—With Appropriate Micronutrition
Old age must be resisted and its deficiencies supplied. —Cicero
The goal of healthy aging is to add life to your years and, when possible, add years to your life. A portion of that goal involves maintaining your brainpower, hanging on to your mental capacity, keeping your thinking sharp and focused. How can you resist old age and supply its deficiencies? You can begin with your brain. The most effective age-proofing strategies for the brain involve components of a high-level-wellness lifestyle including (from my perspective), appropriate food supplements that, taken judiciously, can help to supply some of the deficiencies that Cicero acknowledged.
It is virtually impossible to separate brain health from body health. For example, you can define neurons as part of the brain but the gastrointestinal tract has its own built-in nervous system. That’s why you can get stomach pains when you feel nervous. Basically, whatever is good for the immune system is good for the brain because, in a sense, they are not two separate entities. They work together. Not only that, the brain and the nerve pathways that flow from the spinal cord to all portions of the body, function 24/7, nonstop.
The choices you make in life and the actions you take, especially related to nutritional support of the brain, can profoundly affect the quality of your health. As the authors of the book The Care and Feeding of your Brain put it, “Common drugs, foods, lifestyle choices, and supplements have a profound effect on when and to what degree your mind can boot up to full capacity.” This includes our ability to be alert, to pay attention, and to think quickly and efficiently, to combat fatigue, and to lay down and reconstruct memories, to name just a few.
Fortunately, new techniques for scanning the brain (e.g., PET scans, MRIs, and fMRIs) have made it possible for researchers to track the effects of foods, chemicals, and exercise on brain function. Let’s review five categories that involve micronutrition, including their reported effects on the brain:
- Fats / Fatty Acids
Antioxidants and Free Radicals
A free radical is an atom or molecule that has lost one of its paired electrons. Free radicals attempt to regain the missing electrons by stealing electrons from healthy cells that, in turn, damage the robbed cells (e.g., turns them into free radicals, causes their destruction). Free radicals are formed in the body as waste products when the body burns its fuel or breaks down certain toxic substances. Free radicals can also be taken in from outside (e.g., cigarette smoke, vehicle exhaust). Antioxidants are substances that function as electron donors, allowing free radicals to repair themselves without scavenging electrons from intact cells. Aging of the brain likely has as much to do with the amount of antioxidants in one’s system as it does with the physical process of time.
The body attempts to keep free radicals in check through the action of antioxidants that are released within the body or that are obtained in the food you eat. Problems can occur when too many free radicals are generated for the body’s supply of antioxidants, or when free radicals are ingested and overwhelm the body’s defenses.
Free radicals can damage brain cells. Once the neurons are impaired, they can no longer function properly. Brain cell memory functions are among the first to go in a process known as senile degeneration. The Institute for Brain Aging at UC Irvine has implicated free radicals as one of the mechanisms by which Alzheimer’s disease can be hastened. Molecule with paired electrons
Here are three examples of antioxidants and their reported beneficial effects on the brain:
- Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) - Its levels are nearly 15 times higher in the brain than in other areas of the body. It is vital to brain function. There is evidence that it helps to block the effects of free radicals that can reduce blood flow to the brain and impair memory.
- Carotenes - As with other antioxidants, alpha-carotenes and beta-carotenes help to clean cells in the brain, and clean cells are high-energy cells. According to a report from the American Commission on Anti-Aging, natural beta-carotene supplementation is an important nutritional weapon in the anti-aging arsenal.
- Vitamin E - Helps to maintain the stability of cell membranes and protect them from free radicals. Neutralizes free radicals that accelerate brain aging. Helps to preserve memory possibly by restoring damaged neurotransmitter receptor sites on neurons. According to a report from the American Commission on Anti-Aging, Vitamin E feeds the brain with antioxidants.
Superfoods are vegetables (e.g., green barley grass, Hawaiian spirulina, green Kamut). Dr. Hagiwara of Japan says that superfoods provide the nearest thing to a perfect food that this planet offers. Superfoods have been shown to help to satisfy the brain’s requirements for micronutrition and diminish hunger cravings. That’s one of the reasons I take EnerPrime™ on a daily basis. It contains some of these superfoods.
Here are examples of components in superfoods that are believed to help support optimal functioning of the brain:
- Complex carbohydrates - Help with the thinking process, increases mental efficiency, provide chemical energy, and help to build levels of serotonin.
- Enzymes - According to some researchers the length of life is directly proportional to the enzyme potential in the body. Of the approximately 3000 enzymes that have been detected, green barley grass is thought to contain up to 1000. Superoxide dismutase (SOD) and Perioxidase P4D1 are two antioxidant enzymes that have been shown to multiply by several fold the ability of the cells to repair their own DNA. This is critically important because, although current wisdom is that the body replaces its cells every 7 years, this cell replacement does not appear to hold true for the brain.
- Protein - Contain three times as much protein, building blocks for neurotransmitters and peptides, as whole-wheat flour. Includes SOD, the fifth most common protein in the body. It functions as a powerful antioxidant that helps to eliminate free radicals caused by smoking, eating barbecued foods, and drinking roasted beverages such as coffee. It has also been shown to help prevent free radical damage from radiation therapy.
- Vitamin B complex (especially Vitamin B-6, B-12, and folic acid) - Help support neural activation, which is the key process in booting up the brain. Some of these vitamins serve as coenzymes for normal amino acid metabolism (e.g., some of the brain chemicals are formed largely of amino acids). Deficiencies in the B-complex family have been associated with psychological disturbances (e.g., memory loss, personality and mood changes) and retarded growth.
Phytonutrients are substances that are not necessarily identified as proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, or minerals but which have been shown to contribute to one’s health.
- Garlic - Contains antioxidant properties that are known to increase blood flow. This can be helpful to the brain that has no musculature in and of itself to help increase blood flow and, thereby, bring more oxygen, glucose, and micronutrients to the brain.
- Lecithin (tofu) - A nutrient that is needed for the repair and maintenance of the structure and insulation of neurons. It is a building block for acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter necessary for memory. Acetylcholine is produced and used all over the brain. In fact, the brain can’t boot up when levels of these substance are too low. According to a report from the American Commission on Anti-Aging, Lecithin feeds the brain.
- Magnesium Citrate - A powerful free-radical scavenger that can also help increase the antioxidative power of Vitamin E. At the recommended daily allowance level, it is thought to be an indispensable brain-boosting nutrient.
Adaptogens are natural plant components, substances (e.g.,) that tend to improve energy, stamina, sleep, and the overall functioning of the brain. They help the brain to respond to and manage stress. Adaptogens found in ginseng and mushroom extract, for example, help to maintain the balance of neurotransmitters during stress, preventing increases in brain cortisol and decreases in brain serotonin and norepinephrine (required for concentration). They have also been seen to decrease anxiety-like behaviors in response to stress.
Fats / Fatty Acids
An excessive intake of fats can cause the production of free radicals (that can affect memory functions) and can contribute to plaque deposits, narrowing of arteries, and arteriosclerosis (conditions that can restrict blood flow to the brain can thereby affect memory functions). Excessive fat consumption (e.g., sustained high-fat diets, greater than 30% of one’s daily intake of calories) has been shown to raise one’s own metabolic set point. On the other hand, an inadequate intake of fats can impact brain function, too. Some dietary fat is required for producing acetylcholine. Eating patterns that allow for less than the recommended daily allowance of fat can represent a threat to appropriate levels of acetylcholine, without which the cell walls can become brittle.
The cell membranes the surround the neurons contain a delicate mixture of fats in the form of phosopholipids; and healthy membranes are required for appropriate electrical function. Fatty acids are important energy-supplying molecules that can be broken down to provide adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy currency of living systems. Flaxseed oil, for example, has been found to contain omega-3 fatty acids (the vegetable alternative to fish oil). These fatty acids play a role in regulating blood pressure, triglyceride and cholesterol levels, and in keeping the arteries healthy—all of which are important to brain health.
More than half the factors that have been found to impact aging are within your partial (if not complete) control. The level of micronutrition is one of those factors. And what you ingest is almost completely within your control. Now that’s good news!
©Arlene R. Taylor PhD