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The following article is reprinted from New Horizons newsletter, published by the Brewer Science Library. Single copies of the article may be printed for the reader's personal research and study. Reproduction in any other manner, format or location is expressly prohibited.


Optimizing Brain Functions Part I:
21st Century Supplementation for Slowing

Neurological Deterioration & Maximizing Potential

(c) 1999 Brewer Science Library, All rights reserved
Excerpted from New Horizons, Fall 1999

by Christina L. White

Millions of baby boomers are beginning to experience the same kind of mental decline that thirty or more years ago as teenagers they disliked in their parents. Along with this youthful state usually comes a certain ignorance and blindness that cannot believe that the creativity, sharp memory, analytical thinking capacities, quick wit, and enthusiasm that is experienced in the 20's and 30's can spiral downward to the experience in their 50's of finding themselves opening the microwave door instead of the refrigerator door, or temporarily forgetting their sister-in-law's name during an introduction. These embarrassing experiences become common occurrences for many people during their 50's and 60's. Hope and help for slowing down brain deterioration is coming from nutritional research and increased scientific understanding of a variety of nutritional substances that can slow down and perhaps even reverse some of this predicted decline.

STRESS AGES THE BRAIN

Recent research has confirmed that high levels of stress result in long-term higher levels of the adrenal hormone cortisol in sensitive brain tissue. Excessive levels of cortisol are so detrimental to the brain and immune system that cortisol has been deemed by some as the "death hormone". These higher levels of cortisol correlate to increased damage in the hippocampus area of the brain, an area intimately involved in memory formation. This comes as no surprise to people who notice that while they feel very stressed, they have trouble remembering things. High levels of cortisol also depress the immune system. It is difficult to measure cortisol levels accurately when over-stressed adrenals release surges of cortisol. People who are weakened and debilitated or suffer from autoimmune disorders often experience a worsening of their condition after stressful events partly as a result of the destructive effect of high levels of cortisol.

Adding stress-reducing activities into one's life such as walking, meditating, breathing exercises, or simply doing more pleasurable activities provides one way to lower one's response to stressful events. Another avenue is providing the body with nutritional supplements that can at least partially offset the brain neurotoxic and immune debilitating effect of cortisol.

NUTRIENTS THAT HELP REDUCE STRESS:

Ginseng

One herb that has a great modulating effect on the stress response is panax ginseng. Research with animals has shown that hormonal stimulus of the adrenal glands from stress is affected by ginseng. It is considered an "adaptogen", an herb that helps the body's functional and metabolic systems respond to any type of stressor in a balancing and normalizing way.

Phosphatidylserine

Research with the elderly has shown that the phospholipid supplement phosphatidylserine (PS) in dosages of 300 mg a day for 60 days may play a unique role in helping to restore a more normal anti-stress response in the region of the brain, the hypothalamus, that initiates the fight-or-flight stress response. This area of the brain works in harmony with the pituitary and the adrenal glands in response to stress. This interactive system is known as the HPAA (hypothalamic pituitary-adrenal-axis). Many chronically ill individuals have response disorders in this glandular axis that contribute to their poor health.

Licorice Extract

Another supplement that may be helpful to individuals who have become debilitated or feel "burned out" from too much stress is glycyrrhizin. This active factor in licorice is extracted and sold as a supplement. In the body it mimics the effects of cortisone. Its molecular structure is similar to cortisol and it can relieve the over-stressed adrenal glands from having to produce it. An in-depth discussion of this licorice extract is available from the Brewer Science Library's New Horizons Winter 98 issue.

Other Nutrients

Another avenue of help in reducing excessive production of cortisol can be obtained through supplementing with significant amounts of vitamin C. Animal research has shown that when healthy rats were subjected to a stressful environment that mega doses of vitamin C caused a reduction of blood levels of cortisol and other stress hormones. Vitamin C was shown to help protect the animals' adrenal glands.

Hormones such as melatonin and DHEA have also been shown to provide some protection against excess cortisol. For many individuals, though, even small dosages of melatonin can cause them to feel groggy and lethargic the next day. DHEA is a very powerful hormone whose use should be based on blood tests. It is also contraindicated for cancer patients.

THE BASICS OF BRAIN HEALTH

Parts of the brain communicate with each other through a system of neurotransmitters, chemicals that are released by brain cells that cause chemical and electrical reactions in neurons and brain cells. This resultant electrochemical activity can be seen on newer brain imaging systems that display lighted up areas of the brain in response to sensory and thought input. Although there are anywhere from 60 to 100 known neurotransmitters, at this time it is believed that only a few transmitters are involved in most cognitive functions.

Neurotransmitters

Some of these neurotransmitters have stimulatory functions, some have inhibitory functions, and some have both. Any deficiency in production of these neurotransmitters can result in many undesirable effects such as depressive moods, poor sleep quality, low sex drive, increased pain susceptibility, poor memory or learning capabilities, low concentration, and even low immune function. The body can manufacture these chemical messengers from food nutrients, vitamins and minerals that most people are familiar with. Amino acids, which are concentrated in protein foods such as meat, cheese, eggs, fish, and poultry, are the source of most of the neurotransmitters. The facilitation of these amino acids into neurotransmitters particularly requires the presence of two B vitamins, niacin and B6, and minerals such as magnesium and copper. The lack of adequate levels of any of these required substances can result in a deficiency of specific neurotransmitters. The good news is that supplementation with specific amino acids can raise the production of these neurotransmitters to levels that can result in increased learning capacity, improvements in focus and concentration, improvement in immune response, better moods, less pain and increased sex drive. (Part II of this article will discuss supplementation of specific amino acids.)

PROTECTION AGAINST FREE RADICALS & GLUTAMATE TOXICITY

The accompanying article on Neurological Disease provides a description of one of the main conditions that causes brain cell death. When excessive amounts of glutamate (a chemical messenger in the brain) accumulate, it causes a depolarization of the cell membrane. This depolarization results in an influx of calcium and sodium ions into the cell, which causes potassium ions to be displaced out of the cell. This unbalanced condition starts a cascade of hyperactivity of the neurons, with this depolarization escalating throughout many neuronal cells, resulting in the death of many brain cells. As this same condition occurs over and over throughout many years some areas of the brain become more dysfunctional than others. Usually, the area involved with short-term memory is affected.

Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and Huntington's disease, as well as brain strokes have all been linked to this destructive chemical cascade.

The accompanying article in this newsletter presents some European research showing that vitamin B12, as methylcobalamin, is capable of protecting animal brain cells from glutamate toxicity.

LITHIUM ALSO PROTECTS AGAINST GLUTAMATE TOXICITY

In his writings on lithium orotate, Dr. Hans Nieper stressed how the primary function of lithium was the restoration of the proper electrical membrane potential by removing excess sodium from the inside of the cell. In the orotate form he was able to obtain results using small dosages, about 7% of the carbonate form, to successfully treat manic depression, migraine headaches, juvenile epilepsy, and alcoholism. Using calcium and lithium orotate together, Dr. Nieper obtained significant results in chronic hepatitis and liver cirrhosis. He reported that 5 mg of lithium orotate are closely equivalent to 100 mg of the carbonate form. According to Dr. Nieper, the lithium orotate releases lithium ions at the lysosomal membranes (structures within the cells), and withdraws sodium from them. The net result is a stabilization of the lysosomal membrane. If lysosomal enzymes are released within the cell they cause a cascade of destruction that leads to cellular death. The stabilization of the lysosomal membranes within the cell is a vitally important part of maintaining cellular health.

In 1998 a break-through discovery was reported by researchers from the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. They discovered that neurons (from rat brains) that were treated with lithium for six to seven days were completely protected from glutamate toxicity. It seems that the lithium attached itself to the receptors where the glutamate normally docks. This prevented the hyperactivity and resultant overload of calcium into the cell.

This exciting new understanding of one of lithium's protective actions against neurotoxicity from excessive glutamate opens the doorway for increased utilization of low dose lithium orotate. It appears that both lithium and B12 (in the methylcobalamin form) have a very beneficial role to play in protecting the human brain from this destructive neurotoxic process.

(Dr. Nieper's writings on lithium orotate are available in packet form from the Brewer Science Library for $9.50.)

MEMBRANE FLUIDITY

Another area that Dr. Nieper recognized as extremely important to optimal nerve function is the composition of fatty acids in brain cell membranes as well as in all the cellular membranes of the body.

The membranes of all the cells of the body are composed of fat-like substances, called phospholipids, because they contain the mineral phosphorus as well as several different kinds of fatty acids. The brain and spinal cord together contain about 100 grams of phospholipids. Phospholipids are also contained in all the subcellular membranes such as the lysosomes and the mitochondria. The mitochondria are extremely important subcellular structures since they are the powerhouses inside each cell where all the energy in the form of ATP is made for all cellular actions.

These membrane layers are constantly being renewed and replaced on trillions of cellular and subcellular membranes. The importance of supplying the proper phospholipids cannot be overemphasized. Immersed within the "membrane matrix" with part of their structure exposed on the outside of each cell are numerous receptors, mostly composed of amino acids. These receptors are like a lock and only respond to a specific chemical "key". These receptors are in control of cellular activity. Specific receptors exist for different hormones and various growth factors that control the activities inside the cell.

Replacement phospholipids can be obtained completely formed from foods such as eggs, or from supplements such as lecithin. Phospholipids are easily absorbed in the intestine and pass through the blood-brain barrier to become part of the membranes of brain cells, as well as part of the membranes of nerve cells throughout the body.

Membranes are incredibly important to the proper functioning of the brain, and they must be permeable enough to allow the transport of vital nutritional substances into the cell. This permeability is also spoken of as fluidity. They must also be healthy and strong enough to be selectively permeable, and not allow substances into the cell that would upset the delicate metabolic balance.

Membranes that become hard and rigid are not healthy and do not transport glucose and nutrients into the cell adequately. This results in inadequate energy production within the cell. Recent research has indicated that trans-fats, unhealthy fats found in hydrogenated margarine and some baked goods, become incorporated into cell membranes and make them rigid and less permeable to the nutritive substances the cell requires.

Long before it became popular, Dr. Nieper used one of the phospholipids that is a constituent of lecithin, phosphatidylethanolamine, to dramatically improve membrane health. In combination with minerals such as calcium, magnesium and potassium, he found these substances of such value that he coined the term "membrane integrity factor" for them.

The ability of nerve cells to send messages to each other involves both chemical and electro-chemical processes and is dependent upon membrane potential.

The body can synthesize the phospholipids it needs if it is supplied with a very high quality diet. If the right building blocks are not provided either in the diet or in supplement form, then the health of the cellular membranes will suffer and they may become "weak and leaky", easily breaking down and not being able to receive or transmit information easily.

There are several different phospholipids that are important to the body.

Phosphatidylethanolamine

The most prominent phospholipid in the brain, as well as in the myelin sheath, is the form that Dr. Nieper utilized to treat many different diseases with, phosphatidylethanolamine.

About forty percent of the gray matter and thirty-four percent of the white matter of the brain consists of this form of phospholipid.

One of the other phospholipids that has come to prominence in the last few years, phosphatidylserine, can be metabolized to the ethanolamine form. They both are very important in maintaining the integrity of the membranes, and each probably has specialized functions in the matrix of the membrane

Phosphatidylcholine

Phosphatidylcholine is another important phospholipid that is found in significant amounts in the supplement, lecithin. Its use has predominantly been to help improve liver function, especially fatty liver conditions.

A Japanese research study used laboratory rats with brain lesions to determine if supplementation of either phosphatidylcholine or vitamin B12 could improve their stunted learning ability and memory. Levels of both choline and the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, which is needed for memory formation, were found to be low in the animals with brain lesions. The study used three groups of rats to test its hypothesis. One group was given supplemental phosphatidylcholine only, another group was given vitamin B12 only and the third group was given both supplements.

Only the animals given both B12 and phosphatidylcholine improved their ability to form new memories and improve their learning skills.

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