Thursday, March 1, 2012

Brain Health

While cognitive decline and diminishing brain function may or may not be inevitable as we age, there are fortunately many lifestyle choices we can make that translate not only to healthier brains but also brains that may be better able to heal from damage caused by brain trauma and injury.
For instance, evidence is overwhelming regarding exercise’s ability to increase brain neuroplasticity and offset cognitive impairment in aging populations. The same can be said of diets that emphasize fresh vegetables and fruits, with some plant derived compounds demonstrating specific brain protective properties.
Among the various aspects of the pathophysiological cascade of post traumatic brain injury, magnesium depletion “ …has been correlated with post-injury neurologic deficits, and pretreatment to restore magnesium levels results in improved motor performance in experimental animals.”
Functionally, magnesium plays a vital role in nerve transmission, neuroplasticity and cognitive performance. As we age, brain levels of magnesium decline, exacerbating the erosion of synaptic function in the hippocampus region of the brain, for instance, which has a primary role in the formation of memories.
A unique and highly effective form of magnesium
Magnesium repletion then, especially as we age, is of vital importance. Unfortunately, magnesium from both food and supplementation has not been proven to elevate brain magnesium levels adequately enough to produce a therapeutic effect. One form of magnesium though, magnesium threonate, has been found to significantly increase brain levels of magnesium leading to improvements in synaptic plasticity, memory, cognition and learning.
The disruptive power of oxidative stress
The pathophysiological cascade of events that occur immediately following traumatic brain injury (TBI) include the creation of high levels of cell membrane damaging oxidative stress. Beyond cell membrane damaging lipid peroxidative action, oxidative stress “can cause a number of deleterious effects in cells including inhibition of DNA synthesis, disturbance in calcium homeostasis, and inhibition of mitochondrial respiration.”  Cell membrane disruption together with subsequent pathophysiological events will cause cognitive deficits that may manifest themselves as learning difficulties, memory loss and decreased synaptic plasticity.
 The benefits of curcumin
describe the imageCerebral edema is another common consequence of TBI. Dietary polyphenols like curcumin, the polyphenol found in turmeric, has been shown to have utility in brain disease, injury and cognitive function. Curcumin’s powerful antioxidative properties has been shown to be effective in neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and was shown to attenuate the severity of edema and hematoma in animal models of brain injury. In the preceding study, supplemental curcumin was also shown to improve brain cell membrane homeostasis and stability, neuronal signaling and cognitive deficits in animal models of traumatic brain injury.
Neurodegenerative diseases have a similar albeit slower progression of events including excitotoxicity, leading to neuronal cell death. Excitotoxicity is a pathological process by which neurons are damaged and killed by the over activation of receptors for the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate. This leads to the activation of a number of enzymes, which go on to damage cell structures such as components of the cell membrane and DNA. Excitotoxicity is involved in not only stroke and traumatic brain injury, but also neurodegenerative diseases of the central nervous system such as Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and Huntington's disease.
Green tea and brain health
green teaGreen tea consumption, with its plentiful concentration of polyphenols or more specifically, its green tea catechins, like curcumin, possesses brain protective properties which include its ability to increase neuronal viability, improve mitochondrial function and act as a powerful antioxidant. Iron in excess can be powerfully oxidative and has been shown to accumulate in specific parts of the brain like the hippocampus, again a vital center of cognition and memory formation. Green tea has iron chelation abilities that may offer addition brain protection and disease protection.
Finally, polyphenols from grape extracts were shown to decrease DNA damage in animal models of ischemic brain injury.
These examples just scratch the surface of the plethora of lifestyle, dietary and nutritional choices we have, many of which have been convincingly associated with major health benefits related to brain and cognitive health.

Compliments of Michael Fuhrman D.C., Designs for Health 

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