The brain is our most precious organ
Without its full function, we humans simply exist, unable to relate to the world around us. The ten billion nerve cells of your brain process such uncountable amounts of information each second, they make our most advanced computers look like children’s toys. Your brain controls everything, from the merest wiggle of toes to the moment-to-moment balancing of hundreds of hormones to the microscopically regulated metabolism of all the thirty trillion cells that enable you to think, feel, and behave as a human being. When even a few thousand brain cells get damaged or die, your whole body suffers.
However, the brain (central nervous system) and our nerves (peripheral nervous system) is not out of the reach of oxidative stress. This common enemy has been strongly implicated in a variety of diseases that wreak devastating damage on the brain and nerves, known as neurodegenerative diseases. Some of these include Alzheimer’s dementia, Parkinson’s disease, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), multiple sclerosis, and Huntington’s chorea. There are several reasons why the brain and the nerves are especially vulnerable to oxidative stress:
* Relative to its size, the brain experiences an increased rate of oxidative activity, which creates a significant number of free radicals.
* The normal activity, which various chemicals create to establish nerve conduction is a major producer of free radicals.
* The brain and nerve tissue contain relatively low levels of antioxidants.
* Millions of nonreplicable cells make up the central nervous system. This means that once they are damaged, they are most likely dysfunctional for life.
* The brain and nervous system are easily disrupted. a small amount of damage in a critical area can cause severe problems.
The brain is the most important organ of our body. Our thoughts, emotions, and our ability to reason and communicate with the outside world are all in danger if something damages our brains. How can we best defend this most precious asset?
Aging of the brain
What causes Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer; is Oxidative stress which is the leading cause of the aging process. Nowhere is evidence stronger for this concept than when it comes to the actual aging of the brain. Several scientific studies have shown oxidative damage to the mitochondria (the furnace of the cell) and the DNA of the brain cell. This can lead to the malfunction and even death of these very sensitive brain cells.
Brain cells cannot regenerate themselves
So, as we lose more and more brain cells throughout our lifetime due to this oxidative damage, the brain simply does not function as well as it did when we were younger. In medical terms, this led to what is called loss of cognition. In lay terms, this is a decrease in our ability to think or reason. Therefore, oxidative damage to our sensitive brain cells is the greatest enemy to the functioning of our brain.
Aging of the brain is essentially the first stage of degeneration of these very important cells in our body. Just as we don’t contract other degenerative diseases out of the blue, people don’t wake up one day and have Alzheimer’s dementia or Parkinson’s disease. These diseases represent the final stages of oxidative damage to the brain. They are part of a progression that begins with the aging of the brain. When eventually enough brain cells are damaged, a disease manifests.
When a patient is first diagnosed as having Parkinson’s disease, more than 80% of the brain cells in a particular part of the brain, called the “substantial nigra”, have already been destroyed. The same is true for someone who develops Alzheimer’s dementia. These neurodegenerative diseases have been developing for over ten to twenty years.
Can Parkinson’s lead to dementia or Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s dementia affects more than 2.2 million Americans and is the major cause of admission in nursing homes. Alzheimer’s patients not only don’t know what day it is, but they also don’t even recognize their own families. Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s life expectancy can be helped with good nutrition and supplements.
Nothing is more devastating than losing the ability to think. Most folk who become senile, and develop Alzheimer’s, or other irreversible forms of brain degeneration know it is happening. Their anguish is far worse than physical pain. Progressive senility is living death, turning the most brilliant professors, the greatest athletes, and the most gifted artists, into dribbling zombies. The worst of it is, we do most of the damage to ourselves.
Anyone who has had to deal with Alzheimer’s dementia within his family understands just how tragic this is. If you have a loved one who suffers from Alzheimer’s, you appreciate the fact that it’s the quality of life, not the quantity, with which most of us are concerned.
There is now great interest in the therapeutic benefits that Alzheimer’s patients could receive from antioxidants. The New England Journal of Medicine reported a study showing that high doses of vitamin E could significantly decrease the progression of Alzheimer’s dementia. Other clinical trials in which patients with Alzheimer’s dementia used various antioxidants, such as vitamin C, vitamin A, zinc, selenium, and rutin (a bioflavonoid antioxidant) have also been encouraging.
A stooped posture, slow voluntary movement, rigidity, and a “pill-rolling” tremor that causes the hands to move back and forth in a “rolling” action characterize Parkinson’s disease. Public appearances by Muhammad Ali have made us all more aware of the effects of this debilitating disease.
Parkinson’s dementia symptoms have a wide variety of free radicals that are the underlying cause of Parkinson’s. The actual cell death (approximately 78%) in the area of the brain called the substantia nigra (SN) leads to decreased production of dopamine, a substance that allows the brain to function normally.
Studies indicate that patients with early Parkinson’s disease who received high doses of vitamin C and vitamin E were able to slow down the progression of their disease. They avoided taking any medication for their disease for approximately two years longer than the control group. Glutathione and N-acetyl-L-cysteine (both antioxidants) were also effective in protecting the nerves in the substantia nigra (SN) from further damage by oxidative stress.
The Blood Brain Barrier
The brain needs a barrier that separates it from the blood to permit complex nerve signaling. The blood-brain barrier is a thick lining of epithelial cells that are present in the small arteries that course through the brain. This lining is designed with very tight junctions, which makes the crossover of nutrients into the brain cells particularly difficult.
Important nutrients needed by the brain have specialized transporting proteins available that allow them to cross this barrier. At the same time, toxic substances, infectious organisms, and most other nutrients have difficulty passing through this barrier. This keeps the brain isolated with only the most essential nutrients to be able to enter. Our brain has significant protection from the dangers of the outside world.
What has gone wrong in the case of aging of the brain and neurological disease? The neurology department of the Rabin Medical Center in Tel Aviv concluded that as a result of today’s environment, the brain is exposed to a significantly increased amount of toxins, such as heavy metals, and thus oxidative stress. The antioxidant defense system is no longer completely effective in protecting this vital organ.
They believe that additional antioxidants, which particularly need to be taken in as supplements, have the reduction potential or even prevent damage from increased oxidative stress. They stress, however, that the antioxidants must be able to readily cross the blood-brain barrier.
The Right Antioxidants for the Brain
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant that is very important in the protection of brain and peripheral nerve cells. It has some difficulty crossing the blood-brain barrier and needs therefore to be supplied in high doses. This vitamin is important to protect the brain cells but probably not the best one for this purpose.
Vitamin C can concentrate on the tissue and fluid around the brain and nerves. It can pass through the blood-brain barrier, and in fact, vitamin C levels are 10 times higher in this tissue than in the plasma. When you realize that vitamin C is not only a great antioxidant but also can regenerate vitamin E and glutathione, it becomes a very important nutrient in protecting brain and nerve cells.
A study showed that vitamin C and vitamin E given as supplements to normal patients over the age of sixty-five decreased their risk of developing Alzheimer’s dementia.
Glutathione is the most important antioxidant within the brain and nerve cells. But this nutrient is difficult to absorb from oral supplements, and its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier is not yet clear. The best strategy at this time is to supplement the nutrients the body needs to make its glutathione (N-acetyl-L-cysteine, niacin, selenium, and vitamin B2). You also need to have those antioxidant nutrients available that regenerate glutathione, so it can be used again and again (vitamin C, alpha-lipoic acid, and QoQ10).
The medical community is recognizing alpha-lipoic acid more and more as an important antioxidant. It is both fat- and water-soluble and it has also the ability to cross over the blood-brain barrier. It can regenerate vitamins C & E, intracellular glutathione, and CoQ10.
Another important property of this antioxidant is that it can attach itself to toxic metals in the brain and help eliminate them from our bodies. Heavy metals, such as mercury, aluminum, cadmium, and lead have been implicated in increasing the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases. These metals tend to deposit themselves in brain tissue because of the high amount of fat concentrated in that part of the body.
These metals can cause an increased amount of oxidative stress and are extremely difficult to remove from the central nervous system once they are there. Antioxidants that not only are potent but can help remove these toxic heavy metals will become more and more important in the prevention and treatment of these diseases.
Coenzyme Q10 is a very potent antioxidant as well as one of the most important nutrients for the production of energy within the cell. Clinical studies have shown that oxidative damage in the mitochondria (this is where CoQ10 works) is an important aspect in the development of neurodegenerative diseases.
As we age, the level of CoQ10 in our brains and nerve cells decreases significantly. CoQ10 may be a missing link in the prevention of diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. However, more study in this subject is necessary. How well QoQ10 passes through the blood-brain barrier is not yet been fully evaluated.
Extract Studies show that grape-seed extract crosses the blood-brain barrier quite easily. It is an exceptionally potent antioxidant, and the mere fact that high concentrations can be obtained in the fluid and cells of the brain and nerve tissue makes it an ideal antioxidant for the brain.
Serotonin and memory Professors Eric Kandel and James Schwartz at the Center of Neurobiology at Columbia University have shown that memory storage can be increased by putting additional serotonin into the neuron. In humans also, we know that periods of additional serotonin release improve memory storage.
Acetylcholine and memory as memory decline with age so do acetylcholine. This biochemical deficit is especially evident in the post-Morton brains of people who had suffered the severe memory problems of premature senility or Alzheimer’s disease.
Studies using drugs to block acetylcholine synthesis in the brain, provide further strong evidence that optimum acetylcholine levels are crucial to good memory.
The big discovery about the brain is that much of the damage to brain cells occurs by oxidation. In addition to the antioxidants, we have discussed previously, research shows that the amino acid acetyl-l-carnitine maintains brain function partly by antioxidant action.
More than 65 controlled studies show that this remarkable nutrient has profound effects in addition to antioxidant action. It improves memory, prevents brain cell loss, boosts intelligence, and restores acetylcholine metabolism. It is used in millions of doses of 1000 – 2000 mg per day throughout Europe, for the treatment of Alzheimer’s, depression, and memory loss in the aged, and the improvement of cognition in normal folk.
Protecting our most precious asset Everyone desires to maintain and protect the ability to reason and think. Losing this ability is probably the number-one fear of most people. As we age, we all have this concern at one time or another.
The principle of optimizing our natural antioxidant defense system is paramount when it comes to protecting the cells in our brain against our common enemy; oxidative stress. Remember, we must focus on prevention and protection because once a brain cell is destroyed, it is not readily replaced.
The two main concepts to keep in mind are first, we must use a cocktail of antioxidants that will work in synergy while readily crossing the blood-brain barrier. Secondly, we must avoid any excessive exposure to heavy metals and other toxins in our environment. Balance is the key, and we must work on decreasing our toxic exposures as well as building up our body’s natural defenses.
It is quite obvious that the proper function of our brain and our nerves are an essential aspect of our health, and we now realize that the main enemy of this central part of our body is oxidative stress. It is paramount that we protect these sensitive cells from being damaged in the first place.
Supplementing our diet with potent antioxidants and MCT Oil that readily cross over the blood-brain barrier can effectively protect us against these horrible diseases.