Improved cognitive abilities are more sought after now than ever. Here’s how to ensure clients/patients protect their mindful abilities.
In the 2011 film “Limitless,” the main character finds out what it is like to use 100 percent of his brain capacity by taking an unapproved new drug dubbed NZT. Instantly, he goes from down-and-out struggling writer to financial wunderkind … and ends up facing numerous dangers and side effects.
This film was based on the widely held falsehood that we only use 10 percent of our gray matter.
But that isn’t the only misconception about the human brain and its functional abilities. According to neuropathologist Alan D. Snow, PhD, of Seattle, WA, nearly 30 years ago most medical students and scientists were taught that the brain does not develop new neurons once adulthood begins. “That turned out to be entirely false,” he asserted. Now, it is understood that the brain can continue to regenerate via neuroplasticity. When one learns a new hobby or subject, playing a new instrument and social interactions all contribute to neuroplasticity—allowing the brain to change in physical shape and improve in new nerve cell connections (i.e. synapses) and thus, overall brain health.
There are other growth areas in neurological research shedding new light on treatments for brain diseases. For example, noted Dr. Snow, “new studies for Alzheimer’s disease and overall brain health is emerging, where non-invasive techniques, like light and sound waves at certain frequencies, can actually reduce beta-amyloid plaque load and may be beneficial to treat certain neurological disorders. There is rapid research currently going on using these non-invasive technologies in this new wave of potential future treatments for all kinds of brain disorders.”
Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, best-selling author, observed that the medical community’s understanding of neurotransmitters, and “especially now the cannabinoid system, as well as the role of phospholipids, holds tremendous promise for addressing brain function.”
Terms are also somewhat misleading. For example, many of your patients may not understand what cognitive function means—they may simply think it means being awake and lucid. Natalie Lamb, technical advisor, Protexin for Florida-based ADM Protexin, Inc. underscored that cognitive function refers to wide-ranging but distinctive mental abilities, including memory, learning, reasoning, concentration, problem solving and decision making, as well as resistance to stress. “Everyday cognitive function can be influenced by modifiable lifestyle factors such as sleep, stress, nutrition, alcohol, exercise and cognitive training. Cognitive function usually peaks in the mid-20s, and then functions such as speed of recall and working memory decline gradually until our 60s, after which more rapid decline takes place,” she described.
As humans age, Lamb added, neurotransmitter levels decline. In tandem, structural brain changes are also frequently seen, such as the decrease in overall brain mass (although certain areas can shrink more rapidly than others). Once a neurodegenerative disease process is clinically detectable, it may be too late to reverse with conventional medical treatment. Lamb emphasized, “Much research is currently underway to understand how to prevent these changes from happening in the first place. Forty-two percent of U.K. adults say that cognitive decline is one of their biggest fears, so we knew there was demand in the market for a natural dietary supplement that may be able to help contribute to normal cognitive function.”
There are numerous new technologically advanced supplements (and their ingredients) that can have tremendous positive impact on patients who tell you they feel as though they are forgetting things too frequently or have noticed more difficulty maintaining perspicacity and focus. And there are powerful rationales that have driven the development.
Paul Opheim, CEO and research director, Arizona-based Leptica Research, focuses on how cell signaling factors (CSFs) affect the brain. “By looking at the research on these pathways, our formulas comprise isoenergetic cell signaling of select CSFs to help promote restoration of these deficits and imbalances,” he explained. “Our current formulas include Parkinson’s, dementia, TBI/CTE (traumatic brain injury/chronic traumatic encephalopathy), alcohol and opioid addictions, and our current clinical study for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). The salient factor in our formulas is that due to their non-molecular nature, the traditional delivery challenges of GI (gastrointestinal)-circulatory-BBB (blood-brain barrier) transport is a non-issue.”
Meanwhile, on another front, continually mounting evidence suggests that the gut microbiome may play an important role in influencing brain health and cognitive function, communicating with the host through what is becoming known as the microbiota-gut-brain axis, according to Lamb who pointed out that several recent studies have demonstrated an association between changes in the gut microbiota, cognitive function and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Previous animal studies have suggested the ability of probiotics to modulate cognitive behaviors including learning and memory, and initial findings from human clinical trials are looking promising.
“Neuroinflammation,” she added, “is a theory linked to the onset of cognitive decline and more recently linked to the gut. “Oxidative stress is associated with cognitive decline, and antioxidants are believed to help protect cells from oxidative stress and have been studied for the prevention and treatment of cognitive decline.”
Because grapes and blueberries are high in polyphenols, she elaborated, they are well known for exhibiting strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and shown to improve cognitive function. The combination of both grape and blueberry extracts in Bio-Kult Mind, she noted, has been shown to provide a five-fold increase in absorption compared to single extract administration. A published double-blind randomized clinical study performed on 215 healthy subjects, aged 60-70 years old who consumed Bio-Kult Mind for six months, resulted in restoration of cognitive performance by 10 years in individuals with the highest cognitive impairments, according to Lamb.
Washington-based Ayush Herbs is also known for its herbal-based approaches and promotes both antioxidants and adaptogens for supporting cognitive and memory function. “A focus is on providing antioxidants that protect brain tissues from free-radical damage. This matters more as we age but is an often overlooked aspect of brain health at all ages,” said Jared Paulson, MTCM (master of traditional Chinese medicine), vice president. “We use adaptogenic herbs to help balance the effects of stress and cortisol on the brain; Americans, as we all know, are dealing with incredibly high physiologic stress which leads to myriad health issues and addressing this is key to affecting cognition,” he underscored.
Rebel Herbs of Indiana has two brain formulas, both of which contain a branded ingredient called NuroLight, according to Jason Edwards, CEO. NuroLight is a proprietary blend of five herbal extracts [flax seed, Celastrus paniculatus (fruit), Bacopa monnieri (leaf), rosemary (leaf), and ginger (rhizome)] that has both phase one and phase two placebo-controlled, double-blind studies. Celastrus paniculatus, Edwards noted, is less known in Western herbalism. This herb is known as the tree of intellect or the tree of intelligence, and it has some amazing data on it as a single herb as well.
The studies, he said, yielded data that “was so strong that it led to two U.S. patents and four international patents (U.S. patents #8.110.229, #8.394.429). These placebo-controlled, double-blind studies included 144 school aged children and focused on ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Many great results came from that data including a huge increase in IQ scores across the board; in fact, the lowest IQ score at the end of the study was still higher than the highest IQ score at the beginning of the study,” he commented.
Rebel Herbs’ features NuroLight in two supplements. NuroSteady is simply the NuroLight blend in the researched dose. It is also used in Nuroade at 60 percent of a full dose and two additional herbs. A novel approach is used in the colors of the capsules, he explained: both capsules are colored a bright blue by using blackcurrant extract infused into carob, which is used to polish the outside of the capsules in place of the more common titanium oxide.
Juliette Sweet, ND, director of clinical education for Rebel Herbs, owner of SpiraVita Natural Health, and president of the New Mexico Association of Naturopathic Physicians, who recommends Rebel Herbs’ NuroLight products in her practice, expounded that the herbs in the formula increase acetylcholine for focus and memory, and may also reduce impulsive behavior in pediatric ADHD. Bacopa is helpful for regulating neurotransmitters to channel energy for focus, learning and recall. Rosemary is traditionally the herb of remembrance and is said to increase acetylcholine at both the muscarinic and nicotinic receptors in the hippocampus and frontal cortexes, which impacts learning and memory.
Percepta, developed by Dr. Alan Snow and Dr. Rudy Tanzi of Cognitive Clarity Inc., is a plant-based dietary supplement containing only two ingredients, according to Dr. Snow—“a patented PTI-00703 cat’s claw and a specific oolong tea extract.” More than 10 years of studies demonstrate that this product can help inhibit and reduce brain plaques and tangles that accumulate in the brain that typically begin forming in one’s 20s, he said.
“We discovered new polyphenols in cat’s claw that get into the brain in minutes when in blood, and the newly identified polyphenols can actually bind to and inhibit brain plaques and tangles. Cat’s claw is also a potent reducer of neuroinflammation by reducing TNF-alpha and interleukin-1, two major inflammatory cytokines.” Further, he added, in his research which is in review for publication, PTI-00703 cat’s claw has been identified to be between 30 and 85 percent more effective at reducing brain plaques and tangles compared to 17 other cat’s claw ingredients.
Choline, an essential nutrient, is widely known for its cognitive benefits, as it is a precursor to acetylcholine, one of the primary neurotransmitters. Additionally, free choline in the body is also converted to phosphatidylcholine, a primary component of cell membranes and the main process of moving fats out of the liver. The nutrient is also known to have a critical role in healthy infant brain development as well as providing brain support throughout childhood and beyond. In fact, according to Tom Druke, marketing director, human nutrition & health for New York-based Balchem, one study published in the FASEB Journal described a meaningful positive correlation between choline intake and improved academic performance in teenagers.
Another study investigated the role of choline bitartrate in cognitive performance, specifically focus and accuracy, in adults. They were given supplements were asked to perform computer “aim and click” targeting tasks. The participants supplemented with choline showed significantly better performance than the control group by optimizing the brain’s balance between speed and accuracy, he reported.
A new study in 2019 was, described Druke, a novel experiment examining the effects of choline supplementation as a dietary intervention to help protect against dementia and cognitive decline. In the study, mice prone to display symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease were fed a high choline diet while pregnant and lactating. Their offspring were then fed a normal diet and bred to examine the possible impact on a second generation of mice. The researchers found that not only did the first generation of “high choline” mice show improvements in spatial memory relative to the control group, the effect continued into the second generation as well.
He commented, “This is the first research to demonstrate that the cognitive benefits of maternal choline supplementation may be transgenerational, regardless of the choline intake of the offspring. The authors of the study believe that increased choline availability during pregnancy results in epigenetic alterations that improve cognitive abilities, with the changes becoming part of the genetic code that is then passed on, perpetuating that benefit. While further research is needed in humans, this exciting new direction in animal research suggests that choline could play an important epigenetic role in mitigating factors that contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.”
The same researchers also just released findings from a new study suggesting that post-natal choline supplementation at higher levels may have long-term cognitive benefits as well. This study examined the impact of choline supplementation in dementia-prone mice from 2.5 to 10 months of age. “The researchers discovered that mice in the choline-supplemented group had a reduced load of amyloid-β plaque, a key marker in Alzheimer’s disease, and also that choline helped to attenuate the activity of microglia, cells that have a neuroprotective function in brain maintenance and repair, but can be over-activated into doing more harm than good,” Druke elucidated.
Overall, said Lamb, losing mental sharpness is a key concern throughout all stages of life. Forgetfulness can be experienced at any age but often increases as people grow older or when we are stressed. Research has found that memory retrieval speeds can decline by as much as 20 percent by age of 40 years and 40 to 60 percent by age of 80 years. “Although some decline maybe inevitable, there is however, plenty we can do to support cognitive function and to keep our memory as sharp as it can be at any age.”
The SHIELD program, developed by Dr. Snow’s partner Dr. Rudy Tanzi of Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital, is a practical tool for natural practitioners to provide their clients/patients. S is for sleep, to strive for eight hours of sleep to help clear out the day’s detritus (i.e. brain plaques) that accumulates during wakefulness; H is for handling stress, which is a significant cause of mental fatigue, anxiety, depression and cognitive decline; I is for interaction with others, as social interaction (and not loneliness and isolation) helps stimulate the brain; E is for exercise, which has been found to improve overall brain health via stimulating production of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), as well has helping improve memory and staving off cognitive decline; L is to learn new things, which helps improve cognition, memory loss and overall brain health. It also helps make new connections (synapses) and helps change the shape of your brain to interact better with itself; and D is for diet, specifically, said Dr. Snow, the Mediterranean diet.
According to Opheim, there are certain cell signaling factors that are crucial to all brain/cognitive function such as IGF-1 and BDNF. Leptica’s formulas address specific issues with different CSFs that have been shown to modulate those afflictions.
Additionally, Leptica provides Self Assessment of Symptoms forms for the practitioner to use to help with intake, create a baseline and monitor progress over time as changes can be progressive and subtle. The company also provides a Chart Your Use form for each formula “as patient compliance can be the biggest challenge, especially with cases involving cognitive function,” he noted.
In her practice, Dr. Sweet likes to recommend Rebel Herbs’ NuroSteady for “productive adults who have high career demands and abuse caffeine/stimulants to get work done (this cognitive formula is supportive for the brain and adrenals instead of depleting) as well as for students to improve cognition and memory. If a patient is over 40 years of age, I like to recommend Nuroade to help focus and reduce risk of cognitive decline. The herbs used in this formula have been shown to inhibit plaque formation in the brain, increase circulation, regenerate glutathione, increase acetylcholine and memory.”
For some supplements, there are numerous relevant cognitive applications. “The range of people who can benefit from choline includes the pregnant woman wanting to support the development of her child’s brain, the athlete focused on hand eye coordination, people doing everything science suggests to avoid the risk of age-related cognitive decline, and the menopausal woman frustrated by ‘brain fog,’” described Druke.
Limitless is an optimistic if unachievable concept. But by assisting patients/clients to help improve brain function, and thus cognitive and memory powers, they will experience a wondrous side effect—healthier self-confidence. And that in itself can make one feel that self-contained boundaries, limits have been successfully broken.
Healthy Take Aways:
• The brain can continue to regenerate via neuroplasticity.
• Everyday cognitive function can be influenced by modifiable lifestyle factors such as sleep, stress, nutrition, alcohol, exercise and cognitive training.
• Cognitive function usually peaks in the mid-20s, and then functions such as speed of recall and working memory decline gradually until our 60s.
• Research has found that memory retrieval speeds can decline by as much as 20 percent by age of 40 years and 40 to 60 percent by age of 80 years.
For More Information:
ADM Protexin, Inc. (Bio-Kult), www.bio-kult.com
Ayush Herbs, www.ayush.com
Cognitive Clarity Inc., www.perceptabrain.com
Leptica Research, www.lepticamedical.com
Rebel Herbs, www.rebelherbs.com