Protecting brain health is imperative for meaningful and healthy aging.
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 is 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 That Lead to Mental Decline
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 and can lead to a 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 a great place to start. 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.
Supplements that Support Brain Health
A number of well-known dietary supplement ingredients support brain health. Nerve cells (neurons) have a high-energy demand, and hence 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 solubility characteristics that allow 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 neuroprotective 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.
Phosphatidylserine (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. We have known for years that declining levels 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 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. Huperzine A is a naturally occurring cholinesterase inhibitor sold as a nutritional supplement. 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 acetylcholin(2).
I have always thought of progesterone as having an important role in female health. It has been known for quite some time that progesterone is also produced by males but at much lower levels. Recently, it was discovered that progesterone is synthesized in the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves from the precursor molecule pregnenolone (3).
I was surprised to learn that within the brain and the nervous system in general, progesterone offers neuroprotection and is intimately involved with the formation of myelin sheaths. These findings suggest that progesterone, now referred to as a neurosteroid, has the potential to preserve cognitive functions because of these neuroprotective and promyelinating effects. Very recently, animal studies revealed that progesterone inhibited the inflammatory response and enhanced the recovery from traumatic brain injury and stroke (4).
At this point, the conclusion is that progesterone supports brain health and combats neurodegeneration that may occur during the aging process. The brain, like any other organ or system 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. Natural supplements provide a smart option for maintaining optimal brain health throughout life.
By Dr. William J. Keller
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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. Abstract available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7046051
2. Jellin, JD. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. 2010. pp. 926-929.
3. Schumacher M, et al. Local synthesis and dual actions of progesterone in the nervous system: neuroprotection and myelination. Growth Hormone IGF Research. 2004 Jun;14 SupplA:S18-33. Abstract available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15135772
4. Wang J, et al. The protective mechanism of progesterone on bloodbrain barrier in cerebral ischemia in rats. Brain Research Bulletin. 2009 Aug 14;79(6):426-30. Abstract available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19477244.