Pajaro Street Health and Wellness
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Children Degenerative diseases
- The role of inflammation and the example of autism. Dyslexia
- Can learning disabilities be cured by eating a little fish? Asperger's
- Why an overload of heavy metals in children may be the root cause. ADHD
- Poor parenting or peptides in the brain? Psychiatric Issues and Nutrition/Allergies
"We are a stressed-out society. And our habits of overwork, not enough sleep, too much coffee, too much sugar, refined foods, junk food that we use to temporarily relieve our stress, exposure to environmental toxins, and silent infections push us to burnout." Mark Hyman MD The UltraMind Solution: Depression
- Why exercise and fish oil are often more effective treatments for depression than antidepressants. Stress and Anxiety
- Finding the biochemical antidote. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
- Are bad bugs talking to your brain driving you crazy? Schizophrenia
- Can zinc really cure psychosis?
Dr. Ray Strand: Oxidative Stress and the Brain
Have you ever thought about your ability to think? Thinking about thinking-now there's a concept! When you reach back into your memory banks and recall a vivid childhood experience or that special moment with your family, do you ever marvel at how you can remember even some of the smallest details~ Stop reading for a moment and take a look out your window. Have you ever considered with amazement your colored, wide-angled, binocular vision? This is all possible only with God's marvelous creation, the brain.
The brain is our most precious organ because without its full function, we humans simply exist, unable to relate to the world around us. My mother died of an aggressive brain tumor that affected her ability to interpret speech and to speak. It was the most frustrating time of my life because she couldn't understand what we were saying. When we told her we loved her, all we got was in return was a blank stare. Her own words were garbled and made no sense at all. Needless to say, protecting my brain has definitely become a priority.
It should come as no surprise to you now that even the brain (central nervous system) and our nerves (peripheral nervous system) are not out of the reach of oxidative stress. This common enemy has been strongly implicated in a variety of diseases that wreak devastating damage on the brain and nerves, known as neurodegenerative diseases.2 Some of these include Alzheimer's dementia, Parkinson's disease, ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), multiple sclerosis, and Huntington's chorea. In fact there are several reasons why the brain and the nerves are especially vulnerable to oxidative stress:
o Relative to its size, the brain experiences an increased rate of oxidative activity, which creates a significant number of free radicals.
o The normal activity which various chemicals create to establish nerve conduction is a major producer of free radicals.
o The brain and nerve tissue contain relatively low levels of antioxidants.
o Millions of nonreplicable cells make up the central nervous system. This means that once they are damaged, they are most likely dysfunctional for life.
o The brain and nervous system are easily disrupted. A small amount of damage in a critical area can cause severe problems.
The brain is the most important organ of our body. Our thoughts, emotions, our ability to reason and communicate with the outside world are all in danger if something damages our brain. How can we best defend this most precious asset' It is not just a matter of trying to avoid the devastation of neurodegenerative diseases, but first and foremost, it is a matter of protecting our ability to think and reason. Aging of the Brain
Oxidative stress is the leading cause of the aging process. Nowhere is evidence for this concept stronger than when it comes to the actual aging of the brain. Several scientific studies have shown oxidative damage to the mitochondria (the furnace of the cell) and to the DNA of the brain cell. This can lead to the malfunction or even the death of these very sensitive brain cells.3 As I have pointed out, brain cells do not have the ability to regenerate themselves. So as we lose more and more brain cells throughout our lifetime due to this oxidative damage, the brain simply does not function as well as it did when we were younger. In medical terms this leads to what is called loss of cognition. In lay terms this is a decrease in our ability to think or reason. Therefore, oxidative damage to our sensitive brain cells is the greatest enemy to the functioning of our brain.
Aging of the brain is essentially the first stage of degeneration of these very important cells in our body. Just as we don't contract other degenerative diseases out of the blue, people don't just wake up one day and have Alzheimer's dementia or Parkinson's disease. These diseases represent the end stages of oxidative damage to the brain. They are merely part of a progression that begins with the aging of the brain. When eventually enough brain cells are damaged, a disease manifests. When a patient is first diagnosed as having Parkinson's disease, more than 80 percent of the brain cells in a particular part of the brain called the substantia nigra have already been destroyed. The same is true for someone who develops Alzheimer's dementia. These neurodegenerative diseases have actually been developing over a period of ten to twenty years.4 Slowing Nuero-degenerative Diseases
In an attempt to slow or even reverse Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, or Alzheimer's dementia, we haven't yet used antioxidants to their full potential. This is true for a couple of major reasons. First, as I said earlier by the time a physician is able to diagnose Alzheimer's dementia or Parkinson's disease, a significant number of cells in the brain have already been destroyed. We just don't start treatment soon enough. Second, if we are going to see any success in decreased risk or delayed progression of neurodegenerative diseases, we must research the effects of antioxidants that cross over into the brain easily. Third, for patients with a disease like multiple sclerosis, we need to be also using antioxidants that are going to be more effective in getting into both the brain and the nerves. Researchers are not yet studying antioxidants that can smoothly pass through what is known as the blood brain barrier.
The brain needs a barrier that separates it from the blood to permit complex nerve signaling. The blood brain barrier is a thick lining of epithelial cells that are present in the small arteries that course through the brain. This lining is designed with very tight junctions, which makes crossover of nutrients into the brain cells particularly difficult.
Important nutrients needed by the brain actually have specialized transporting proteins available allowing them to cross this barrier. At the same time toxic substances, infectious organisms, and most other nutrients have difficulty passing through this barrier. This keeps the brain isolated with only
its most essential nutrients able to enter. Much like a medieval castle surrounded by water and a high wall whose entry is a drawbridge, so our brain also has significant protection from the dangers of the outside world. God created this amazing defensive barrier for the protection of this very sensitive area of our body.
So you wonder, what has gone wrong in the case of aging of the brain and neurological disease?
The neurology department at the Rabin Medical Center in Tel Aviv concluded that as a result of today's environment, the brain is exposed to a significantly increased amount of toxins, such as heavy metals, and thus oxidative stress. The antioxidant defense system is no longer completely effective in protecting this vital organ. They believe that additional antioxidants, which particularly need to be taken in supplementation, have the potential for diminishing or maybe even preventing the damage increased oxidative stress causes. They warn, however, that the antioxidants must be ones that can readily cross over the blood brain barrier.'3
Let's take a look at each of the important antioxidants needed to protect the sensitive cells in our brain and how well they traverse the blood brain barrier.
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant, which is very important in the protection of brain and peripheral nerve cells. Vitamin E is able to cross through the blood brain barrier, but it does have some difficulty. Researchers have to use very high doses of vitamin E in supplementation in order to increase the level of vitamin E in this area of the body. Therefore, vitamin E is an important antioxidant in protecting brain cells but probably not the best one in this situation.
Vitamin C can concentrate in the tissue and fluid around the brain and nerves. It is able to pass through the blood brain barrier, and in fact, vitamin C levels are ten times higher in this tissue than in the plasma.'; When you realize that vitamin C is not only a great antioxidant but also has the ability to regenerate vitamin E and glutathione, it becomes a very important nutrient in protecting brain and nerve cells.
Dr. M. C. Morris reported a study showing that vitamin C and vitamin E given in supplementation to normal patients over the age of sixty-five actually decreased their risk of developing Alzheimer's dementia. This was a small study and larger, more aggressive studies need to be done.'5
Glutathione is the most important antioxidant within the brain and nerve cells. But this nutrient is difficult to absorb from oral supplements, and its ability to cross the blood brain barrier is not yet clear. Some studies using IV glutathione have shown significant improvements in patients with Parkinson's disease; however, these studies involved only a few patients.'6 The best strategy at this time is to supplement the nutrients the body needs to make its own glutathione (N-acetyl-L-cysteine, niacin, selenium, and vitamin B2). You also need to have those antioxidant nutrients available that regenerate the glutathione so it can be used again and again (vitamin C, alpha-lipoic acid, and CoQ10).
The medical community is recognizing alpha-lipoic acid more and more as an important antioxidant.'7 It is not only both fat- and water-soluble, it also has the ability to readily cross over the blood brain barrier. It can regenerate vitamin C, vitamin E, intracellular glutathione, and CoQ10.
Another important aspect of alpha-lipoic acid is that it can attach itself to toxic metals in the brain and help eliminate them from the body. Heavy metals such as mercury, aluminum, cadmium, and lead have been implicated in increasing the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases. These metals tend to deposit themselves in brain tissue because of the high amount of fat concentrated in that part of the body. These metals can cause a significant increased amount of oxidative stress and are extremely difficult to remove from the central nervous system once they are there. Antioxidants that not only are potent but have the ability to help remove these toxic heavy metals will become increasingly important in the prevention and treatment of these diseases.
As a side note, I believe it is wise to eliminate the use of products, such as deodorants and cooking utensils, that contain aluminum. When you realize that heavy metals actually increase the amount of oxidative stress in the body, especially the brain, you will want to decrease your exposure to them.
I anticipate that over the next several years we will hear more and more about mercury toxicity and how it too can cause significant damage to the brain. I would encourage everyone, but especially those with children, to avoid getting mercury amalgam fillings in their teeth. If you ask your dentist about possible alternatives to these mercury amalgams, he does have much safer options. (Don't run out and have all of your mercury fillings removed, though. If it is not done properly, it may cause more harm than if you just leave them alone.)
Coenzyme Q10, as you will recall, is a very potent antioxidant as well as one of the most important nutrients for the production of energy within the cell. Clinical studies have shown that oxidative damage in the mitochondria (this is where CoQ10 works) is an important aspect in the development of neurodegenerative diseases.~9
As we age, the level of CoQ10 in our brains and nerve cells decreases significantly. CoQ10 may be a missing link in the prevention of diseases like Alzheimer's dementia and Parkinson's disease; however, further human clinical studies are still necessary. How well CoQ10 passes through the blood brain barrier has not yet been fully evaluated.
Studies show that grape-seed extract crosses the blood brain barrier quite readily. It is an exceptionally potent antioxidant, and the mere fact that high concentrations can be obtained in the fluid and cells of the brain and nerve tissue makes it an ideal antioxidant for the brain. My experience shows that this nutrient is a major player in the amazing results I have seen among patients who are suffering from neurodegenerative diseases. I believe it is by far the most important optimizer in these diseases. It is obviously one of the antioxidants that researchers should use further in studies involving these diseases.
Protecting Our Most Precious Asset
Everyone desires to maintain and protect the ability to reason and to think. In fact losing this ability is probably the number-one fear of most of my patients. When a person forgets where he put his keys or can't remember his neighbor's name, he often comes to my office fearing he has developed Alzheimer's dementia.
As we age, we will all have this concern at one time or other. I do not have a fear of dying because of my faith in Christ: to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord." But after practicing medicine over three decades and seeing so many disabled patients, I do live with a nagging concern of being trapped in my body. I have patients with Alzheimer's dementia who have not recognized their spouses or kids for more than a decade, and yet their general physical health is still good. Walk through a nursing home and you will understand why I am so concerned.
The principle of optimizing our own natural antioxidant defense system is paramount when it comes to protecting the cells in our brain against our common enemy, oxidative stress. Remember, we must focus on prevention and protection, because once a brain cell is destroyed it is not readily replaced.
There are two main concepts to keep in mind if we are going to have any effect on decreasing the incidence of these seriously disabling diseases: First, we must use a cocktail of antioxidants that will work in synergy while readily crossing over the blood brain barrier. Second, we need to avoid any excessive exposure to the heavy metals I mentioned and other toxins in our environment. Balance is the key, and we must work on decreasing our toxic exposures as well as building up our body's natural defenses.