Outwitting Our Aging Brain
By William Faloon
Tying This All Together
A review published in 2011 titled “Cerebral microvascular pathology and neurodegeneration” provided a meticulous description as to how cerebro- vascular dysfunction precedes and accompanies cognitive impairment and senility.58 What made this report stand out was that it utilized a novel micro-pathology technique to permit viewing the cerebral vasculature in a 3-diminsional setting.
This 2011 review detailed how perilous our cerebral blood supply becomes with aging, describing tortuous arterioles that barely transport blood, obliterated capillary beds that no longer nourish neurons, and thickened veins that impede blood flow. It went on to describe how hypoperfusion occurs early in Alzheimer’s and other degenerative brain disorders.58
Of interest was the demonstration of a decline in cerebral angiogenesis that precludes natural repair of vascular deficits—and the dangers of particles in the blood (such as circulating clots) that destroy capillary beds, all of which contribute to the hypoperfusion and other vascular deficits that underlie neurodegenerative disease.58 This review is available in full text for members to read at www.lef.org/neuro.
An enormous volume of accumulated research reveals why virtually all aging humans suffer cognitive impairment, and why there are so many cases of crippling stroke and dementia.58
Aggressive intervention is clearly needed to protect our memories and very identities against the microvascular pathologies that have been accepted far too long as a hallmark of “normal” aging.
The encouraging news is that nutrients, hormones, and certain drugs that Life Extension members already take are proving more than ever to protect against cerebral circulatory deficits that occur in the aging brain.
Vinpocetine Reverses Cerebral Hypoperfusion
European doctors prescribe a periwinkle-originated drug called vinpocetine to patients suffering from cognitive problems ranging from short-term memory loss to Alzheimer’s dementia.
Vinpocetine exerts several anti-aging mechanisms, but its most profound effect may be its ability to interfere with processes associated with chronic cerebral hypoperfusion.103 The diverse mechanisms of vinpocetine explain its beneficial effects on clinical signs and symptoms of cerebrovascular insufficiency.
Life Extension has long been familiar with vinpocetine and has recommended it since the 1980s. The FDA tried to shut down our organization and incarcerate me for doing this. The FDA’s rationale was that vinpocetine was not an approved medicinal in the United States, even though it was safely and effectively being prescribed in Europe.
Fortunately, vinpocetine is now sold as a dietary supplement at a fraction of the price it would cost as an FDA-approved prescription drug. Life Extension members have obtained optimal daily doses of vinpocetine for the past three decades in a popular brain boosting formula they take.
Exercise Reverses Brain Decay
Several human studies show that aerobic exercise increases the size of the cognitive centers of the brain and improves memory.104,105
One study showed that 1-2 years of aerobic exercise increased hippocampal volume by 2%, which was accompanied by improved memory function.104 Considering hippocampal volume often shrinks with aging, this improvement in size should be viewed as substantial.
A review of several studies showed better physical fitness to be associated with improved cognitive functioning. This review showed that beneficial mechanisms behind the effect of exercise on cognitive health were “increases in brain perfusion and the ability of cerebral blood vessels to respond to demand.”105
Green Tea Inhibits Hypoperfusion Damage
Cerebral hypoperfusion results in oxidative stress that leads to neurodegenerative disease.
Health conscious people today take antioxidant supplements to protect against free radicals and the oxidative damage they inflict.
A study was done on rats where experimental cerebral hypoperfusion was induced and the effects of green tea extract evaluated.106 The scientists wanted to see if two different doses of green tea polyphenols over a 4-8 week time period could prevent cognitive deficits and the oxidative brain cell damage that occurs in response to hypoperfusion.
High-dose green tea extract was found to scavenge oxygen free radicals, enhance antioxidant potential, decrease lipid peroxide production, and reduce oxidative DNA damage. The high-dose group had better spatial learning and memory than saline-treated rats. These beneficial effects, however, were not found in the lower-dose group.106
The human equivalent amount of green tea extract in the high-dose group would be about 4,800 mg/day. The low dose human equivalent amount would be 1,200 mg of green tea extract daily.
The first supplement I take upon wakening is a 725 mg green tea extract capsule. There’s no particular reason for this, but since I don’t drink coffee or tea regularly, it seems to make sense to swallow a tea extract capsule when my day starts. To emulate this rat study, I would have to swallow six of these green tea extract capsules.
I do not believe, however, that I or most of our members need to take anywhere near this high dose of green tea. That’s because we take so many other antioxidants like gamma tocopherol,107 astaxanthin,108,109 benfotiamine,110 PQQ,53,111 lipoic acid,112,113 and carnosine114,115 that are proven to guard against oxidative stress in the brain.
So I will continue my one green tea extract capsule each morning and rely on the many other antioxidants I take to suppress the free radicals that are inevitably generated in my 59-year-old brain.
New Way To Protect Against Brain Aging
Proven methods exist to help reverse hypoperfusion and better oxygenate our brain.63 That alone, however, will not fully restore youthful cerebral functions. Additional pathologic mechanisms underlie age-associated mental impairment.54 These damaging factors should all be corrected if we are to achieve meaningful improvement in our thinking ability.
It is refreshing to know that studies are documenting the brain benefits of fish oil,116 carnitine,80 lipoic acid,80,84 vinpocetine,70,103,117-119 and other nutrients Life Extension members have long used.
What’s needed now is something to fill “missing gaps” that enable degenerative aging processes to destroy our precious neurons.
A solution has been found in an extract from an Oriental orchid called Gastrodia elata, which is used in China to treat neurological disorders,120 just as vinpocetine is prescribed in Europe for conditions relating to hypoperfusion.121
Gastrodia acts as a “brain shield,” calming neurons and protecting them from oxidant,122,123 inflammatory,120,124-127 and excitatory damage122,128-137 associated with hypoperfusion and stroke.122,136-142 As a result, Gastrodia helps prevent cognitive decline and memory loss.123,125,143-147
As you’ll read, Gastrodia has even been shown to protect against cognitive impairment inflicted during heart bypass surgery.
Each year, hundreds of thousands of Americans undergo heart surgery that requires that they be placed on a heart-lung machine.148 A tragic side effect to this procedure is that it can cause capillary blockage in the brain that leads to hypoperfusion and severe cognitive deficits.149
Scientists have recently uncovered a unique reason why this occurs. During heart surgery, blood bleeding from surgical wounds is suctioned up into the cardio-pulmonary circuit of the heart-lung machine and then reintroduced into the patient.58
This suctioned blood is laden with lipids (fats), especially from the sternal bone marrow in the chest that has to be cut through to gain access to the heart. These lipid globules slip by the normal filters of the heart-lung machine and travel to the brain where they become lodged in capillaries as microemboli.58
While some of these microemboli pass through the brain in a few hours or days, some remain impacted for weeks or longer.58 These microemboli block capillary blood flow, causing hypoperfusion and eventual death to affected brain cells.
A novel method of protecting the brain against this type of hypoperfusion is to run suctioned blood through a special device called a “cell saver” that cleanses blood of lipids as it separates out red cells. This technique has been documented in experimental models to improve surgical outcomes.58
Some surgical patients undergo accelerated cognitive declines that can continue 3-5 years after heart surgeries and can lead to dementia.58,150 It is thus well worth implementing multiple strategies to protect against the hypoperfusion that results when lipid globules rapidly release into the bloodstream.
Gastrodia Extract Proven Under Toughest Conditions
A study of 200 cardiac surgery patients was done where prior to surgery, half the group was administered Gastrodia extract intravenously and the other half a placebo.151 Five different areas of cognitive function were measured before surgery began.
After the surgery and just prior to being discharged from the hospital, 42% of the placebo patients had a deficit in at least one area of cognitive measurement, which is about the standard number expected. In the group given Gastrodia extract, however, only 9% showed any evidence of cognitive impairment.151
A three-month follow-up evaluation showed that 31% of the placebo arm still had at least one cognitive deficit, as opposed to only 6% of patients given Gastrodia.151This follow-up reveals how long cognitive deficits persist in patients undergoing heart surgery and the statistically and clinically significant protection conferred by Gastrodia extract.
The kind of brain injury suffered during cardiac surgery is analogous to accelerated aging, though much worse in some ways. That’s because the sudden release of lipid globules is not a natural event that your body has a defense against. The most common natural type of emboli comes from blood clots that break lose inside blood vessels. Your body has enzymes that may dissolve these tiny blood clots, but not necessarily the lipid globules released during certain surgeries. While surgery-induced capillary impaction occurs acutely, its effects may persist indefinitely as chronically hypoperfused areas of the brain slowly die.58
The ability of Gastrodia to protect humans undergoing this massive attack of lipid (fat) globules signifies a tremendous ability of this orchid extract to protect against “normal” pathologies in the aging brain. These include inflammation, excitotoxicity, oxidation, hypoperfusion, and structural changes in neurons.120,122-137 The science, in fact, shows that Gastrodia provides a virtual “shield” against the most common causes of brain aging.
Gastrodia extract has been added to the most popular formula Life Extension members take to protect and enhance their neurological functions. It’s also available as a stand-alone supplement.
Our “Fragile” Aging Brains
The most important organ in our body is also the most fragile.
Stroke is a leading cause of death in the United States.152 Alzheimer’s incidence is spiraling upwards.153 Both are related to hypoperfusion, as is the mental slowdown that aging people encounter.
We will soon be publishing an article on a disease that virtually none of you knew existed. This disease (leukoaraiosis) involves deleterious changes in the brain’s vital white matter where transmission of nerve impulses enables one part of the brain to communicate with other parts of the brain.154 Enhanced imaging technologies are enabling doctors to identify this cognitive-robbing disorder in huge numbers of aging individuals.154,155 It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that an underlying culprit behind this white matter disorder is hypoperfusion.154 This means all the good steps you are taking to protect against known brain disorders may also shield you against this new one.
We’re also going to discuss the science behind keeping one’s overall neurological function in the most youthful condition possible, such as exercising your brain by reading articles like this that inundate you with new information.
An achievable New Year’s resolution is to take assertive steps to improve your cognitive function while slashing your risk of neurodegenerative disease. This article has provided practical steps that can be initiated immediately, including adding Gastrodia to one’s daily supplement program.
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