mitochondria. Inflammation is implicated in a wide variety of neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Ginkgo biloba leaf extract (GBE) is well-known for its neur-protective effects mediated through anti-inflammatory and antioxidant action. GBE has been used extensively for memory enhancement as well as in a wide variety of dementias.

Omega-3 fatty acids in particular docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), have been used quite frequently to combat neurological damage and inflammation.

Phosphatidyl-serine (PS) and related phospholipids are integral components of every cell membrane and are particularly abundant in brain neuronal membranes. In Europe and Japan, PS is sold as a prescription drug to remedy memory loss and learning deficits.

Acetylcholine is responsible for a wide range of cognitive deficits

It’s been known that a declining level of the essential neurotransmitter acetylcholine is responsible for a wide range of cognitive deficits (1). By boosting acetylcholine levels in the brain, cognitive deficits are usually reversed. One approach to increasing brain acetylcholine levels involves inhibiting acetylcholine esterase, the enzyme responsible for acetylcholine metabolism or breakdown.

Many of the prescription drugs used to treat Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias act as cholinesterase inhibitors. A naturally occurring cholinesterase inhibitor sold as a nutritional supplement is called huperzine A. This alkaloid is isolated and purified from extracts of the Chinese club moss, Huperzia serrata. Huperzine A has been found to be both potent and effective in elevating brain levels of acetylcholine (2).

Synapses--connections between brain cells

Recent research has demonstrated that cognitive impairment is most closely associated with a functional decline of the connections between brain cells called synapses. It appears that higher concentrations of healthy, highly functional synapses are directly correlated with improved memory and cognition.

Therefore, if brain cell synapses can be protected and preserved, then cognitive health can be maintained and perhaps even enhanced. It has been shown that magnesium is important to the propagation of nerve impulses that occur between cells. In fact, several neurological disorders, such as depression, have been shown to be related to low levels of magnesium in the brain (3).

These and other observations have led to efforts to increase levels of magnesium in the brain. Initial efforts proved to be futile because it was found that magnesium does not efficiently cross the blood–brain barrier.

Recently, it was reported that magnesium threonate facilitates the transport of magnesium across the blood–brain barrier, resulting in significant increases in brain magnesium levels, which in turn resulted in improved cognitive performance (4).

In this study, both young and old participants expressed an increase in cognitive function while taking magnesium threonate. Herbs that may act in concert with magnesium threonate in support of cognitive skills include gotu kola herb, Centella asiatica (5) and bacopa leaf, Bacopa monniera (6).

The brain, like any other organ in the body, is subject to the aging process. During this process, physical and biochemical changes in brain cells can lead to various degrees of cognitive impairment. This loss of brain function as we age is not inevitable. Scientific research has demonstrated mechanisms that explain cognitive decline as well as nutrients/supplement ingredients that can slow and even reverse the progression of age-related brain degeneration. Supplements provide a smart option for maintaining brain health throughout life.

Created by Dr. William J. Keller and Tad Turgeon

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  1. Bartus RT, Dean RL, Beer B, Lippa AS. The cholinergic hypothesis of geriatric memory dysfunction. Science. 1982 Jul 30;217(4558):408-14.
  2. Jellin, JD. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. 2010. pp. 926-929.
  3. Rasmussen HH, Mortensen PB, Jensen IW. Depression and magnesium deficiency. Int J Psychiatry Med. 1989;19(1):57-63.
  4. Slutsky I, Abumaria N, Wu LJ, Huang C, Zhang L, Li B, Zhao X, Govindarajan A, Zhao MG, Zhuo M, Tonegawa S, Liu G. Enhancement of learning and memory by elevating brain magnesium. Neuron. 2010 Jan 28;65(2):165-77.
  5. Brinkhaus B, Lindner M, Schuppan D, Hahn EG. Chemical, pharmacological and clinical profile of the east Asian medical plant Centella asiatica. Phytomedicine. 2000;7:427-48.
  6. Stough C, Lloyd J, Clarke J, et al. The chronic effects of an extract of Bacopa monniera (Brahmi) on cognitive function in healthy human subjects. Psychopharmacology. 2001;156:481-4.

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