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9 Nutrients to help brain

April 8, 2011

The Best Ways to Protect Your Brain as You Age: 9 Natural Neuroprotectants
April 6, 2011
Posted by Gale Maleskey, MS, RD

A neuroprotectant is any substance that helps to shield nerve cells from damage or death. Drug companies are constantly looking for neuroprotectants — they would especially like to develop one that helps prevent brain damage after a stroke. What they’re not telling people is that natural neuroprotectants already exist.

These substances protect nerve cells from damage from excess oxygen and chemical toxins, help cells produce energy, maintain cell membranes and help cells withstand stress. Integrative medical practitioners already use these substances safely and effectively, and you can, too. Here’s how.

1 & 2. Have berries and chocolate for dessert. New research shows that eating berries regularly can reduce your risk of developing Parkinson’s disease by about 40%.

Berries contain a class of protective flavonoids called anthocyanins. Other brain-protective flavonoids include quercetin, found in citrus fruits and apples, and epicatechin, found in dark, unprocessed chocolate. There are a wide variety of flavonoids with different properties in foods like pomengranate, cranberries, goji, acai and cherries, so graze widely. If you don’t eat much fruit, consider using a concentrated supplemental source of berry and other fruit flavonoids.

3. Drink green tea. Green tea contains very special compounds, including one with a long name — epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG for short. Research from Japan shows that people who drink 3 or more cups of green tea a day are less likely to have the most common type of stroke (a blockage, called a cerebral infarction.)

Evidence in animals also suggests that EGCG protects brain cells from neurotoxins that can cause Parkinson’s disease and reduces the build-up of amyloid plaque, a leading feature in Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers are also examining EGCG’s benefit in deadly neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS and Huntington’s, and for spinal cord injury. Drink about 3 cups of organic green tea a day, or take a green tea extract.

4. Pour on curcumin. This antioxidant extract of the yellow spice, turmeric, is able to protect the dopamine-producing cells of the substantia nigra, the area of the brain that is affected in Parkinson’s disease.
Curcumin helps to reduce oxidative damage caused by toxins that attack this part of the brain. It also helps to protect brain cells from damage caused by blockages in capillary blood flow. Plus, it helps brain cells retain the ability to produce their own powerful antioxidants, even when injured or stressed.

It takes about 200 mg a day of curcumin for brain protection. Most people don’t get this amount unless they eat an Indian diet, but curcumin extracts can easily provide this large amount.

5. Add alpha lipoic acid. This nutritional supplement has some important advantages when it comes to brain and nerve protection. It is both fat- and water-soluble and can pass easily into the brain and work its way into cell membranes Alpha lipoic acid acts both as a powerful and versatile antioxidant and to improve energy production in cells, including nerve cells. It can protect peripheral nerves from diabetic neuropathy.

It may also protect against stroke damage. Animals treated with alpha lipoic acid, for example, suffered less brain damage and had a four times greater survival rate after a stroke than animals not receiving this supplement. And alpha lipoic acid seems to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. In one study, people with mild dementia who took 600 mg a day for four years had slower progression of the disease than people not taking alpha lipoic acid. Take 500-600 mg a day. (Alpha lipoic acid works even better when combined with energy-enhancing acetyl-l-carnintine.)

6. Think gingko. This herbal “adaptogen” helps your brain withstand physical and mental stress. Ginkgo has been shown to blunt spikes in brain-damaging cortisol, protect nerve cells in the hippocampus, and help maintain microcirculation in the brain. It has a blood-thinning and antioxidant effect. About 120 mg a day is the recommended dosage.

7. Consider l-carnosine. This nutritional supplement is highly concentrated in brain tissues, where it shields cells from lack of blood flow, toxic metals, and especially, high blood sugar levels. L-carnosine has also been shown to block the growth of Alzheimer’s-associated amyloid plaque.

The only dietary sources of l-carnosine are animal proteins, so it is especially important for people who do not consume meat to take an l-carnosine supplement to get its benefits. A standard dose is 500 mg a day.

8. Take fish oil. Fish oil helps maintain normal membrane fluidity and cell signaling in brain cells. High intake has been associated with a reduce risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Supplemental fish oil can lift depression, help you to calm down in the face of stress, and improve response to antidepressant therapy.

The latest research suggests that fish oil promotes structural improvement in areas of the brain related to emotional arousal and regulation. Take at least 1,400 mg a day of a fish oil supplement that has a good balance of EPA to DHA, about 2:1.

9. Take phosphatidyl serine. This brain-targeted supplement helps normalize neurotransmitter function, minimizes age-related brain cell loss, and improve age-related memory impairment.

In one study, phosphatidyl serine shaved 12 years off the normal expected decline in specific aspects of memory performance. In the face of stress, phosphatidyl serine can blunt the rise in cortisol and other stress hormones that can harm the brain. One study found that 300 mg per day of phosphatidyl serine improved mood and subjective feelings of stress. Levels tend to drop with age. A standard anti-aging dosage is 100 mg. twice a day.

Bottom Line: Start taking at least some of these brain-protecting supplements in your 50s to reduce your risk for cognitive decline as you age. Berries, curcumin, green tea and fish oil also help your heart and may protect against cancer, so it’s a win-win all around

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