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

by Christina L. White

Fish is brain food. We've all heard this from our mothers, grandmothers and perhaps even read it years ago in our home economics school books. It's one of those often-heard sayings that most of us didn't pay much attention to as kids. Now as adults of the baby boomer generation, experiencing some cognitive decline, we might be sorry we didn't.

Research studies continue to compile a substantially convincing amount of evidence that adequate consumption of the fatty acids in fish such as salmon, tuna, trout, halibut and sardines, can help relieve some of the symptoms of inflammatory conditions like asthma and colitis. Newer research also points to help with hyperactivity (ADHD), manic depression, schizophrenia, and high blood pressure.

DHA (decosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) are the fatty acids in fish that may help relieve some of these disorders. DHA is found in high amounts throughout the gray matter of the brain, the nervous system and the retina of the eye. On the nerve cell membranes its unique molecular structure helps to hold the cell's receptors in place so that neurotransmitters can "dock" there. This enables nerve cells to communicate with each other. When DHA is unavailable, the body utilizes a different fatty acid that does not provide the cell membrane with the same degree of beneficial fluidity. DHA is so important to the brain that it "gets first dibs" so to speak. One researcher who tracked over 1000 older adults over a period of 9 years found a 160 percent greater risk of developing dementia in the adults who had the lowest levels of DHA at the beginning of the study.

Fish oil supplements containing concentrated amounts of DHA and EPA are available in different potencies and forms. Dosages of 500 mg a day would be in the preventive category. One and a half to three grams a day have been used in studies of disease states.

For individuals who have difficulty digesting fats, a unique liquid form of fish oils can be found in Dale Alexander's Emulsified Norwegian Cod Liver Oil from Twin Labs. The oil is mixed with lecithin and pectin, (and natural flavors) which breaks it into tiny water soluble particles that most people don't burp up. Another unique product is Kirunal, a high-EPA fish oil. Recent fatty acid research has found that higher amounts of EPA (not DHA) may be more beneficial for hyperactivity (ADHD), manic depression and schizophrenia.

Brain neurons communicate with other neurons through messengers called neurotransmitters. They are composed of amino acids, which are obtained from dietary protein foods like eggs, cheese, soybeans, fish, poultry and meat. The brain has over 50 different neurotransmitters that are manufactured from these amino acid building blocks. A low protein diet can negatively affect behavior and mood by not providing the body with the amino acids it needs to produce adequate levels of specific neurotransmitters.

Researchers and health care practitioners have found that mood and behavior may also be positively altered by supplementation with specific amino acids that may raise the levels of specific neurotransmitters.

Phenylalanine is an amino acid used by the body to manufacture the energizing neuro- transmitter norepinephrine. One of the ways it brightens mood is by inactivating the enzyme that breaks down those "feel good" endorphins.

Arginine is an amino acid that is converted to spermine, a chemical that the brain uses in memory processing.

Tryptophan is an amino acid that is found in high carbohydrate foods. It is the precursor of serotonin, low levels of which are linked to depression, insomnia, cravings for high carbohydrate foods and sweets, PMS, headaches and anxiety. Tryptophan is only available by prescription, but the natural extract from the seed of the African Griffonia shrub, 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) is an immediate precursor to serotonin and is readily available in health food stores.

Taurine is an amino acid that functions as a stabilizer of the electrical potential of nerve cell membranes. It helps to facilitate and normalize the transport of calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium ions in and out of the cell. Taurine has anticonvulsant and antianxiety properties. It also lowers glutamic acid levels in the brain. High levels of glutamic acid and glutamine can lead to excessive neuron excitability and neuron death.

Tyrosine can be considered the "stress amino acid" because it raises the body's storehouse of adrenaline, which is used by the body to physiologically cope with stressful experiences of all kinds. It may also reenergize a decreased sex drive because it raises dopamine brain levels. Tyrosine also has a marked antidepressive effect. It has aided some individuals in weight loss, by helping to control their excessive appetite, as well as being the precursor amino acid for thyroid hormone production that controls the rate of the body's metabolism.

Supplementation with individual amino acids is best done under the guidance of a professional. Individual amino acids are taken on an empty stomach so that they do not compete for absorption with other amino acids. Other Supplements for Maximizing Brain Potential

Appropriate nutritional therapy can affect brain function in a positive way. The last decade of new nutritional supplements has opened the door for early intervention with supplementation to decrease and reverse some of the effects of cognitive decline.

GINKGO has been widely studied and is prescribed throughout Europe. It appears to work as an antioxidant in the brain, and it increases circulation in tiny blood vessels. Ginkgo has also been shown to reverse chromosome damage that was ten times above normal in the blood cells of Chernobyl nuclear reactor workers. Two months of supplementation of a 120 mg ginkgo extract reversed the chromosome damage to almost normal. This profound effect lasted for a full year even after supplementation was discontinued.

VINPOCETINE is one of the newer supplements, only available since 1998. Its primary action is as a brain oxygenator. It enhances blood circulation in areas of the brain where it is deficient. It acts as an antioxidant and inhibits the clumping of blood platelets, reducing the possibility of a stroke. In clinical studies it has alleviated a wide range of symptoms including headaches, vertigo, dementia, poor memory, and even restored some speech improvement to stroke victims.

NADH is the coenzymatic form of the B vitamin niacin. It facilitates the production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) which is the body's storehouse of cellular energy. It has been used by the Austrian researcher, Georg Birkmayer, M.D., with Parkinson's and Alzheimer's patients, resulting in both moderate and dramatic improvements in some patients. Recently a study with chronic fatigue sufferers demonstrated a definite improvement in energy production and sense of well-being.

ACETYL-L-CARNITINE acts as a powerful neuroprotective agent in the brain. It functions to protect brain cells and synapses from oxidation by increasing the level of reduced glutathione; it protects against cellular debris accumulation, it protects the mitochondria, the energy factories in the cells; it helps to stabilize the membranes of neurons and it enhances nerve impulse transmission. It also is the only non-drug substance known that can improve communication between the two hemispheres of the brain.

HUPERZINE-A is one of the newer cognitive enhancers. It is an extract from the ancient Chinese remedy club moss (Huperzia serata). It helps to maintain high levels in the brain of acetylcholine, which is involved in memory formation and learning. Huperzine-A does this by inactivating the enzyme (acetylcholinesterase) that breaks down acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is what is decreased in people with Alzheimer's disease. One very interesting fact is that huperzine-A fits the receptor on the enzyme better, and binds more effectively than the two drugs approved for the same action, tacrine (Cognex) and donepezil (Aricept).

SAM-e is another of the new supplements that has been used in Europe as an antidepressant. It also helps to maintain levels of the important antioxidant glutathione. SAM-e is another substance that can improve brain cell membrane fluidity, which improves receptor functioning. SAM-e is also involved in the production of the myelin sheath that surrounds nerve cells. PUTTING IT TOGETHER

While trying to decide which of all these cognitive enhancing supplements to begin taking I recommend playing the song from Fiddler on the Roof, "If I Were a Rich Man"! If I were rich I would take all of them because I dearly would like to avoid cognitive decline as much as possible. Here are some ideas on supplementation.

FIRST, make sure you are taking all the basics that are relatively inexpensive. That would include a vitamin B complex of at least 50 mg a day, and B6 which is very important might be taken in its coenzymated form P5P. Lecithin with a high phosphatidyl choline content along with B12 in the preferred methylcobalamin form; taken together they increase acetylcholine levels. Ginseng is inexpensive and has a balancing effect on cortisol and stress. Ginkgo is also relatively inexpensive and promotes oxygen delivery through better circulation. The mineral magnesium is very inexpensive, yet it is very important to the brain. It helps to protect against high levels of calcium building up in the brain which can cause excessive calcium influx resulting in cell death. Magnesium is involved in numerous chemical reactions as a catalyst and it also helps promote calmness. Zinc is another inexpensive mineral that helps to remove lead from the body. Fish oils are relatively inexpensive and contribute greatly to brain health as well as anti-inflammatory reactions throughout the body. It is also very important to eat adequate amounts of protein to supply the amino acids the body needs to make neurotransmitters.

NEXT, take an honest look at your cognitive level of functioning: short-term and long-term memory, alertness, attention, mental energy level; then look in your checkbook and see how much you've got to spend.

The next two supplements to consider would probably be ALC (acetyl-l-carnitine) which is a powerful neuroprotector and PS (phosphatidylserine). Although most of the PS research results were obtained with 300 mg a day, one study showed that 100 mg a day taken for a longer time eventually resulted in the same degree of improvement as the higher supplement level. One could take a loading dose of each for perhaps two months, and then maintain by supplementing two or three times a week. People with more severe cognitive decline may chose to take the higher dosages as well as adding the energy supplement NADH until they experience some improvement in their cognitive functions before reducing dosages. It is best to let an experienced health care practitioner provide supplementation guidance.

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