Life Extension Magazine May 2006
Novel Strategy to Restore Brain Cell Function
By Russell Martin
In an important, recently published study in Japan, scientists simulated the brain cell atrophy of Alzheimer’s disease by exposing laboratory mice to the toxic protein beta amyloid. Many researchers worldwide believe that beta amyloid protein contributes to the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease in humans. Orally administered extract of ashwagandha helped damaged neurons of the brain to regenerate in the test animals!28 Ashwagandha improves alertness without causing the jitters that often accompany drugs like caffeine, and it also relieves anxiety and enhances learning ability.29
Pregnenolone is a hormone that is synthesized directly from cholesterol in the cell mitochondria. The body converts pregnenolone into other important hormones, including dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), various estrogens, progesterone, and testosterone.30 Aging causes a steep decline in the production of pregnenolone, as well as in the hormones for which it is a precursor.
Progesterone is synthesized in the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves from pregnenolone. Research strongly suggests that progesterone promotes the formation of myelin sheaths, the fatty layers of “insulation” that allow electrochemical signals to move efficiently from one neuron to another.31 Scientists believe that progesterone offers exciting treatment alternatives for the prevention of many degenerative brain conditions as well as cognitive impairment during aging.31
French researchers have shown that pregnenolone directly influences acetylcholine release in several key brain regions responsible for memory, cognition, and the sleep-wake cycle. They also demonstrated pregnenolone’s ability to promote new nerve growth. According to the study authors, “Our data demonstrate that [pregnenolone sulfate infusions] dramatically increase neurogenesis.” 32,33
Protecting Brain Cells Against Age-Related Damage
The brain generates a tremendous amount of free radicals as a part of its daily functioning. Some scientists believe that over the course of months and years, these free radicals may contribute to the impairment of healthy brain activity that occurs with aging.
Grape seed extract has demonstrated remarkable success in blocking the formation of senile plaques that severely damage the brains of those with dementia. As a result of these attributes, many researchers now consider grape seed extract to be an essential nutrient for maintaining brain health and vitality.
One of the most potent antioxidants available, grape seed extract possesses 20 times more free radical-fighting power than vitamin E and 50 times more than vitamin C.34 This remarkable antioxidant activity suggests that grape seed extract should become a part of any regimen to optimize brain health.
In laboratory experiments, brain cells of rats treated with grape seed extract before exposing them to the toxic protein beta amyloid. While untreated rat brain neurons readily accumulated free radicals and subsequently died, the cells treated with the nutrient extract were significantly protected.35
In addition, a recently published 2006 study found that grape seed extract successfully inhibits the accumulation of age-related oxi-dative DNA damage in areas of the spinal cord and brain of aged albino rats.36
Improving Cerebral Circulation
Vinpocetine, a derivative of the periwinkle plant, was developed more than three decades ago for the purposes of combating cognitive decline. Like phosphatidylserine and GPC, it is available only by prescription in Europe. In the United States, vinpocetine is available without a prescription, as a nutritional supplement.
One of vinpocetine’s most important benefits for improving cognition is its ability to increase blood circulation and enhance glucose utilization throughout the brain.37 This is critical, since blood flow and its life-sustaining supply of oxygen in the brain otherwise tend to diminish as people age. In three studies of older adults with memory problems associated with poor brain circulation, vinpocetine was much better than placebo in improving patients’ performance on comprehensive cognitive tests reflecting attention, concentration, and memory.38
Because vinpocetine may affect the clotting time of blood plasma, those who take the prescription drug warfarin (Coumadin®) should consult with their physicians before using this nutrient.
Suppressing Inflammatory Fires
A great danger to the aging brain is inflammation, which can destroy neurons and impair essential brain function.
Used for centuries as a remedy for the pain and inflammation of arthritis, ginger blocks certain changes in brain cells that are associated with the development of Alzheimer’s. By incubating cells with ginger extract and various inflammation-provoking substances, scientists demonstrated in 2005 that ginger can inhibit activation of an inflammatory response in brain tissues. This led the investigators to suggest in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine that ginger extract “may be useful in delaying the onset and the progression of neuro-degenerative disorders.” 39
Protect Your Ability to Think and Reason
As humans age, physical and biochemical changes in brain cells can lead to significant cognitive impairment.40
For many years, the conventional dogma was that forgetfulness, slowed speech, and difficulty with mental tasks were natural consequences of aging.
The tragic loss of brain function as we age is not inevitable. Impressive research by scientists around the world has uncovered novel methods to help preserve our minds’ precious abilities.
In order to safeguard our cognitive abilities, however, we need to be vigilant and take the necessary steps to protect against the ravages of brain cell aging.
This article has introduced Americans to a novel phosphatidylserine-DHA compound that is just now becoming available. By utilizing all of the nutritional approaches described in this article, one takes advantage of a wealth of knowledge about protecting perhaps our most precious asset: our minds.
It is encouraging that some of the most promising approaches to averting the consequences of brain aging are available as dietary supplements that are virtually free of the side effects associated with expensive prescription drugs.
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