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Smart Move!

Cognitive Health Cognitive Health

Nutritional support for the brain.

The keys really are where you placed them; and your cell phone really is where you saw it last. And although you may stop and be stumped as to why you walked into your kitchen, as you walk back, befuddled, into your home office, you realize it was because you wanted to get that pot of tea going, so you head back to the stove.

These happenstances occur to moms driving around town doing errands, junior account execs that just became new homeowners, Generation X-ers who are newly empty nesters and with aging parents, and well, you get the picture. The haunting vision of suddenly hurtling down the express lane to suffering from dementia comes to mind immediately when it appears more frequently that you can’t immediately recall someone’s name, or think of that word you really know is so befitting.

For most healthy adults, these commonplace occurrences are not significant of a dire disease—but they, along with brain fog, loss of ability to focus and concentrate for typical durations, all can signify that the brain may need some different nutrition—and lifestyle changes. And the number of adults experiencing these factors is continually increasing. When your client/patient discusses this with you, there are several areas to discuss with him or her to pinpoint what may be going on.

Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, author of the free iPhone app “Cures A-Z,” noted that incidences as described above are mild when compared to the brain fog described by his fibromyalgia patients; this brain fog in these cases affect cognitive function. But this is one aspect of the issue. “Our experience with fibromyalgia suggests that a lack of energy production in the brain is an especially important factor,” he described. “This can be addressed through sleep, nutritional optimization (especially B vitamins, magnesium, omega-3s and ribose, which are contained in one formula, Energy Enfusion Vitamin Powder by Integrative Therapeutics), treating low-grade infections (especially Candida) and hormonal optimization (especially thyroid and adrenals).”

Jason Edwards, CEO of Indiana-based Rebel Herbs, observed that overall, “We live life in an unbalanced way, working often for long hours, and exercising infrequently, instead of managing our work life so we have adequate rest and exercise. Likewise, we need to make sure we are exercising our minds. According to the American Psychological Association, spending time learning new skills is time well spent as it can improve overall cognitive ability.”

He also pointed to an increasingly toxic environment, and even though some progress has been made in reducing heavy metal contamination, lead can still be a factor in neurological issues and degeneration. The NIH-RCMI (National Institutes of Health Research Centers in Minority Institutions Program) Center for Environmental Health, he said, published an article, which found that 50 percent of adult lead exposure comes from water contamination and that lead exposure can have a serious effect on cognitive function.

Stress is also a significant culprit here. Shailinder Sodhi, BAMS, ND of Washington-based Ayush Herbs called it “the biggest offender” in hampering brain function. “Leading a complex, stressful life where we have to navigate traffic, a constant influx of news and media, and juggle all of the demands of living in the modern world is nutritionally depleting,” he remarked.

Physiologically, he explained, the stress response systems, and in particular the hypothalamic—pituitary—adrenal (HPA) complex, influences both physical and mental health outcomes across the life span by producing cortisol. Cortisol governs metabolic resources in the brain and body, and modulates the processing of emotionally significant and distressing events. Cortisol then binds to receptors in the hippocampus and amygdala, regions of the brain responsible for learning and memory. Research has found that stress-induced cortisol release during or after learning benefits memory consolidation, while increasing cortisol during retrieval impedes the ability to recall. Furthermore, chronically elevated cortisol levels seem to impair memory.

Beth Baldwin-Lien, ND, medical affairs and education director, Vital Nutrients in Connecticut, agreed, adding that animal studies show that prolonged exposure to high levels of cortisol from stress may cause gradual loss of synapses in the prefrontal cortex, responsible for short-term memory.

Dr. Sodhi added that the brain consumes a lot of resources, especially sugar, oxygen, iron and fats. It uses approximately 20 percent of the body’s total oxygen supply, and the high levels of fat and iron generate reactive oxygen species making the brain particularly susceptible to free radical damage. “We also don’t eat enough complex carbs to sustain and facilitate the needs of the brain, so it’s also entirely possible that in those ‘senior moments’ we are simply hypoglycemic,” he noted.

Therefore, said Dr. Sodhi, if your patient/client is complaining of perceived increased forgetfulness, cognitive dysfunction, and/or mental fatigue bouts, find out if he or she is hypoglycemic, undergoing a particularly stressful period, and if he or she is obtaining enough nourishment that the brain needs to function optimally.

Mark Kaylor, founder of Radiant Health Project, and consultant to New Jersey-based Mushroom Wisdom Inc., asserted that numerous factors can contribute to forgetful moments. Logically, after several decades of living, our brains are much fuller of things to sort through, life experiences, knowledge, etc., which can sometimes make it a little longer to retrieve information from memory. Senior moments, he cautioned, can also be caused by many factors; from poor circulation to the brain to poor nutrition, in traditional Chinese Medicine, dampness. The client/patient should also be checked for systemic inflammation, blood sugar and insulin balance, and free radical damage.

“An area that is now starting to get greater recognition as a contributing factor in maintaining healthy brain function is how the immune system protects the brain and fights inflammation within the brain,” he said.

Kathy McIntee, vice president of Patient One, New York, suggested that cognition insufficiencies may stem from certain health conditions such as low thyroid function and adrenal insufficiency, and medications including anti-depressants, allergy medications and painkillers. “But for many, cloudy thinking, inability to focus, forgetfulness and brain fatigue are caused or impacted by lifestyle factors: a poor diet, nutrient deficiencies, chronic stress, insufficient sleep, and/or lack of exercise,” she summarized.

Further, our modern lifestyles include another more common element—flat-screen viewing for long durations, which enable more frenetic multi-tasking, which thus taxes the brain further, according to Dr. Baldwin-Lien. “We are often multi-tasking, and not fully attending to information being relayed, which reduces our ability to recall it later. There’s also been a lot of concern that the amount of time spent using screens may be resulting in shorter attention spans.”

One cannot isolate memory function, cognitive function and mood function—according to Vladimir Badmaev, MD, PhD, founder of American Medical Holdings, New York, these are closely interrelated and usually are affected in a cluster. Additionally, there is a distinction between the sensory overload lapses of memory and failing memory.

Failing memory is different from forgetfulness from being overworked, overwhelmed or stressed. Failing memory, unlike commonplace forgetfulness, he noted, is often signaled by a person’s feeling of declining sense of well-being. “In a way, failing memory signals failing health,” he commented.

“Most commonly, loss of memory due to “wear and tear” and atherosclerosis, as with advancing age, affects declarative memory (remembering something or someone consciously), sparing the non-declarative memory (basic survival skills such as developing and remember how to move, habits, react in fight or flight, etc.), he explained. “In the case of Alzheimer’s disease, the deficiency of declarative memory is usually followed by loss of basic survival skills, to the point that a person cannot take care of him/herself due to the deficiency of non-declarative memory.”

Key Brain Nutrients

Undeniably, a significant portion of your clients/patients may benefit from brain-support supplements. Key supplement ingredients with solid science foundations supporting their value include ashwagandha, bacopa, phosphatidylserine, glycerophosphatidylcholine, lion’s mane mushroom and maitake mushroom.

Ashwagandha has long been used in traditional ayurveda to support against free radical oxidative damage; research on two of its actives (withanolides) have been tested for antioxidant activity using free-radical scavenging enzymes in rodent brain frontal cortex and striatum, according to Dr. Sodhi. Lowered activity of these enzymes leads to degeneration caused by accumulation of toxic oxidative free radicals. Therefore, an increase in these enzymes increases antioxidant activity providing protective effect on neuronal tissue. In one study, active glycowithanolides were given once daily for 21 days to groups of six rats. Dose-related increases in all enzymes were observed.

“Ashwagandha has been used effectively during periods of heightened stress/cortisol secretion, when you need a boost in cognitive and brain function,” he said. Ayush Herbs’ Ashwagandha is made with a proprietary extraction method that Dr. Sodhi said preserves the herb’s active essences. He reassured, “ashwagandha can be used on a long-term daily basis without risk of side effects.”

Ashwagandha has another relevant use for brain support. “Another approach that may help with occasional forgetfulness related to stress, is to support the adrenal glands, pointed out Dr. Baldwin-Lien. Vital Nutrients’ Adrenal Support and Tension Ease both contain ashwagandha, which helps modulate cortisol levels, reducing its toxic effects on the brain. “Ashwagandha has been shown in many studies to enhance all aspects of cognitive function, including focus, concentration, and memory,” she underscored.

Bacopa monnieri is a well-researched herb for nourishing the brain, notably memory and cognition, said Dr. Sodhi. One study found that bacopa taken daily for 12 weeks improved speed of information processing, learning rate and memory consolidation, and reduced anxiety in healthy adults. In a similar 12-week study, significant effects of bacopa on retention of new information in healthy adults was reported. Bacopa has also been shown to improve mental control, logical memory, and paired associate learning in participants aged 55 years and over with age-associated memory impairment. Another study showed that bacopa affected improvements in a range of cognitive assessments in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. “When recommending bacopa, clients and patients need to know they must take it daily for at least 12 weeks for it to be effective as studied,” he advised.

Ayush Herbs’ Bacopa Plus is formulated for memory and nervous system support. This formula also contains Ginkgo biloba for support of blood circulation to the brain, Convolvulus pluricaulis and Centella asiatica to calm the nervous system, promote healthy blood circulation, support memory and cognitive activity, and for their general health effects. “According to ayurvedic tradition, the herbs contained in Bacopa Plus enhance the nervous system and promote healthy blood circulation,” he added.

Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a vital fat in cell membranes that helps them maintain normal function, as it is essential for cell function and signaling. Aging, explained Dr. Sodhi, compromises neural membrane fluidity due to increased cortisol and cholesterol, decreased levels of total polyunsaturated fatty acids, and increases in free radicals, resulting in oxidative stress. “The brain is one of the richest organs in fat content, and its structure and function have been shown to be influenced by nutrients. Unfavorable changes in the brain fat levels could lead to different pathogenic processes, as demonstrated in various neuronal conditions,” he described. Ayush Herbs’ Ayu-Phos is soy-free and is naturally derived from the sunflower. “This flower-powered brain food is bound to ionic calcium and magnesium which improve the absorption and utilization of phosphatidylserine in the body,” he said.

McIntee explained that neuronal cells don’t easily regenerate, so they need to have a superior survival mechanism. High levels of PS in neuronal membranes were shown to help preserve neuronal survival by facilitating several necessary cellular processes. She explained, “Maintaining PS levels in neuronal tissues has been associated with normal and efficient signal transduction processes, efficient neuronal glucose consumption and other biological pathways that are crucial for normal and healthy cognitive and mental functions.”

Patient One’s NeuroOne complex supplies PS, as well as other clinically supported nutrients for cerebrovascular health and healthy cognitive and mental function.

In this category, the company also offers glycerophosphatidylcholine in its supplement, Sharp-GPC. Phosphatidylcholine is a precursor to the neuro-transmitter acetylcholine. It is found in very high concentrations in newborns, particularly in brain tissue. “As a normal part of the aging process, levels in the cell decrease over time. NeuroOne supplies Sharp-GPC, high purity, soy-derived phosphatidylcholine that boosts acetylcholine levels in the brain to optimize central neurotransmission, promoting clear cognition and sharp memory.”

Other good sources of brain-support ingredients are mushrooms. According to Kaylor, several mushrooms—eg., reishi, cordyceps and maitake—have been shown to have neuroprotective effects. “However, more recently a growing number of studies have found a wide range of brain health supporting benefits with the lion’s mane mushroom. Studies utilizing lion’s mane mushroom with individuals with a degenerative brain condition have found improvements in memory, mood, balance, perception, quality of life, and functional independence, and one study even saw improvements with wondering.

“While research using lion’s mane for brain function is relatively new, at least a couple of mechanisms have been discovered,” Kaylor commented. For example, hericenones, the actives in lion’s mane mushroom, have been found effective for slowing and maybe even reducing the buildup of amyloid beta plaque in the brain. Additionally, a fatty acid compound in lion’s mane has been shown to protect healthy brain cells from damage associated with plaque accumulation. These two compounds have been concentrated and standardized in a product from Mushroom Wisdom called Amyloban 3399.

But there is more to the lion’s mane brain-support story—Kaylor noted that more recent studies have suggested that there are likely a number of other brain and nerve supporting actions associated with this mushroom that have yet to be fully clarified—“including a nurses study where there was significant improvement in quality of life and a number of case studies for some serious mental health issues. And some promising animal studies found that lion’s mane may also help with peripheral nerve damage, evidence that the boosting of nerve growth factor is one of its actions.”

Rebel Herbs, said Edwards, has several brain health products based on our patented blend called NuroLight, which has been through phase one and phase two human clinical trials. NuroLight is found in our encapsulated formulas, #68 Nuroade (for memory support) and #11 NuroSteady (for focus and attention) and the new herbal vapor #66 Nuroade which skips digestion and gives an immediate benefit through the lungs.

Vital Nutrients’ Vital Brain is formulated to support mental focus, memory, concentration, positive outlook and brain health. It contains glycerophosphopholine (GPC), phosphatidylserine (PS), and Acetyl L-Carnitine (ALC).

ALC is an acetylated amino acid that crosses the blood-brain barrier and exerts strong antioxidant effects on brain tissue. ALC has been associated with increased cerebral blood flow and improved cognitive function in people with cerebrovascular insufficiency, said Dr. Baldwin-Lien. “Randomized controlled trials indicate that 1,500–3,000 mg of acetyl L-carnitine, in divided doses, can improve cognitive function and mood parameters in the short term and slow the progression of cognitive decline in the long term in people with degenerative brain conditions.”

These supplements are a great start, along with recommending stress-relief techniques and keeping mentally/intellectually active. There is also a strong connection with sleep and anxiety or depression in episodes of brain fog and absentmindedness. Addressing these will also greatly enhance the efficacy of brain support supplements.

For More Information:
Ayush Herbs, www.ayush.com
Mushroom Wisdom Inc., www.mushroomwisdom.com
Patient One/MediNutritionals Research, www.patientoneformulas.com
Rebel Herbs, www.rebelherbs.com
Vital Nutrients, www.vitalnutrients.net

Side-bar:

Promoting CNS Health Via Protection of Myelin Sheaths

By Vladimir Badmaev, MD, PhD

Myelin is an insulating cover, or sheath, that forms around nerves in the brain and spinal cord. A healthy functioning nerve is a myelinated nerve. The myelin sheath allows electrical impulses to transmit quickly and efficiently along the nerve cells. If myelin is damaged, these impulses slow down or may not be transmitted at all. Myelin belongs to a group of complex lipids called sphingolipids, present in all mammalian cells where they are major components of cell membranes. Certain sphingolipids in the central and peripheral nervous systems are highly correlated with the tissue levels of vitamin K2-7, which has been shown to have a role in myelin synthesis and myelin repair in central and peripheral nervous systems.

In the nervous system, vitamin K2-7 operates through the carboxylation and activation of Gla residues on GAS6 protein (growth arrest–specific gene 6 protein) which is structurally related to another vitamin K-dependent protein (VKDP), anticoagulation factor protein S. GAS6 and a related S protein bind and activate the receptor tyrosine kinases of the Tyro3, Axl and Mer (TAM) family involved in cellular signaling which stimulates the generation of central nervous system repair cells (oligodendrocytes) and increase myelin production and repair after myelin injury (demyelinating injury). Vitamin K2-7 may also act in the central nervous system independently of its role in the carboxylation reaction. Vitamin K2-7 is critical for healthy myelin by activating enzyme 3-ketodihydrosphingosine (3-KDS) involved in sphingolipid synthesis.

There is increased evidence from genetic and pharmacological studies that PDE-4 (Phosphodiesterase subtype-4 or PDE-4) inhibition plays a crucial role in improving cognition, memory, sleep patterns and affective processes mediated through the PDE-4 cascade involving intracellular cAMP signaling. Phosphodiesterase type 4 inhibitors are considered cognition enhancers and putative treatment strategies for Alzheimer’s disease. By preventing cAMP breakdown, PDE4 inhibitors can enhance intracellular signal transduction and increase the phosphorylation of cAMP response element-binding protein (CREB) and transcription of proteins related to synaptic plasticity and associated memory formation. Essentially, inhibition of PDE-4 prevents premature destruction of and preserves the signaling molecules that enhance cognitive, memory, sleep and affective processes.

The initiatives to translate PDE-4 inhibitors to a potential treatment are met with limited success, because most PDE-4 inhibitors produce nausea and vomiting. Zembrin, an extract of the South African plant Sceletium tortuosum, is a brain-support nutraceutical that truly withstood the trial of time and is now emerging as a PDE-4 enzyme inhibitor, free of emetic side effects. The traditional use of Sceletium—building stamina in nomads of Kalahari desert—predates the earliest written reports of the use of the plant by many thousands of years. In published clinical studies, Zembrin has been shown to prevent stress, enhance cognitive faculty and memory, and improve the quality of sleep.