The Bountiful Brain
It never rests for our entire lifetime. It is responsible for our intelligence, personality, mood, memories and behaviors. It is our beautiful bountiful brain and it is truly the engine that drives the train! Although it weighs only 3 pounds, it uses 20 percent of our calories and oxygen. Of all our organ systems, it is the most complicated. It creates our world because the brain is the organ of perception that translates our experiences, feelings, language and thoughts. Everything starts and ends with the brain.
The brain changes with time just like everything else about us. If we want bigger muscles, we work out. A similar concept applies to the brain. Scientists actually have a name for it. It is called brain plasticity and it means that we can create new cells even as we age just as we can develop and enlarge our muscles.
The adult brain is not hard-wired with fixed circuitry. There is solid scientific evidence that neurogenesis, the birth of new brain cells, occurs in the adult brain. The fact that the brain is capable of change is really good news especially for those who are concerned about diminished capacity with age. However, lifestyle choices either improve brain function or harm and impede it.
Everything we do from our food selections, exercise and sleep habits, smoking, alcohol consumption, medication, exposure to environmental toxins and stress impacts the brain. Most recently homocysteine, which is a bio-marker for heart health, has been linked to atherosclerosis and impaired blood delivery to the brain. It has also been linked to nerve network loss in the brain cortex.
Whether concerns arise over forgetting where we left our reading glasses or more major challenges like dementia and Alzheimer's disease, the reasons the brain ages and functions less optimally are the same reasons the body ages. Free radical oxidative stress injures brain and nerve tissue. These destructive molecules compromise the energy portion of the cell, the mitochondria. The memory center of the brain, called the hippocampus, no longer works as efficiently as it once did and function declines.
The very same antioxidants and nutrients that protect our other organs protect the brain. It should be noted that the nutrients that help stave off heart disease are the same nutrients that help the brain.
disease in users of antioxidant vitamin supplements. The vitamins studied were E and C. The study showed that antioxidants scavenge free radicals and other reactive oxygen species that damage cellular membranes. Neurons are especially vulnerable to free radical-mediated damage and these processes were found to contribute to Alzheimer's disease.
Glutathione, often referred to as GSH, is very important to the well being of the nervous system and the brain. It is the major antioxidant of the cell interior. The vitality and viability of nerve cells are directly related to glutathione status.
One study showed a reduced risk of Alzheimer's
Alpha-lipoic acid has come to the forefront as a highly potent antioxidant, a precursor to glutathione, and a nerve rebuilder. It readily crosses cell membranes, reaches the cell interior, and easily gets across the blood-brain barrier to access the brain and aid in energy production. Studies show its efficacy in preventing stroke damage and protecting the nerve cells of diabetics.
Alpha-lipoic acid is also one of the few nutrients that can be taken orally to raise levels of the antioxidant glutathione in brain cells. Low levels of glutathione predict chronic diseases, including degenerative brain disorders and early death.
N-Acetyl-Cysteine is an effective metabolic precursor to both L-Cysteine and glutathione. Often referred to as NAC, it has been shown to be a powerful free radical scavenger, metal chelator, and anti-inflammatory agent.
Folic Acid, known for its ability in prevention of neural tube birth defects, is perhaps most under-appreciated for its value to the nervous system. It is intimately involved in the repair of DNA and RNA. Low blood folate is associated with marked signs of mental insufficiency, including but not limited to poor mental focus, distractibility and mental fatigue. Folate deficiency is detected in 15-38% of adults diagnosed with depressive disorders.
L-GIutamine is an amino acid that readily enters the brain where it can be utilized for energy and is a precursor to neuro transmitters. It is also a precursor for glutathione.
L-GIycine is an amino acid that participates in electronic buffering and chemical transmission in the brain. Like LGlutamine, it is a building block of glutathione.
Vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, is a vitamin that is required for a number of metabolic pathways that support optimal brain function. It is required for the conversion of homocysteine to cysteine, which is a precursor for the antioxidant glutathione. When given together with vitamin B12 and Folic Acid, vitamin B6 completes the nutrient triad necessary to efficiently recycle homocysteine, which can interfere with brain circulation.
Deficiencies of these key metabolic cofactors are common among the elderly and may be a contributing factor as a cause of strokes in the aging population.
Vitamin B12, also known as cyanocobalamin, is needed for cognition and is often found deficient in vegetarians and the elderly. Deficiency symptoms can mimic dementia. Memory loss, personality and mood changes and fatigue are also deficiency symptoms.
L-Theanine is often referred to as the "feel good supplement." Scientific studies have proven its calming effect on both the nervous and cardiovascular systems. It has been shown to promote deep muscle relaxation and improve good quality sleep. Scientists have investigated L-Theanine's effect on brain amino acids and neurotransmitters. In clinical trials, L-Theanine was shown to increase alpha brain waves, which is considered an index of relaxation. L-Theanine had a significant effect on the release or reduction of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin resulting in improved memory and learning ability.
CoEnzyme QIO is a powerful antioxidant and energy booster within all cells, particularly in the heart and brain. Aging is accompanied by a loss of CoQ10 and without it, our brains cannot work at full power. As we age we lose some of the protective abilities of our defense systems. We no longer produce enough Co-QIO and other antioxidants that supplied protection to the brain when we were younger. Memory loss and other cognitive deficiencies are the result.
Acetyl-L-Carntine can protect the brain from neurotoxicity and preserve the energy-producing mitochondria. Shown to be effective with people suffering from mild cognitive impairment, it may be helpful in early stages of Alzheimer's disease.
Vitamin D, referred to as "the sunshine vitamin" is well known for its ability to enhance our immune system and protect us from everything from the common cold to cancer. Vitamin D plays a role for brain health too. It protects the membranes of brain cells. It increases the number of hippocampus cells which are involved with memory. Vitamin D'S ability to suppress inflammation is being studied in helping children with autism, people with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid, called GABA is an amino acid that the brain uses as a neurotransmitter. Known for its ability to decrease nerve cells from firing erratically, it has a calming effect and has been used with people with high anxiety.
Omega-3 Fish Oils cannot be ignored when it comes to brain health and function. As a rich source of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, the two most popular are EPA, eicosapentaenoic acid and DHA, docosahexaenoic acid. As an important component of cell membranes, DHA is vital to brain health by playing a major role in the flexibility and fluidity of
the cell. Associated with low levels of DHA are decreased cognitive function and response time, depression, irritable behavior and Alzheimers's disease. It is estimated that one in eight Americans over the age of 65 suffer from Alzheimer's.
EPA and DHA are effective in helping people with mood disorders, improving outcomes of those with bipolar disorder, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, and Alzheimer's. Dietary deficits in DHA affect the young also. Low levels of this critically important fatty acid impact on the IQs of children and has been linked to violent behavior.
There is no doubt that the most important contributing factor to brain wellness, as with physical wellness, is proper nutrition. Nutrition simply means nourishment - the process by which our bodies receive the nutrients necessary for life, growth, and optimal health. To function properly, the brain and body need balanced and consistent nourishment. Not only do our bodies suffer from under-nutrition, our brains are extremely vulnerable to our nutritional status.
All health takes place on a cellular level and cells respond to the nutrients we consume. The brain is actually more sensitive to the environmental onslaughts of our modern world than is the body. What ages and diminishes the body, ages and diminishes the brain too. Even being overweight which we associate with the body, is connected to brain health. Studies show that body fat acts as a reservoir for lipid-soluble neurotoxins that selectively damage dopamine-producing neurons in the brain.
Dietary and nutritional deficits have profound consequences on brain performance. What we eat, whether we exercise, whether we challenge the brain with new learning experiences impacts on its function. Always be kind to your Beautiful, Bountiful Brain!