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The more the brain is studied, the more there is to learn. It is far more complex than imagined, far more integrated with the rest of the body and the cosmos than previously conceived. For instance, two parts of the brain - the cerebral cortex and the hippocampus - were considered key players in the process of memory. The cerebral cortex creates and retrieves memories, processes sensory information, is attributed with abstract thought and language abilities. The hippocampus takes information assembled by the cerebral cortex and stores it in the long-term memory "bank." However, it has been found that other brain areas independently gather and retrieve information. Further, different people use different brain areas to perform different types of memory tasks.
There is no "learning center" in the brain. Rather, various parts of the brain work together like a cooperative, coordinated community to learn, store, and reproduce even the simplest task or memory. And there are multiple forms of memory. The brain consists of some 100 billion nerve cells. Understanding how synapses (junction points between brain cells through which nerve impulses travel) allow these cells to communicate with each other is still a core question in neuroscience. Much has been assumed about the brain, about aging and memory. With a mechanistic approach, much has been overlooked and missed. Scientists are rediscovering what many nature-based traditional peoples discovered centuries ago - there is a mind-body connection that defies any attempt to separate the parts and actions into neat little packages. Thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations are intricately intertwined. So far about sixty different neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) have been identified as "communicator molecules" because of their ability to conduct biological information throughout the body.
Every thought, feeling, and experience that is generated in the mind correlates to a cascade of physiological and chemical changes in the body. A number of chemicals previously believed to originate only in the brain are produced by cells in other organs of the body such as the stomach, intestines, liver, lymphatic system, etc. Since many other of these substances are associated with cognitive and emotional processes, obviously intelligence is not "located" in the central nervous system alone - most or all other parts of the body are also "thinking" entities. Whatever affects one part can affect all parts. "The entire body is a complex network of energy and information, which we in turn experience as consciousness." Biochemical change accomplished at the cellular level (receptors) is the molecular basis of memory. Memory processes are "emotion-driven and unconscious," though they can sometimes be made conscious.
New discoveries are constantly challenging old dogma. In aging, dramatic changes in learning and memory skills may develop in some individuals, but aging does not mean an increased rate of brain cell death. Other factors may affect memory, but brain cells basically stay alive and functional unless there is serious disease. Of the 30 million Americans over age 50, over half have some type of memory problem, though it is by no means limited to the aging population - increasing numbers of young people experience memory loss as well. Are memory slips part of the aging process? Are "senior moments" to be expected as one gets older? Or is it possible to "fix what is broken now" and not allow the tendency to escalate? i
YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS
The fear of forgetting is prevalent among people over 45. They wonder if becoming more forgetful is the first sign of Alzheimer's disease. Recall lapses provoke intense anxiety. Actually, only a small percentage (5% to 10%) of people over age 65 suffer from Alzheimer's disease, a type of dementia. Dementia is a category of brain diseases characterized by serious changes in memory, personality, and behavior which considerably affects a person's ability to carry out daily activities. In the past, memory loss and confusion were considered a normal part of aging. But scientists now know that most people remain both alert and able as they age, albeit it may take them longer to remember things. A lot of people experience memory lapses especially after age 65. Yet at least 30% of older folks have memories as good as 30-year old people.
Many people can and do retain a very high level of mental functioning as they age. There is no uniform pattern and there are wide individual variances. Declines, when they do occur, happen gradually over many years. People in their 70s and 80s are quite capable of learning and even reversing mental declines. Many older people are mentally sharper than they think, being overly pessimistic and underestimating their abilities. This may be reinforced by cultural stereotypes. People who maintain high levels of mental functioning into their 70s and 80s show conducive tendencies including good health, good educational backgrounds, keen interests, positive attitudes, and job satisfaction, as well as living and socializing with smart folks. Staying active mentally, pursuing old interests and cultivating new ones, are as essential as physical fitness and staying active. Many people who never completed high school are as intelligent, or more so, than those with advanced college degrees. "The key to a sharp mind appears to be the maintenance of good intellectual habits" including reading, remaining curious, other "exercises" for the brain, social, emotional and spiritual health as well as "feeding" the brain with high quality nutrients.
Normally in aging there is not a substantial loss of cells in parts of the brain essential for complex thought. Those with good health, who engage in mental and physical activities, experience new cell growth. "The brain may be more capable of self-repair than we think," says biologist Henriette van Praag. As people get older, vocabularies usually improve, and the ability to reason and solve problems is retained. But more time may be needed to make and execute decisions, or memories may not be as sharp. For healthy brains (opposed to those beset by Alzheimer's disease) age-related changes are selective and hardly incapacitating. Neurobiologists now think the biological changes in the healthy aging brain are subtle and possibly correctable. Recent data prove there is little or no loss of cortical neurons in normal aging. Imaging studies had shown the brain shrinks with age, interpreted as cell loss. But new studies indicate the shrinkage might be due almost exclusively to loss of white matter with virtually no change in gray matter. In other words, brain cell bodies stay intact. Myelinated nerve fibers (white matter) may suffer some loss which may contribute to cognitive deficits since myelin is necessary for rapid conduction of impulses along an axon or "branch" of a brain cell. Receptors and neurotransmitters may decline, impairing nerve cell function. But as long as the cortical neuron bodies remain alive, there may be ways to boost their function. And, since degeneration of myelin, receptors, and neurotransmitters is not inevitable, much may be done to preserve or repair these areas. The brain's neurons communicate with one another by pulses of electricity conducted along fibers (many covered by myelin) that stretch away from each cell. These signals are passed from one nerve fiber to the next by neurotransmitters, chemical messengers that travel across the tiny gaps separating the fibers. It is at these gaps, or synapses, that the critical linkage of one nerve fiber to the next is made. The "message" must fit into a receptor on the neuron body to be interpreted and used by the cell. Atrophying dendrites (the ends of nerve cells that receive and process information across synapses) may contribute to mental decline. If these connections are not regularly and properly switched on, the brain's ability to put new information into memory and retrieve old information may be compromised. But there are ways to support the activation of these connections by "cross-training' the brain with changes, challenges, and nutrition.
Deterioration of blood vessels feeding the brain - with lesions "patched" by calcium hardening or membrane thickening -- and degeneration of sensitive villi can result in functional losses. Constriction of vascular walls can reduce blood flow. Production and turnover of cerebrospinal fluid can decline, affecting memory. Support to the health and integrity of the vascular system may thus prevent decline or aid performance.
Generally, experts believe age-related cognitive declines are due to a combination of factors - cardiovascular disease, diabetes, poor vision and hearing, fatigue, depression, anxiety (with production of high levels of stress hormones), certain medications, demyelination, toxic conditions, nutritional deficiencies, etc.
Memory occurs in three stages. First, sensory memory holds information for only a short time, long enough so impressions can be processed further if desired. It is the gathering of bits of data to form larger chunks of information. If these chunks of information are concentrated in the sensory register, they will probably be saved for the next stage, short-term or working memory, which briefly holds and processes words, objects, or ideas, the ability to juggle lots of possibilities in the mind. This stage is electrical in nature, handling daily activities that are quickly forgotten or displaced once new information appears after a task is completed. Information in short term memory will fade if it is not repeated or rehearsed. Storing information indefinitely - long-term memory - requires deep impression or sensation or practice. This operation occurs by chemical neurotransmitters which may be stimulated initially by electrical signals or other chemicals. If the body is deprived of sufficient nutrients to produce these chemicals or to transmit impulses, both long-term and short-term memory impairment can result with difficulty retrieving or remembering information. Nevertheless, memory is so multifaceted, complex, that there are still surprises and puzzles. ii
THE FUNDAMENTAL THINGS APPLY
The expression, "use it or lose it" especially applies to the brain. Animals exposed to "enriched" environments (new items, new toys) have more brain cortex than those with standard environments, even old animals who are 75% through their life span. Becoming too "set in one's ways," screening out newness from one's environment in order to control it, may mean losing the ability to adapt to change, leading to memory loss. Continued exposure to new ideas, new people, and new environments is as necessary to staying healthy as good food and regular exercise.
Intellectual activity helps stave off senility. Mental activity and education (formal or "school of hard knocks") seems to give protection from dementia and memory loss, providing a buffer against cognitive decline. Some theorize that an active intellect creates a richer and more redundant array of neural connections. People who engage in a lifetime of mental gymnastics build denser webs of neural connections than those who allow their intellects to coast. Fun-filled, captivating games, for example, are mental counterparts to physical exertion according to Gene Cohen, former director of the National Institute of Mental Health's Center on Aging. "If you can work up a mental sweat doing something that is also fun, you've tingled your brain cells in a way they won't forget." Conversely, watching television is mostly draining and depleting. Playing a game helps develop skills, lifts the spirit, refreshes, pumps up, and involves interaction with people in a low-key way. But computer games, even between live opponents on-line, lack the non-verbal cues and digressions that are a rich part of spending time with another person face-to-face.
Meditation helps protect the brain and provides the brain with a chance to convert short-term input (like the names of people or places that are new) to long term-memory. "The brain is [like] a hard drive that has to back itself up, and it takes time to do that."
"There appears to be a dose-relationship" between cognitive function and social contacts, says Shari S. Bassuk, Harvard School of Public Health. Elderly people with plenty of social contacts enjoy better cognitive function than those who are more isolated. Music stimulates specific regions of the brain responsible for memory, motor control, timing, and language, so may be a way of stirring the brain at its most fundamental levels.
Cultural expectations about aging can affect memory. Negative stereotypes about how people age are detrimental. Many people lose confidence in their ability only because they are getting older and then behave in ways that keep them from being successful. They avoid memory challenges. So it is essential to fight negative attitudes. In one study, people who were taught to break down stereotypes about aging performed as well on memory tests as people who received memory training.
Psychological factors such as anxiety, depression, and fragmentation of attention, can interfere with retention or retrieval of memories. Experiments indicate that stress hormones like adrenaline or cortisol (corticosteroids) improve memory at low levels but impair it at high levels, particularly when sustained. Intense feelings sparked by a stressful or emotional experience activate stress hormones responsible for storing information and strengthening the memory. But abnormal, prolonged stress diminishes memory. Stress in even young people will temporarily impair memory. Research reveals corticosteroid levels may be up to three times higher in elderly people than in younger adults. Stress management through meditation and relaxation techniques - as well as a healthful diet and regular exercise - will help reduce the levels of stress hormones. Yoga style breathing exercises improve spatial memory scores. Deep breathing, practicing full emotional expression, and emotional clearing methods also go a long way to decrease sympathetic output in response to stress. The emotional pattern associated with cerebral vascular disease which leads to senility is related to the inability to fully feel emotions such as anger, sadness, and joy. Emotions must be allowed to flow through, be "observed" and acknowledged. Developing and expressing a healthy sense of humor is powerfully positive. A healthy memory naturally retrieves what is important and temporarily loses track of what is not important to the individual. Forcing oneself to remember, prompts the suppression of other memories. "Better to relax," say researchers, and allow yourself to forget some things. Obtaining enough sleep and sleeping soundly contribute to mental abilities. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep - the dream stage -- consolidates events into memory. If awakened during REM sleep, study participants experience lessened mental task performance abilities.
Chewing (fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains and other whole foods) can improve memory by reducing stress and the release of stress hormones. When teeth are missing or in a state of disrepair, less chewing occurs, leading to increased stress hormone levels.
Smoking not only pollutes the respiratory tract, it depletes nutrients needed for blood vessel wall strength and elasticity and reduces oxygen supplies to the brain. Chronic use of tobacco, alcohol, and other brain poisons takes a toll. One drinking binge can create memory impairment that lasts several days; chronic imbibing can contribute to debilitating dementia. Heavy drinking is associated with poor memory performance and neuronal damage. Some prescription drugs can decrease memory capacity such as sleeping pills, tranquilizers, anti-anxiety medications, some pain-killers, and certain anti-depressants. Some food additives are toxic to the brain including MSG (monosodium glutamate). Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet, Crystal Light), sodium fluoride (added to municipal water supplies, toothpaste, etc.), and aluminum intoxication (water supplies, some processed foods, synthetic fertilizer residues, etc.) can all cause serious memory loss. Aspartame, for example, lowers the level of serotonin, a neurotransmitter with a relaxing and stress relieving action which contributes to the growth of new memory-producing cells. Aspartame produces extra and uncoordinated activity in the brain, causing confusion. Low blood pressure, including that induced by hypertensive medications, may predispose to developing dementia. Heavy metals including lead from urban air, mercury from dental fillings and polluted fish, cadmium from contaminated soil and cigarette smoke, diesel smoke, etc., as well as pesticide and herbicide residues, solvents, many synthetic chemicals and numerous petroleum byproducts can adversely affect, actually destroy, brain tissue. Only 10% of the 70,000 chemicals used commercially have been tested for their neurological effects. PCB exposure, primarily through the diet (especially meat and fish), and organophosphate pesticides create persistent problems with memory, attention span and concentration as well as inability to concentrate, delayed behavior changes, and depression.
Two common causes of blood vessel disease are poor diet and avoiding exercise. Movement keeps blood flowing to all organs, including the brain, and brings nutrients and oxygen to the tissues. Activities such as walking improves working memory, planning and scheduling abilities, and other cognitive functions in older adults. Seniors who engage in daily strenuous activity such as yard work and cleaning show the least decline in their mental acuity. "I can tell you," says psychologist Charles Emery of Ohio State University, "that I've seen the direct mental benefits of exercise in subjects I've worked with." Nutritional deficiencies or chronic dieting may slow down the brain. Skipping breakfast can affect the ability to recall and use newly acquired information, verbal fluency, and control of attention. The role of glucose levels are associated with memory since brain function is sensitive to variation in the immediate availability of nutrient supply and energy. Thus, maintaining adequate blood glucose levels by eating regularly and healthfully - assuring that foods are properly digested and assimilated - may help prevent loss of mental functioning and delay or prevent neurodegenerative disorders. Patients with dementia diagnosed before the age of 60 are often found to have celiac disease reacting to gluten in wheat, rye, barley and oats. This and other food intolerances can have profound effects on mental and emotional functioning. Overall health affects the brain. iii
ON THIS YOU CAN RELY
The human brain has a ravenous, insatiable appetite. The energy to fuel the brain must come from food. And food can affect the brain in powerful ways, changing mood, alertness, memory, and clarity of thought. For example, carbohydrates such as starches and natural sugars increase the presence of the soothing neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. But refined carbohydrates can lead to being less able to keep one's mind focused on work for up to four hours after eating. Concentrated proteins and fats are slow to digest and may divert blood from the brain, reducing mental sharpness for a time. Yet good quality proteins must be available for amino acids needed for conversion into alertness chemicals such as dopamine and norepinephrine. If stress exhausts the brain's supply of these neurotransmitters, confusion, indecisiveness, anxiety and depression may result. Enzymes are essential to generate and break down biochemicals. Dietary sources are important, coming from raw or lightly cooked foods. A diet balanced with whole, natural foods - tailored to individual needs - is what the brain requires.
Caffeine in coffee or tea improves alertness, reaction time and performance, yet after three or so cups of coffee, caffeine overstimulation can make one less sharp and clear-headed. A Mediterranean-type diet may ward off memory loss in some people; plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, unrefined vegetable oils, fish, nuts, eggs, and naturally-raised meats provide nutrients that can help brain cell membranes maintain their form. Blueberries, strawberries, and spinach contain compounds and nutrients that protect brain cells' ability to respond to chemical messengers, support transport of nerve impulses more efficiently, and help keep blood vessels more supple. Garlic and legumes seem to maintain the flexibility of blood vessels and balance blood fats. Asparagus, oranges, and beans are excellent sources of B vitamins like folic acid that help keep blood vessels clean and the brain well nourished. B complex from biologically-active, total proteins, whole grains, many fruits and vegetables affect cognitive function; mood and memory, neurological deterioration; all improve when intake of B complex is increased. Whole grains and vegetable fats are good sources of vitamin E complex which protects blood vessel walls, aids their repair, and assists oxygen transport. The list of "brain foods" could continue indefinitely. Obviously, cognitive and memory impairment relate to nutritional needs and deficits. Since the first symptoms of subclinical nutrient deficiencies are usually psychological, there are "probably a large number of Americans" (particularly elderly) "who are suffering from nutrient-responsive mental impairment or depression". Brain health and function depend on whole, unaltered, natural foods. Nutrients and other substances in foods "certainly get their oomph from teamwork," says James Joseph, chief of neuroscience at Tufts University's Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging. He advises eating foods rather than popping fractionated or synthetic supplements. Getting the whole complex of cooperative factors in foods is literally "food for thought."
The whole vitamin B complex is needed by the brain. This includes thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacinamide (B3), pyridoxine (B6), biotin, pantothenic acid, B12, folate, and the abundance of its other natural components including manganese and other trace minerals, enzymes, amino acids, etc. This complex helps deliver oxygen to the brain, "broker" the conversion of blood glucose (the brain's preferred fuel), enhance cerebral circulation, break down neurotoxins, synthesize acetylcholine, and form the protective myelin sheath. Symptoms of deficiency include poor memory, mental confusion, and other neurological complaints. Deficits can be caused by excessive intake of refined carbohydrates, resulting in high-calorie malnutrition. It has long been known that an increase in refined sugars in the diet automatically increases the need for B vitamins.
Older people with low levels of B vitamins perform poorly on certain tests of thinking ability -- including memory tests. Inadequate folate, vitamins B6 and B12 in the diet were found as well as an excess of homocysteine in the blood. This type of study "suggests that a good, healthy diet would help people maintain cognitive function as they age." Studies have linked elevated homocysteine with cognitive decline. So far, vitamins B12, B6, and folic acid are known to lower homocysteine levels, but other nutrients associated with B-vitamin-rich foods are also showing these abilities. Homocysteine aside, B12 is essential to maintain the health of nerve cells. Even mild deficits can affect cognitive function. Neurological deterioration and factors such as mood and memory have improved with increased B12 intake. Senile dementia may improve with supplemented B12, though by itself (particularly if synthetic) brings only "modest" improvement. Deficiency can cause memory loss, inability to concentrate, dementia, fatigue, tingling fingers and toes, walking difficulties, and other neurological problems. For optimal benefit, B12 must be in food form with all other members of the nutrient "package." For one, folate works together biochemically with B12 in a number of pathways leading to the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine as well as in myelin production. These vitamins also play a role in acetylcholine metabolism.
Availability of acetylcholine (a neurotransmitter that activates nerve endings) normally depends on two factors. One is diet which must include adequate choline, a major building block of acetylcholine. Then, once this neurotransmitter has been synthesized, its levels in the brain are controlled by the enzyme acetylcholinesterase (AchE). Excessive AchE (often due to choline and related nutrient deficits) may lower neurotransmitter levels. Reducing premature acetylcholine breakdown and AchE excess is the goal. "Choline, in its various forms [food complexes], has been shown to improve performance by humans in a variety of intelligence and memory tests." However, ingestion of synthetic or isolated choline often brings no memory improvement, even with an enormous dose of up to three grams or more. Uptake of choline into the brain is lower in some older subjects, which can contribute to memory loss and dementia. Foods particularly high in choline include egg yolks, beans or legumes, bovine brain substance, other meats, fish, fenugreek, shepherd's purse, and ginseng. Lecithin, a dietary precursor of choline, is rich in Brazil nuts, dandelion flowers, poppy seeds, egg yolks, soybeans and mung beans.
Cognitive function is poorest in people with the lowest vitamin C complex status, whether measured by dietary intake or plasma concentrations of ascorbic acid (a part of the complex). Vitamin C complex is thought to be protective against cognitive impairment and cerebrovascular disease. The whole complex, with its rutin, bioflavonoids, and other natural components intact, is very supportive to the strength, integrity, and proper elasticity of the blood vessel walls, offsetting atherogenesis. This nutrient is an important constituent in the creation of several neurotransmitters, including acetylcholine, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Vitamin C complex is so vital to brain function that its levels in the brain are almost 15 times higher than other areas in the body.
One study found a connection between both high carotenoids and vitamin C complex levels with better memory performance. A 22-year study of elderly people found that those with higher blood levels of vitamin C and beta carotene could remember better than those with lower levels. Another study found an association between low carotene intake and cognitive impairment among about 5,200 volunteers.
Vitamin E complex levels correlate with memory performance. The E complex is protective against vascular disease, so such findings are consistent with evidence implicating vascular disease factors in age-related cognitive decline. Vitamin E complex is important to oxygen conservation as well as the health and function of blood vessel walls. It is protective to neurons. People with moderately severe Alzheimer's disease show less decline in the ability to perform daily tasks when getting vitamin E complex. The trace-mineral activator of vitamin E complex is selenium. The brain is more susceptible to insult and injury when selenium levels are low. This damage may result from impairment of protective enzymes such as selenium-dependent glutathione peroxidase.
Zinc and iron both influence communication among the neurons and evidently affect different neurotransmitters. Deficiencies can impair cognitive abilities; just getting more has been shown to improve memory. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) helps cells, including neurons, produce energy. A deficiency can result in fatigue, mental lethargy, and depression. CoQ10 is only one of many coenzyme Qs, all of which work together, so obtaining whole food sources would be best for optimal results.
Phytoestrogens are thought to be helpful to memory and thinking capacities. Hormonal imbalances, as in certain endocrine disorders and menopause, may cause memory loss. Plants containing far more potent hormone factors than the popularly promoted soybean include pomegranate, kudzu root, and legumes other than soy. Veal bone, cabbage, dandelion, parsley, and stinging nettles are rich sources of boron, a mineral that could double healthy, natural estrogen levels.
Herbs may either facilitate concentration and clarity by calming the nervous system and subduing excitability or by energizing by promoting better circulation and/or fostering better hormonal function. Gotu kola, which the centuries-old Ayurvedic approach to health care considers one of the most important rejuvenating herbs for the nerves and brain cells, has a reputation to help maintain strong mental vigor; it dramatically improves learning and memory test scores in animals. Horsebalm, sage, and rosemary contain compounds which may prevent premature breakdown of acetylcholine. Dandelion flowers are a good source of lecithin and a "reasonable" source of choline. Sage inhibits enzymatic breakdown of acetylcholine. Gingko biloba helps improve circulation to the brain and increase the number of receptors for acetylcholine. If vascular narrowing or spasm is involved, then this herb may improve memory and cognitive function. It is rich in flavonoids and ginkgolides which enhance blood circulation and mental function. Gingko biloba is classified as a cognitive activator and has demonstrated therapeutic benefit in the treatment of dementia. Studies indicate it can stabilize and perhaps improve memory, reasoning, and social skills in people with moderate dementia. It is used in Europe to treat short-term memory loss, depression, headache, and tinnitus.
Polyunsaturated essential fatty acids linolenic and linoleic acids are incorporated into the myelin sheaths that coat neurons and cellular membranes. Deficiency makes it "virtually impossible" for cell membranes to perform vital functions, regulating passage of certain materials in and out of the cell. Low availability can cause confusion, lack of coordination, and other neurological problems. Phosphatidylserine, choline, and inositol are components of phospholipids (fats composing brain cell membranes) that may improve memory. DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), a type of omega-3 polyunsaturated fat plentiful in fatty fish, is the most abundant fat in the brain. Both DHA and EPA (another omega-3) seem to lower the risk of atherosclerosis, aiding blood vessel health and elasticity. Almost half of the brain's three-pound mass is fat; myelin is in good part fat, and membranes of brain cells are primarily composed of fats. These phospholipids not only provide structural support and control of what goes in and out of cells, they also facilitate intercellular communication - helping to generate and transmit electrical impulses as well as help store and release neurotransmitters. Phosphatidylserine (PS) is active in relaying chemical messages between neurons. Taken orally, PS does cross the blood-brain barrier and is reported to improve cognitive function. In one test, participants given PS performed as well on cognitive tests as people 12 years younger. Many studies have shown PS benefits cognitive functions including memory, concentration, learning, and word manipulation skills, as well as mood, alertness, and sociability. PS and another phospholipid, phosphatidylcholine (PC) are "natural" substances which used to be available only from bovine brains. Most positive studies were done on extracts from cows' brains. But now PS is isolated and available in soy lecithin-based concentrates. There is as yet "no proof that it's equivalent to cow PS..." All separated, isolated, or synthetic substances used as supplements may result in imbalances and long-term results are not nearly as good. Food sources are best. Fresh fish and organically-raised bovine brain are excellent sources of these and many other nutrients that serve as brain food. Altered, refined or polluted (pesticide, drug, hormone residues) fats can contribute to the risk of dementia whereas intact, natural fats reduce risk.
DMAE (dimethyl-aminoethanol) is a natural substance present in fish such as anchovies and sardines. It is now separated from food or manufactured and used as a supplement to improve brain acuity, boost memory, attention, and flexibility in thinking. In nature, DMAE supports production of acetylcholine, but isolated will "stimulate" as a drug and have imbalancing adverse effects. NADH, the reduced form of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) with high energy hydrogen, is present in all living cells and participates in the body's energy producing capacity, especially in the brain and the rest of the central nervous system. But separated and used in high doses to "stimulate" production of neurotransmitters dopamine, noradrenalin, and serotonin, it functions as a drug, not a nutrient. It has the potential to imbalance biochemistry.
Huperzine A is an alkaloid either extracted from a moss (an isolate) or synthetically produced and is a non-prescription drug. It should be avoided if high blood pressure or asthma exists or certain other medications are being taken. It is used to inhibit premature breakdown of acetylcholine. It is more sensible and safer to approach the cause and feed or help detoxify the body rather than temporarily cover over a symptom. The Chinese have drunk a tea brewed from the whole moss (Huperzia serrate or Qian Ceng Ta) for hundreds of years and found it can boost failing memory. It is the extraction or manufacture of single compounds from foods or herbs that disturbs Nature's delicate balance.
Pregnenolone is a steroid hormone produced in the adrenals, brain, and spinal cord cells. It activates the neuroreceptors that both stimulate and suppress brain activities. So it has a stabilizing effect on memory, emotions, and mood. Yet using a steroid hormone as a "supplement" is playing with fire with many possible dangers. It is more prudent to feed the body natural nutrients for good adrenal and nerve function and allow the body to produce its own intricately balanced hormones.
A similar situation exists with administration of single amino acids such as glutamine, glycine, l-arginine, taurine, acetyl-l-carnitine, and others being used to stimulate or suppress brain cell activities. Imbalances, upsetting amino acid levels (absorption and use), deferring proper protein production and utilization. Amino acids in "pure" form (without the other amino acids and other nutrients normally accompanying them) can cause "dangerous changes" in the biochemistry. 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) supplements are currently popular. The body makes 5-HTP from tryptophan and converts it to serotonin in the brain. The supplement, derived from seeds of an African tree, has been used in Europe to treat depression and insomnia and a wide variety of other ailments. Sufficient evidence is still not available, however, on its safety and effects. There is worry of contamination and it does function more as a drug than as a nutrient. Even though such substances may be "natural" (which is debatable), they can and often do have adverse effects. "As for 5-HTP, the potential dangers outweigh any possible benefits."
Scientists like Steven Fowkes, author of Smart Drugs (not Smart Nutrients) explain that any of these so-called "natural" substances - isolates or synthetics - must be tested by trial and error by each individual - to "see what works" since various reactions occur. Unfortunately, people often expect to get quick results so they or their clinicians are tempted to use "nutraceuticals" -- natural drugs which stimulate or suppress - rather than approach the underlying cause(s). They often overlook the "more basic causes of a muddled mind." People have come to view their brains and bodies as machines and thus demand a lot, expect instant fixes or overhauls, and continue on their unhealthful courses. In fact, pushing the body and brain into "overdrive" - fatigue or overwork - can in itself cause memory loss or other cognitive complaints. iv
PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM
Losing memory with age is not inevitable. Staying active, mentally stimulated, emotionally stable, and spiritually aware can work wonders. What is fed to the body - mentally, emotionally, or physically - and how it is digested and assimilated are the imperative considerations.
When there are memory problems virtually any nutrient deficiency is possible as well as heavy metal toxicity or other form of toxicity. Well-nourished people test better in cognition, memory, and other mental capacities. Of course, they may have other habits, such as regular exercise, that help preserve mental function. But evidence that nutrition protects against so many chronic conditions "suggests" that it is a good idea for people to get optimal nutrition from Nature's bounty as unaltered and unpolluted as possible. "The brain's chemistry works as a delicate balance in which an excess of one vital chemical can cause a shortage of another." It is impossible to overdose on nutrients in foods if they are whole and properly prepared. "The best advice," says nutrition scientist Judith Wurtman, "is to feed your head with food, not [synthetic] pills." Nutrients are best obtained from whole complexes in real food the way nature intended. v
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"Originally published as an issue of Nutrition News and Views, reproduced with permission by the author, Judith A. DeCava, CNC, LNC."