Wednesday, June 15, 2011

My Interview on Memory and Brain Health for a trade magazine

The brain must be intact and healthy in order for it to perform normal functions like thought and memory. There is evidence that chronic or acute inflammation, or other insults to brain cells/tissues from chemicals or other damaging agents, can provoke negative health effects. In essence, the brain is literally under attack on a daily basis, requiring a constant infusion of supporting protective nutrients to maintain proper brain health and functionality.

Antioxidants and magnesium are key nutrients needed to protect the brain from chemicals called excitotoxins, such as MSG, which are damaging to brain cells when levels of various nutrients are insufficient to control them. The physical damage to brain cells that can be caused by oxidation, sometimes in the form of a bio-electrical spark causing a chain reaction that rips electrons from a string of innocent cells until an antioxidant ‘electron donor’ puts an end to it, can be prevented or stopped by antioxidants. Antioxidants also protect fats from oxidizing (going rancid), and since the brain is nearly half fat it is dependent on both fatty acids and antioxidants to protect its structural integrity.

While it is normally not necessary to see a physician before taking a brain/memory support dietary supplement, people on medications should always check if there are known interactions before using any new supplement and it is wise to always bring a list of your supplements to share with your doctor at your annual check-up. Those with known memory problems should request a medical evaluation to set a baseline level in order to maintain their mental assets and be able to compare future mental performance.

To aid this preservation of our mental faculties, it is obviously best to consume adequate levels of relevant protective nutrients for many years, rather than waiting until the senility of old age creeps up on us and then trying to regain lost abilities. Otherwise, careful eating and appropriate supplementation may be started ‘too little, too late.’

The best mental/brain support nutrients include some surprisingly ordinary ingredients: Lecithin, Vitamins A-E, and Antioxidants. Lecithin provides essential phospholipids for the brain, nerves, and cell membranes; including Choline, Serine, and other brain nutrients that directly support neurotransmitter production and memory. Lecithin’s Phosphatidyl Choline (PC) is a precursor of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine; in the central nervous system acetylcholine is involved in learning, memory, and mood. Phosphatidylserine (PS) also affects the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain related to mood, memory, and mental function.

Lecithin, which is a highly processed extract of soybean oil, does not in itself contain protein (allergens) or genetic material (GMOs), which the original soybeans may have contained. Some Lecithin products are derived from certified non-GMO soybeans or even sunflower seeds.

Another way to get Lecithin’s benefits is in the form of Krill Oil. Krill has its Omega-3 fatty acids bonded to phospholipids similar to those found in soy or egg lecithin. So krill not only supplies EPA, DHA, and phospholipids for brain, nerve, and membrane health but also enhances their bioavailability and access to the brain due to the ability of phospholipids to cross the blood-brain barrier better than ordinary fish oils. Fish Oils providing EPA and DHA should also be considered brain nutrients, as DHA is a significant physical component of the brain.

Vitamin E and its related compounds (the tocotrienols) have been shown to protect neurons (brain and nerve cells) from being damaged or even killed off by excitotoxic chemicals. The antioxidant benefits of this essential vitamin’s “family” of compounds also help to prevent oxidative reactions that can damage brain tissues. Look for gamma-tocopherol along with the usual alpha-tocopherol plus higher amounts of gamma- and delta- form tocotrienols.

Vitamin C directly pumps excitotoxins from neurons, protecting the brain and nerve cells from being damaged by these potentially toxic chemicals. There are several populations with impaired ascorbate absorption; including those with poor insulin sensitivity, those with gut inflammation, those who take aspirin, and those on low sodium diets; all situations where normal vitamin C uptake and utilization is often suboptimal.

Other antioxidants of benefit for brain health include Alpha Lipoic Acid, various carotenoids including Astaxanthin (also found in Krill oil), and Pycnogenol®. In addition to supplementation, it always helps to consume a variety of antioxidants from fruits and vegetables to maintain a good level and balance of antioxidants.

The formation of abnormal structures in the brain may in part be due to oxidative damage that perhaps can be kept within normal acceptable ranges by having a variety of antioxidant nutrients available. Genes in the subject cells are controlled by “switches,” that are in turn modulated by environmental “triggers.” The presence of various protective nutrients helps to maintain proper cellular health; whereas the deficiency of adequate protective nutrients can allow potentially damaging effects, leading to cell death and the subsequent formation of abnormal brain structures.

The presence of excessive amounts of saturated fats in the diet, especially if from an excess of processed foods, inevitably reduces the amount of available long-chain fatty acids EPA and DHA (DHA can be made from EPA) that are essential for brain and nerve health. The deficit of these two fatty acids increases the likelihood of uncontrolled inflammatory processes in the body, as an imbalance of beneficial dietary fats like EPA, DHA and GLA that can reduce the fatty acids needed to make prostaglandins responsible for maintaining a healthy inflammatory response. The fact that EPA is needed for healthy membranes throughout the body and DHA is an important constituent of the brain itself also testify to the importance of these fatty acids for healthy brain structures and functions, including memory.

• Natural antioxidant vitamins Beta-Carotene, C, and E are protective of brain tissues and are available in antioxidant formulas and multiple vitamins..

• Alpha GPC is a form of choline that is bioavailable to the brain; an acetylcholine precursor, it supports memory and cognitive acuity.

• DMAE is a naturally occurring amino metabolite known primarily as a precursor to choline and acetylcholine, chemicals in the brain responsible for nerve transmissions and cognitive function; DMAE has been used most predominantly to improve memory and focus while stimulating neural activity.

• NADH is a metabolite of niacin (vitamin B3) that is directly involved in neurotransmitter production to support mental alertness.

• Ginkgo biloba extract is thought to improve memory and quality of life, and is available in various strengths.

• Acetyl-L-Carnitine is a form of an important amino acid, which in short-term studies has improved memory in older adults.

• Vitamin B1 deficiencies have been associated with confusion and memory loss in seniors deficient in that nutrient.

• High strength fish oils and Krill oil supply the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA that are important brain and nerve components often deficient in the general population.

• Genistein, a phytoestrogen found in Soy Protein Isolates and Soy Isoflavones, has been shown to act as an antioxidant to preserve brain cell integrity.

• Ashwagandha has been shown to be protective of brain cells in non-clinical laboratory experiments.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Prenatal vitamins lower autism risk in children

Taking prenatal vitamins lowers the risk of having an autistic child by 700% for genetically susceptible mothers.