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
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
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