Optimizing Brain Health by Wilfredo Hernandez, MS, CNS
Catalog Summer 2016
Optimizing Brain Health
Written by Wilfredo Hernandez, MS, CNS
Director of Nutrition – Brooklyn, New York
Understanding how to best optimize brain health throughout the aging process may enhance memory functions and mental health. As we age, alterations in brain structure affects functions and is connected to cognitive decline. Lifestyle habits such as a healthy diet loaded with antioxidant-rich fresh vegetables and fruits, exercise, and deep sleep are proven strategies to enhance health in the aging brain for better cognitive function. There is also reputable evidence that supplementation can help.
Inflammation can impact the brain (neuro-inflammation). As we age, if there is inflammation in the brain, it can initiate a faster than normal decline in cognitive functions, contributing to conditions such as MCI (mild cognitive impairment) or the neurodegenerative diseases Alzheimer's and Parkinson’s. In addition to a good diet, specific minerals and nutrients may be helpful in ameliorating inflammation in the brain. In a number of studies, Curcumin reduces inflammation, including inflammation in the brain. A study in the Journal of Experimental Neurology shows curcumin may protect neurons from inflammation, which is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.1 Curcumin is derived from the curry spice turmeric and is known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. A 2015 study reported that DHA supplementation, one of the two fats in fish oils, may also reduce markers of inflammation in the brain and be beneficial in the preventive treatment of chronic neurological disorders.2
Our brain is an exceedingly high energy organ that never shuts down. The brain is needed for many functions, including regulating respiration and beating of the heart, mood, behavior, and memory. Inside the brain are about eighty-six billion neurons that require a constant supply of energy. There are several nutrients that may elevate brain energy. Mitochondria are the tiny power-plants in every brain cell that use the product of glucose for energy. A study published in the Journal PNAS concluded that ALCAR (Acetyl-L-Carnitine) helps protect mitochondria from decay, while restoring metabolism through the generation of energy.3 Oral administration of Ubiquinol, the active version of CoQ10 has been shown to improve brain mitochondrial function, favoring brain health.4
About 12% of the brain is made out of lipids (fatty substances). Grey matter (where thinking and memory takes place) is actually 36% to 40% lipid content, while white matter and the insulating-myelin sheath covering nerves has a much higher lipid content. EPA and DHA, the omega-3 fatty acids from fish or krill oil, are incredibly important lipid constituents of the brain and are the prime structural components of brain cell membranes.5
As we age, shrinkage of the brain occurs, which can affect memory and cognitive functions. Fortunately, BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor) stimulates the development of new neurons in a process called neurogenesis. This occurs in the hippocampus where new memories are formed and also in the prefrontal lobe where we solve problems and plan the future. Curcumin and DHA may help stimulate BDNF5, leading to the formation of new neurons for memory, and DHA is an important building block for the cell membranes needed for the transmission of nerve impulse and brain neurochemistry. A deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet can accelerate brain shrinkage, contributing to memory decline.6,7,8 Curcumin has therapeutic potential for restoring BDNF.9
The brain requires large amounts of energy to function and a well-functioning circulatory system is required to deliver the calories needed for energy. Unfortunately, circulation to the brain declines with age, contributing to slow but certain decay. In a number of well-designed studies, the flavon-3-ol antioxidants abundant in Cocoa (likely in conjunction with the methylxanthine content) have been shown to help restore circulation to the aging brain, supporting cognition and restoring memory functions.10
Exercise, a good diet, plenty of restful sleep, with the help of key nutrients and herbs is a worthwhile strategy for supporting brain health well into old-age.
1. Curcumin protects axons from degeneration in the setting of local Neuroinflammation. (2013). Journal of Experimental Neurology.
2. DHA dietary supplementation enhances the effects of exercise on synaptic plasticity and cognition. (2008). Journal of Neuroscience.
3. Acetyl-L-Carnitine and Alpha-lipoic acid partially reverse brain decay and RNA/DNA oxidation associated with memory loss in rats. (2002). Journal of PNAS.
4. Coenzyme Q10 administration increase brain mitochondrial concentration and exerts neuroprotective effects. (1998). Journal of PNAS.
5. Adherence to nutritional recommendations and subsequent cognitive performance: findings from the prospective supplementation with Antioxidant Vitamins and Minerals. (2011). American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
6. Unesterified docosahexaenoic acid is protective in Neuroinflammation. (2013). Journal of Neurochemistry.
7. DHA dietary supplementation enhances the effects of exercise on synaptic plasticity and cognition. (2008). Journal of Neuroscience.
8. Higher RBC EPA +DHA corresponds with larger total brain and hippocampal volumes. (2014). Journal of Neurology.
9. Effects of curcumin on brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels and oxidative damage in obesity and diabetes. (2013). Journal of Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism.
10. The neuroprotective effects of cocoa flavanol and its influence on cognitive performance. (2013). British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.
Additional data was obtained from various textbooks, The Journal of Lipid Science, Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
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