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Brain function

Key Nutrients Help Maintain Brain Function throughout Lifetime

Friday, February 13, 2009 by: Barbara L. Minton
Tags: brain function, health news, Natural News

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(NewsTarget) If you want to stay mentally sharp all your life, new research shows the time to intervene is now. Alzheimer's disease and dementia have complex causes that involve nutritional neglect as well as genetic risk factors and predisposition. Genetic risk factors for cognitive decline may remain dormant and never get switched on unless deficiencies in key nutrients are present. This suggests that nutritional status throughout the lifetime determines cognitive outcome. This is very good news because it means that people willing to make good nutrition a priority may not need to experience cognitive decline and the diseases that go with it.

Study spotlights key nutrients needed to prevent brain damage and improve performance

The importance of early nutritional intervention and prevention of deficits in critical brain nutrients was the finding of researchers at the Center for Cellular Neurobiology and Neurodegenerative Research at the University of Massachusetts. Their study, reported in the January edition of Nutrition Research, hypothesized that a combination of nutritional additives may be able to provide neuro-protection.

They used alpha-lipoic acid, acetyl L-carnitine, glycophosphocholine, DHA, and phosphatidylserine to reduce reactive oxygen species in normal mice by 57%, and prevent the increase in reactive oxygen species normally observed in mice eating a vitamin-free, iron-enriched, oxidative-challenged diet. They demonstrated that supplementing with these nutrients prevented the marked cognitive decline otherwise observed in normal mice maintained on this challenging diet.

The results of this study spotlight what a difference eating a healthy diet and supplementing can make. They also vividly portray the destructive force of a diet lacking in nutrients.

Short-term memory is improved by a supplement regimen

In another study done at the University of Toronto, researchers demonstrated that old dogs can be taught new tricks. Their purpose was to examine whether commercially available dietary supplements thought to be protective of neural tissue could improve cognitive function in aged beagles. The supplements they studied were phosphatidylserine, Ginko biloba, vitamin E and pyridoxine (a B6 vitamin). As reported in the April, 2008 Canadian Veterinary Journal, baseline data was obtained for nine beagles that were then grouped in a crossover design. One group received the supplements and the other group served as a control, with these conditions reversed for the second phase of the study.

The researchers discovered that performance accuracy on neuropsychological tests of short-term, visual-spatial memory was significantly improved in the supplemented dogs compared with control dogs, and the effect was long lasting. The fact that both groups of dogs could be powered up with the supplements helps make these results particularly conclusive.

These super nutrients for the brain are easily obtainable

Many relatively young and healthy people have digestive systems that work well and are populated by lots of friendly bacteria. These people usually have no problem assimilating an abundance of nutrients from diets consisting of whole foods. But as the bloom of youth is left behind, it becomes more difficult to assure optimal nutrition through food alone.

Production of pancreatic enzymes slows as people age, leaving a lower level of enzymes available to help break down foods for digestion. Intestinal bacteria can be compromised by use of antibiotics, pesticides in food, chlorine in drinking water, and general environmental pollution. A lowered intestinal population means less digestion and assimilation of food. Stress is another factor influencing how well a person is able to digest and assimilate food.

The health of a person's digestive system along with his age is a determinant of how well even the best of food is digested. It is also a criterion for deciding whether to depend completely on the diet for good nutrition or to make the decision to use supplements. Taking supplements of these nutrients will allow assurance that a quantified amount is consumed. Supplements of these nutrients are readily available, but in come cases can be costly. Whether the decision is to obtain nutrients exclusively from diet or to use supplements, it is important to understand what these nutrients do and from what foods they can be obtained.

Phosphatidylserine leads the pack of compounds beneficial to the brain

Used in both studies because of its known effects on the brain, phosphatidylserine (PS) is a member of a class of chemical compounds known as phospholipids. It is present in the inner leaflet of every cell in the body, but the largest amounts are found in brain cells, where it is responsible for keeping cell membranes fluid, flexible, and ready to process essential nutrients. PS has been implicated in a myriad of membrane-related functions.

As a cofactor for a variety of enzymes, PS is thought to be important in cell excitability and communication. It has been shown to regulate a variety of neuroendocrine responses that include the release of acetylcholine, dopamine and noradrenaline. PS has been demonstrated to influence tissue responses to inflammation, and has the potential to act as an effective antioxidant, especially in response to iron-mediated oxidation.

Signs of reduced PS levels can appear as early as the mid 30s. When PS levels begin to decrease, so do the abilities to learn, remember, and stay mentally alert. Depression may also develop as a result of PS insufficiency. Eating foods rich in PS or taking it in supplemental form may raise the levels in the brain and prevent or even reverse age-related declines in brain function. Numerous double-blind studies have suggested that PS can be used as an effective treatment for Alzheimer's disease and dementia

Parris Kidd, Ph.D., the authority on PS who has written several definitive books about the compound, recommends intake of 300 mg of PS a day. The best dietary source for PS is fatty fish such as mackerel. A quarter pound serving of mackerel will provide about 450 mg of PS. Organ meats are another source, and fermented soybeans contain PS. It is also found in small amounts in some leafy greens.

Alpha-lipoic and acetyl L-carnitine dubbed "fountain of youth" for the brain

A combination of alpha-lipoic acid (LA) and acetyl L-carnitine (ALC) made research headlines recently when it was given to old lab rats that then began acting like young lab rats. In the words of the lead researcher, they "got up to do the Macarena". This definitive study underscored the impact of these key nutrients on the brain.

LA and ALC work in the mitochondria of the cells, where energy is generated by burning food in the presence of oxygen. When cells are fully oxygenated they have a higher level of energy. But this firing process subjects the mitochondria to high levels of free radical damage. As people age, their mitochondria become so damaged by free radicals that they lose their ability to function efficiently, and the result is less energy in the cells of the brain and body resulting in diminished activity. Adding the LA/ALC combo helps prevent oxidative damage and helps restore mitochondrial decay.

Supplementing with LAL/ALC has also been shown to improve spatial and temporal memory by either masking or reversing metabolic problems caused by cellular aging and oxidative stress. Adding AL/ALC as a preventative may increase mitochondrial biogenesis and reduce free radicals, greatly slowing deterioration of the mitochondria.

Dietary sources of LA are spinach, broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, beef, brewer's yeast, and organ meats. Dietary sources of ALC are meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products. Fruits, vegetables and grains contain very little ALC.

The combination of these compounds as a supplement is available in a patented product. Each compound is readily available separately. When combined, LA and ALC work at significantly lower concentrations than they each do individually.

GPC optimizes mental focus, memory and brain repair

Over twenty clinical trials have been performed on glycerophosphocholine (GPC), and its effects on more than four thousand humans have been studied. Results have shown that GPC is a high effective brain nutrient that supports focus, concentration, recall, and cognitive processing. It was found to revitalize declining mental function and promote healthy mood levels, including positive attitude and sociability. GPC has been used to aid recovery of brain function following injury or circulation deprivation.

In two double-blind trials, GPC was found to restore memory and concentration in young people with drug related memory impairment. Older adults showed improved reaction time when taking GPC, indicating their brains were more alert and focused. Brain wave patterns were improved by the addition of GPC.

Clinical trials have shown that GPC helps the brain recover functions lost during aging, and may benefit those with dementia and Alzheimer's. When given 1200 mg of GPC for six months, Alzheimer's patients showed improvement in cognition, behavior and daily living activities.

An authority on GPC as well as PS, Parris Kidd, Ph.D. says "GPC is unquestionably the most important nutrient for anyone who has suffered a stroke or a brain injury." He refers to five published trials in which GPC was successfully used to enhance stroke recovery. GPC was injected intramuscularly daily for a month and then administered orally for the following five months. In the first phase of treatment, neurological function recovered 20-30 percent, and recovery continued during the second phase.

Food sources of GPC are fish, meat, poultry and dairy products. Dr. Kidd's advice for anyone using the supplemental form is to start by taking 300-1200 mg in the morning. After 1-2 days, the dose can be increased if more mental focus or neuronal repair nutritional support is needed. Taking it within 6 hours of bedtime may make it difficult to fall asleep.

DHA makes people say fish is great brain food

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is the building block for the brain and retina of the eye. The brain is 60 percent fat, and DHA is the most abundant fatty acid in the brain, comprising 25 to 35 percent. DHA is essential for supporting a healthy brain and nervous system. It has been associated with memory function, visual acuity, and maintenance of positive mood. It is the only fatty acid associated with reduced risk of age related cognitive decline.

DHA promotes electrical activity at the cellular level. The cells in the brain, retina and other parts of the nervous system have a complex network of connecting arms that transport electrical messages throughout the body. The presence of DHA in nerve cell membranes is critical because this is where messages are transmitted. It is at the membrane that nerve cells perform their unique function of generating electric impulses that are the basis of all communication in the nervous system. When DHA is in short supply, this communication system breaks down or becomes less effective.

DHA is critical for the developing brain, and is found in abundance in breast milk. The young body can synthesize DHA , but as aging beings, this ability declines and DHA must be obtained from food sources or supplements. The richest sources of DHA are fatty fish, red meats, animal organs and high quality eggs. Supplemental DHA can be obtained from fish oil, however cod fish oil is low in DHA.


Parris Kidd, Ph.D., Phosphatidylserine, springboard4health.com.

Lipoic Acid, Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University.

Acetyl L-carnitine, Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University.

Parris Kidd, Ph.D., and Suzanne Copp, M.S., GPC: Optimizing Mental Focus, Memory, and Brain Repair, crayhonreseach.com.

Essential Fatty Acids, Linus Pauling Institute at Orgeon State University.

About the author

Barbara is a school psychologist, a published author in the area of personal finance, a breast cancer survivor using "alternative" treatments, a born existentialist, and a student of nature and all things natural.

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