Tag Archives: neuron

What’s that sound?

This is a transaxial slice of the brain of a 5...

Image via Wikipedia

Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is an exceptionally common problem.  As many as 2 million Americans experience this on a daily basis.  It can range from very minor to annoying to debilitating.

Tinnitus is often associated with hearing loss.  Prolonged exposure to loud noises is the most common cause of hearing loss.  It is this loss of hearing that is actually causing the tinnitus.  Say what? Hearing loss actually causes people to hear sounds that don’t really exist? Yes!

People often describe tinnitus as ringing in the ears.  However, the list of sounds that are considered tinnitus is very long.  Other sounds that people might perceive include ticking, clicking, whooshing and buzzing to name a few.

Recent research, published online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest several new approaches to treatment, including retraining the brain, and new avenues for developing drugs to suppress the ringing.

As a chiropractic neurologist the above statement about retraining the brain got my attention.  This is something that is near and dear to the heart of all chiropractic neurologists.  We use techniques that retrain the brain every day.  We use these techniques to help people with a wide variety of conditions ranging from anxiety to muscular imbalances and pain.

Traditionally, patients with tinnitus are told the problem stems from damaged hair cells inside of the ear.  They are told it is these hair cells that are sending the wrong signals into the brain which interprets them as noise. Turns out, this is not true.

Because each hair cell is tuned to a different frequency, damaged or lost cells leave a gap in hearing, typically a specific frequency and anything higher in pitch.  It is this gap which causes problems for the brain.

Chiropractic neurologists have been saying for a very long time that ringing in the ears is actually brain based.  This new research supports this assertion. Below is information from coauthor of the recent study Shaowen Bao, adjunct assistant professor in the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at UC Berkeley

Experiments in the past few years have shown that the ringing doesn’t originate in the inner ear, though, but rather in regions of the brain — including the auditory cortex — that receives input from the ear.

Bao’s experiments in rats with induced hearing loss explain why the neurons in the auditory cortex generate these phantom perceptions. They showed that neurons that have lost sensory input from the ear become more excitable and fire spontaneously, primarily because these nerves have “homeostatic” mechanisms to keep their overall firing rate constant no matter what.

“With the loss of hearing, you have phantom sounds,” said Bao, who himself has tinnitus. In this respect, tinnitus resembles phantom limb pain experienced by many amputees. (From sciencedaily.com)

The neurons that have lost sensory input in the brain are the neurons that are responsible for the perceived noise that people hear.  These neurons have undergone a process called transneural degeneration.  To stabilize these neurons they need more input.  But because they cannot receive it from the hair cells in the ear that are damaged, other areas of the auditory cortex must take over.  This retraining of the brain takes time, but if performed diligently, the results can be phenomenal.

We know this is a possibility because the brain is plastic.  That is, it changes in response to the stress and environmental input it receives. When a finger is amputated, for example, the region of the brain receiving input from that finger may start handling input from neighboring fingers.

Drug therapy is aimed at increasing the levels of the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain.  GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter.  In order to slow down the firing rate of these over excited cells, we must increase the levels of this inhibitory neurotransmitter.  The good news is there are lots of natural therapies that work to raise GABA levels or drive GABA receptors in the brain.

One way is to use the amino acid taurine.  I use it frequently.  Another is a product called phenibut (Phen-i-bute).  It is a natural GABA derivative that crosses the blood brain barrier and binds to GABA receptors.  I also use this frequently in my practice. These supplements, however, I believe are temporary solutions.  The permanent solution is to retrain the brain.

Tinnitus is a complicated and elusive condition, but we appear to be headed in the right direction in terms of research.  Always remember, the brain holds the key!

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under Brain Health

Genes, Alzheimer’s Disease and Your Choice

PET scan of a human brain with Alzheimer's disease

Image via Wikipedia

New genes have been discovered that seem to be linked to Alzheimer’s Disease (AD).  AD currently affects over 5 million Americans and that number is expected to increase substantially by the year 2029.

This year the first baby boomers will reach their 65th birthdays. By 2029, all baby boomers will be at least 65 years old.  Ninety-five percent of all AD is in people 65 and older.

The discovery of new genes linked to AD is a step in the right direction.  Every bit of information that help scientists unlock the mystery of why this occurs puts us closer to being able to effectively treat AD.

Let’s pretend that we know every gene that is involved in the production of AD.  Let’s also pretend a test that exists to specifically detect all of these genes in you.  Would you want to find out?  What would you do if you had all of the genes linked to AD?

The truth of it is, there is nothing you could do to change your genes.  Your genes are your genes.  They are there and you can’t remove them.  What you can do, however, is change how they are expressed.  Just because a person has a specific gene does not mean it has to be expressed.  The expression of many of our genes is closely related to our environment.  Diet, exercise, smoking, pollution and stress are just a few things that can negatively or positively affect the expression of our genes.

So back to my first question.  What would you do if you had all the genes linked to AD?  You can’t change your genes, but you can change your risk factors.

There are many known risk factor that increase the risk of AD, independent of your genetic potential.  The number one risk is aging.  Unfortunately, there isn’t much that can be done about that.  We are all going to get older which is not necessarily a bad thing.  It is much better than the alternative!

Known risk factors for AD that are controllable are as follows:

You will notice that these risk factors significantly overlap with one another.  You will also notice that when you control one risk factor you will impact another.  If you can control these risk factors in your life you will significantly reduce your risk of developing AD regardless of your genetic potential.
Cardiovascular health is perhaps the most important.  Cardiovascular disease causes a chronic, low grade reduction in blood delivery to the brain.  This is known as hypoperfusion.  This hypoperfusion is responsible for protein synthesis defects that later result in the classic AD neurodegenerative lesions.

To keep your cardiovascular system as healthy as possible make sure you eat an anti-inflammatory diet and exercise.  Fish oil is also something you should consider.  Fish oil, which contains omega-3 fatty acids, has been shown to reduce cardiovascular disease mortality better than any other substance known.

Reduction of high blood pressure is also very important.  When blood pressure is too high it fuels a kind of scarring linked to later development of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.  Controlling your blood pressure is actually very simple.  You must maintain a healthy weight first and foremost.  This, of course, means diet and exercise.  Increasing waistlines mean more tissue and blood vessels for your heart to push blood through. This puts a strain on the heart and increases the resistance the heart must push against.

Keeping a healthy cholesterol profile is essential.  However, the traditional tests from your doctor are probably not enough to tell whether you are at risk or not.  Traditional tests examine total cholesterol, HDL (“good”), LDL (“bad”) and triglycerides.  These are of some value, but they don’t tell the whole story.  What you must find out is the particle size.  In a nut shell, large and buoyant molecules of cholesterol are not as problematic as small and dense particles.  Your traditional test does not distinguish between the two.  Your traditional test might look very good, but a more advanced test may show that you are still very much at risk.  See my blog entry from last summer for more detailed information.

Diabetes is also extremely important to control.  Some references are referring to Alzheimer’s as Type III diabetes because of the biochemical similarities. Even being borderline diabetic raises the risk of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia by 70%!  Diabetes’ hallmark is high blood sugar.  This high blood sugar leads to a phenomenon called advanced glycation end products or AGEs.  AGEs adversely affect the structure and function of proteins. In combination with oxidative stress brain function is easily affected.  Advanced glycation end products have been found to be much more prevalent in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients than in healthy controls. This process begins early on in the course of Alzheimer’s and there is also evidence that AGEs assist in the formation of plaques seen in AD.  Diet and exercise are the best ways to prevent diabetes and reduce your risk of AD.

While the study for a purely genetic link to AD will continue, a cure is likely many years away if one can even be found.  What we can control, however, are our lifestyle choices that activate our genes.  If we choose poorly, we are much more likely to activate unfavorable genes that cause disease.  If we choose wisely, we are more likely to activate genes that are favorable and reduce our risk of further disease.  The choice is yours.  Make the right one.

Leave a comment

Filed under Brain Health

How Your Diet Affects Your Mood

Depression and Bipolar

Food is fuel.  The fuel we put into our body determines how efficiently it runs.  It’s a pretty simple concept yet when it comes to brain function there is a disconnect for many physicians.

When people come to me for help with various conditions, dietary changes are almost always part of the program.  They are especially important if someone if suffering from a mood disorder.

If a poor diet can lead to poor function of the heart, gall bladder, immune system, pancreas, intestines, etc., then why couldn’t it lead to poor brain function? It can, but it’s always overlooked by traditional medicine.  Let me explain.

The Basics

Remember, food is fuel.  The neurons in your brain consume up to 40% of your circulating blood sugar at a resting state.  That figure can jump up to 80% when your brain is working hard like studying for a test or doing your taxes. Your blood sugar is the fuel your brain needs to keep going.

Low blood sugar occurs when people do not eat frequently enough or in an amount that satisfies the demands for energy of the entire body, including the brain.  Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, causes mood to change.  Most notably, people experience irritability. This irritability is relieved by simply eating food and allowing your blood sugar to rise back to a normal level.  Next time you’re feeling irritable and you haven’t eaten in a few hours, try eating a healthy snack.  It might just be the fix you’re looking for.

If something as simple as low blood sugar can alter your mood, what else can?

Alcohol

Alcohol is consumed the world over mainly for one reason and one reason only – it has mind altering properties. Let’s face it; alcohol does not taste good in the way that ice cream does.  People are not consuming it solely for the taste. The per capita consumption of ethanol in the United States is 2.31 gallons per year.  That means, on average, every American over the age of 15 consumes 2.31 gallons of pure alcohol per year.  This is equivalent to 702 beers, 410 glasses of wine or 197 shots per year, per person.

Alcohol works on the brain by affecting the neurotransmitter GABA.  GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain.  Initially, consuming alcohol elevates mood and reduces anxiety and stress.  As a matter of fact, most current pharmaceuticals aimed at reducing anxiety work by acting on GABA.

However, continuing to consume alcohol has a downside.  When consumed to excess, moods begin to go down and depression is often the consequence.  It also causes sleepiness which illustrates alcohol’s powerful depressive effects.  Always remember, alcohol is a depressant and it’s this way because it acts on the inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain called GABA.

How Foods Affect Our Neurotransmitter Levels

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about neurotransmission and how getting your neurotransmitters measured is a good way to assess your mood status and possibly change it for the better.  I went into the details of some neurotransmitters and it would be good to read before continuing to read this post.  Click here to view it.

The neurotransmitters in our brain allow one nerve to talk to the next.  It is the level of these neurotransmitters, to a large extent, that govern how we feel.  Low levels of some neurotransmitters lead to anxiety while others may lead to depression.  The interplay between all of them is complex and a problem with mood is often due to more than low levels of a single neurotransmitter but there are primary players to blame in each mood disorder.

Carbohydrate Heaven

Many people have noticed that when they eat a meal that is high in refined carbohydrates they notice an elevation in mood.  So much so that people can often become addicted to this type of food just to feel good.  This is for one very real physiological fact – eating refined carbohydrates increases serotonin production in the brain.

Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that most of the anti-depressant drugs like Prozac and Paxil work on.  They work by tricking the brain into thinking it has more serotonin than it actually does.  Consuming refined carbohydrates works by actually increasing serotonin levels.  Here’s how.

There is a barrier between our brain and our blood.  It prevents things from getting into the brain that should not.  It is very effective.  However, it also prevents necessary nutrients from getting in as well.  They need a special pass to  get in.  This includes the amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan is what the body uses to make serotonin.  If one consumes a diet very low in tryptophan, serotonin levels are likely to be low.  Tryptophan is found in foods that contain protein.

In order for tryptophan (an other amino acids) to get into the brain a transporter system exists.  It is called the large neutral amino acid transporter or the LNAA.  Competition for the LNAA is fierce.  Tryptophan is a weak competitor.  It is often left out of brain except when refined carbohydrates are consumed. When refined carbohydrates are consumed high amounts of insulin are secreted.  Insulin sends free amino acids out of our blood into our muscles when it is circulating.  Because tryptophan is a bound to albumin it is left unaffected by this process.  It is now free to circulate up to the brain where competition for the LNAA is now low and it gets into the brain more easily.  It also allows more serotonin to be produced.

Now, I hear what you’re saying.  I am not suggesting you go eat tons of refined carbohydrates to feel good!  As a matter of fact you should avoid them because they just lead to a blood sugar crash later in the day resulting in irritability.  Now you’re irritable and depressed – not a good combination!

What you should do is make sure you eat foods that are high quality proteins.  This includes mostly animal products like meat and eggs.  Also, supplementing your diet with 5-HTP is helpful.  This is the direct precursor of serotonin and is in fact a type of tryptophan. It passes into the brain freely and does not compete for the LNAA.

Not Enough B6

Vitamin B6 is an essential vitamin in many ways.  In terms of brain health, it is essential to allow the conversion of the neurotransmitter glutamate into GABA.

Glutamate is the primary excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain.  When levels are too high seizures are known to occur.  At lower levels anxiety occurs.

GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter.  At very low levels seizures occur and when levels are slightly decreased anxiety is the result.

Glutamate ——–> GABA – GABA is converted from glutamate and B6 is required to do this.

A diet that is low in B6 will cause glutamate to build up in the brain and GABA levels will be low.  This may result in anxiety.  Foods that are highest in B6 are:

  • Spinach
  • Bell peppers
  • Turnip greens

Consuming these on a regular basis may help if your problem is the conversion of glutamate to GABA.  You may also have to supplement with B6.  This is easy to find over the counter.

No Fish? No Happy

Omega-3 fatty acids have been touted to help everything from heart disease to pain and inflammation.  Research also points to another aspect.  Brain health.  People who have the lowest level of a particular omega-3 called DHA report depression as a problem significantly more than people with the highest levels of DHA.

DHA is important for growing babies, but research is starting to show that it is important for overall brain health for adults as well.

Just how it wards off depression is not clear.  One theory suggests that because DHA is important for the insulation surrounding the nerves, low levels may prevent neurons from communicating effectively.  Whatever the reason, the research is pretty clear that low levels are not good for optimal brain function.

Consuming fish regularly is a good step.  However, more people will not be able to consume enough fish to get enough DHA.  Consider supplementing with a fish oil that is high in DHA.  Most nutrition companies now make fish oil that is high in DHA.  This may help ease your depression and prevent further episodes.

This list could go on and on.  The moral of the story is that what you eat can have a significant impact on how you feel.  If you want to feel good, inside and out, you must eat a healthy diet.  Hopefully some of these tips have helped.

1 Comment

Filed under Brain Health

Want a better brain? Lift Weights!

Free weights

Image via Wikipedia

Exercise has long been known to increase brain function.  Most of the research, however, focused on the benefits of purely cardiovascular exercises like running.  New research shows that weight training has the same effect.

Conventional wisdom has stated that the benefits of cardiovascular exercise on brain function was from the significant increase in blood flow to the brain during aerobic type exercises.  It was concluded that because weight training didn’t cause this to happen for extended periods of time, it would not have the same benefit.

The creation of new brain cells, or neurogenesis, is thought to be dependent on a spike of blood flow to the brain. In fact, running and other aerobic exercises have been shown to increase neuron production in the areas of the brain associated with memory and thinking in both mice and humans.  However, this was thought not to apply to resistance training.  That is changing.

“In a study presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in November, researchers from Brazil secured weights to the tails of a group of rats and had them climb a ladder five sessions a week. Other rats on the same schedule ran on a treadmill, and a third group just sat around. After eight weeks, the running rats had much higher levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (B.D.N.F.), a growth factor that is thought to help spark neurogenesis, than the sedentary rats. So did the rats with weights tied to their tails. The weight-­bearing rats, like the runners, did well on tests of rodent learning and memory, like rapidly negotiating a water maze. Both endurance and weight training seemed to make the rats smarter.” (From The NY Times)

A similar study from Japan at the same conference came to the same conclusions.

“The animals that were assigned to the loaded wheels showed significantly increased levels of gene activity and B.D.N.F. levels within their brains. The higher the workload the animals managed to complete, the greater the genetic activity within their brains.” (From The NY Times)

The genetic activity is important.  That’s precisely how the human brain adapts.  It changes the expression of certain genes in order to respond to certain environmental input.  That input may be in the form of exercise like weight training or it may be more cognitively based like learning to play the piano.  Whatever the input may be, the brain changes in response to the activity being performed.  This is a phenomenon called plasticity.  And the brain remains plastic our entire lives!  That means it can change right up to the day we die.

Just how does this resistance training increase brain function?  No one knows for sure, but there are theories.  The researchers propose that because weight training reduces many cardiovascular risk factors and does increase the strength of the heart it may also help the brain through similar mechanisms that aerobic exercise does.

I have another theory.  Ninety percent, yes that’s 90%, of the input that comes into our brains during any given day comes from the receptors in our muscles and joints.  That means that if we take into account all of the sensory input that our brains receive during the day – light, sound, touch, smell, proprioception – a full 90% of that input is coming from our muscles and joints.  If the body requires that much input from our musculoskeletal system it must be important, right?  It is.  This input keeps the brain functioning normally and maintains the health of just about every type of neuron in the brain.

Resistance training makes this input more efficient.  By training the muscles with weights they send more regulatory information to the brain and you also increase the amount of information coming from the joints.  The stronger your muscles the more force is applied through your joints.  This combination is a winning one in terms of brain function.

The best type of exercise program is one that includes both cardiovascular and resistance type training.  People are often hesitant to start a weight training program because of lack of knowledge on how to properly do it.  If you are concerned hire a knowledgeable trainer to show you how to do it.  The benefits will far outweigh your hesitance to start.

 

5 Comments

Filed under Brain Health, Public Health

Anxiety or Depression? Test the levels of your neurotransmitters to guide therapy.

Depression

Image via Wikipedia

Happy New Year!  A new era began at the Vreeland Clinic on January 1st this year.  Dr. Carrie and I would like to thank all of our friends and family for their well wishes.  We looked forward to continuing to serve the community for years to come!

Today I’d like to touch on something that has revolutionized the way I practice.

People come to me for many reasons.  Some people come to my clinic for weight loss or to get more energy.  Others for help with a chronic condition that hasn’t responded to traditional care.  Still others come to see me for a wide range of neurologic conditions.  These include things like Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, depression or anxiety.  It is the last two that I’d like to focus on today.

Anxiety and depression are extremely common in America.  Millions of Americans suffer from anxiety, depression or both.  These conditions may have many etiologies but one theory is a chemical imbalance in the brain.

Just what is this chemical imbalance?  When someone states that they have a chemical imbalance they are referring to an imbalance in the neurotransmitter system of the brain.  These neurotransmitters are really just proteins that each nerve in the brain uses to communicate with its neighbors.  Sometimes people can have too little of a certain neurotransmitter or too much of another.  This is problematic because it alters the way the brain functions.  It may cause anxiety and/or depression.

The pharmaceutical industry has figured that out and makes a large class of drugs that alters neurotransmitter function in the brain.  These are drugs like Prozac, Zoloft, Wellbutrin and Lorazepam to name a few.

Neurotransmitters are broken down into two categories – they are either excitatory or inhibitory.  That means they either tell the brain to go or tell the brain to stop.  The complexities of the neurotransmitter system are extensive and there is much more to it than “go” and “stop” but that basic principle holds true in most cases.

Examples of neurotransmitters include serotonin, GABA, epinephrine, norepinephrine, glutamate and dopamine.  Serotonin and GABA are inhibitory while epinephrine, norepinephrine, glutamate and dopamine are excitatory.

If you have anxiety and depression often times an imbalance exists in the levels of these neurotransmitters.

For example, high levels of glutamate may cause anxiety or seizures.  Low levels of GABA may cause anxiety.  Low levels of serotonin may cause depression.  Same goes for norepinephrine.

So how do you tell which neurotransmitters are low or which are too high?

Measuring Neurotransmitters

Measuring your neurotransmitters with a urine test is the best way to estimate your levels of neurotransmitters.  We do this routinely in our office for many patients.  It is incredibly insightful and directs our care for patients with anxiety, depression and many other conditions.

The measurement of neurotransmitters in the urine has been around for many years.  I’ve read studies dating to the 1960’s of scientists using similar methods to evaluate neurotransmitter levels.

Until relatively recently, perhaps the last 10-15 years, it has not been used frequently in clinical practice.  Now, through specialized laboratories, it is available to the general public and it is very affordable.

The knock on urinary neurotransmitter testing is that it does not correlate with brain levels of these hormones because the urine test is in fact testing whole body levels of neurotransmitters.

The very neurotransmitters that exist in our brain to make us happy exist outside the brain to serve the body in other ways.  So, yes, it is true that checking urinary neurotransmitter levels is technically a check of the entire body’s store of neurotransmitters.  But, through hundreds of thousands of tests these specialized labs have shown with high correlation that when neurotransmitter levels are abnormal certain psychiatric and neurological conditions are much more common.

Clinically, I have seen an almost one to one correlation in my patients with certain conditions an alteration in their neurotransmitter system.

The lab that I use will test all of the basic neurotransmitters plus a slew of metabolites of these neurotransmitters.  It provides a wonderful window into the neurological system.

If I find that serotonin is low, I supplement with something called 5-HTP.  If dopamine is low, I like to use L-tyrosine or an herb called mucuna pruriens.  The list can go on and on.

Once someone has been on a program for 6-8 weeks we recheck their neurotransmitter profile to gauge our therapy and adjust it if necessary.  We find that once a person’s profile returns to normal, their symptoms resolve.

If you have anxiety or depression, consider seeking out someone who does this kind of testing to improve your outcomes.  The brain is incredibly complex.  It never hurts to have a little extra information to guide your therapy.

10 Comments

Filed under Brain Health

Fighting Depression Naturally

Depression

Image via Wikipedia

Depression is a huge problem in the United States.  The numbers are quite amazing. Approximately 20.9 million American adults, or about 9.5 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year, have a mood disorder. Depression is not just a disorder for adults, however. As many as one in 33 children and one in eight adolescents have clinical depression.

Depression is characterized by an all-encompassing low mood accompanied by low self-esteem, and by loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities. Unipolar depression, the most common mood disorder in the U.S., was first described by Hippocrates in the 5th century B.C. He believed that depression was caused by an imbalance in the four humors – blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile.  Excess black bile caused depression according to Hippocrates. In fact, the Greek term for depression, melancholia, means black bile.

This view may seem far fetched, but the fact that depression is a physical process is correct. Even Freud wrote of the various presentations of depression which range from mild and cognitive, to severe and somatic.
There are several ’causes’ of depression.  I put ’causes’ in quotes because no one really knows for sure what ’causes’ depression.  There are many theories.  In my opinion, an imbalance in the neurotransmitter system is a scientifically sound explanation as to how a person could develop a mood disorder.  I also like to consider that if a person is not in good general health, depression is more likely to take hold.  This is a view that is also supported by the research.
So if these are two ’causes’ of depression, how can we effectively treat it?  Good question.  See my answers below.

Get Healthy

First and foremost a person that is depressed must make every effort to get healthy.  This includes exercise and dietary changes.  Junk in equals junk out.  Period.  If all one eats is McDonald’s value meals they are very unlikely to be healthy and much more likely to develop depression in my opinion.  Did you ever see the movie SuperSize Me?  A documentarian decides to eat nothing but McDonald’s for 30 days to see what happens.  Not only did he fall apart physically but he developed depression! Now, this is just one case and is a bit anecdotal, but the result confirmed the  hypothesis I made before I even saw the movie.

You must eat a healthy diet in order for your body to work properly and be healthy.  For some reason modern medicine has separated the health of our body from the health of our minds.  It is widely understood that to have a healthy body we need to eat nutritious foods.  It is far less accepted that to have a healthy mind we need to have a healthy diet.  Why is this the case?  The food that we eat provides fuel to our bodies and to our brains. The same food nourishes our entire system, not simply our physical bodies.

Exercise is unbelievably critical.  In fact, research has shown that the #1 cure for depression lasting less than 7 years is exercise.  Exercise does many things for the body. It improves blood flow, is a great stress reliever and changes the chemical balance in the brain to name just a few.  If you feel as if you suffer from depression and you do one thing for yourself this should be the one.  It has long lasting benefits in terms of depression and helps get the rest of your body healthy as well.

Supplements to take

There are several supplements that have been shown to reduce depression.  I would not suggest trying them all at once.  And I would suggest you consult a physician that is trained in functional medicine before you start a program.

5-HTP

If your problem is low serotonin this may help you.  5-HTP is short for 5-hydroxytryptophan.  5-HTP is the direct precursor in the body for serotonin.  Taking it may increase your serotonin levels and improve your mood.

St. John’s Wort

This is an herbal product that is used here in the U.S. to help with depression.  It acts by affecting the serotonin system.  I have found that it helps some, but not all depressed patients.  It’s a popular depression treatment in Europe.

SAMe

Short for the chemical name S-adenosylmethionine, it is pronounced “sammy.”  This has worked well in my practice for many people.  It is available over the counter in the U.S., but it’s used in Europe as a prescription drug to treat depression.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Diets higher in omega-3 fatty acids are known to protect people from depression.  It also appears that consuming more omega-3s reduces the symptoms of depression.  Consuming more in one’s diet is not likely to be enough.  Most people will have to supplement their diet with the oil or capsules to gain the most benefit.

This is just a small sample of the things that one can do to naturally ease depression.  People are most successful when combine exercise, diet and supplements together.  It will give you the best chance of improving your mood and feeling happier and more alive.

1 Comment

Filed under Brain Health, Diet

Reducing Your Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease Naturally

PET scan of a human brain with Alzheimer's disease

Image via Wikipedia

As of next year the first of the baby boomers will reach 65 years old and by 2029 all of them will be at least 65.  This is significant because as we age certain diseases become more and more prominent.  One of them is Alzheimer’s disease.  This disease robs people of the faculties much too soon and causes heartache and financial hardship for families across the US.

Just How Big Is The Problem?

About 24 million people worldwide are known to be affected with dementia. This number is expected to balloon to 84 million by the year 2040.  These numbers include all forms of dementia, but up to 80% of dementia is caused by Alzheimer’s disease (AD).  In the US alone 5.3 million American’s have Alzheimer’s Disease and 96% of them are over the age of 65.  In just five years the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s will jump to 7.7 million and by 2050 the number is projected to more than double to 16 million.  The numbers truly are staggering.  As a matter of fact, AD has recently passed diabetes, yes diabetes, as the 6th most common cause of death in the US.  As our population continues to grow older because people are living longer, the problem is likely to get worse.  Current statistics show that just over 50% of people who are over 85 will go on to develop AD.

AD is also a very expensive problem for the United States.  In 2005, total Medicare spending was $91 billion and the total US cost was $172 billion for AD.  AD patients make up roughly 13% of Medicare enrollees but account for more than 1/3 of its spending.  The problem will only grow as our population ages.

So What Can I Do To Reduce My Risk?

The best way to treat AD is to prevent it in the first place.  There is very good research behind several nutritional supplements that can significantly reduce your risk of developing dementia as you age.

Vitamin E

Here’s what one study found on vitamin E:

“Among MCI-AD patients, the longitudinal decrease in cellular vitamin E was associated with the deterioration in cognitive performance. These results suggest that accumulation of oxidative damage may start in pre-symptomatic phases of AD pathology and that progression to AD might be related to depletion of antioxidant defenses.”

-J Alzheimers Dis. 2010 Aug 6.

So what does that mean.  Basically what this study found was that among patients who has mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or AD, people with the lowest levels of vitamin E had poorest performance on mental testing.  Oxidative damage is the process by which our brain tissue is broken down in AD.  Vitamin E helps fight this process.

Another study concluded:

“In conclusion, high plasma levels of vitamin E are associated with a reduced risk of AD in advanced age. The neuroprotective effect of vitamin E seems to be related to the combination of different forms, rather than to alpha-tocopherol alone.”

-J Alzheimers Dis. 2010;20(4):1029-37.

This is saying that higher levels of vitamin E in the blood were associated with a significant reduction in AD with advanced age.  It also says that when taking vitamin E you should be taking a combination of forms, not a singular type.  When you look at the back of your vitamin E supplement be sure that it says ‘mixed tocopherols.”  That will provide you with the most benefit.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is the supplement of the hour right now.  It is being studied by everyone and just about everyone has found that it is critically important for overall health.  New research also shows it helps prevent AD.

“Vitamin D insufficiency and deficiency was associated with all-cause dementia, Alzheimer disease, stroke (with and without dementia symptoms), and MRI indicators of cerebrovascular disease. These findings suggest a potential vasculoprotective role of vitamin D.”

-Neurology. 2010 Jan 5;74(1):18-26. Epub 2009 Nov 25

This study is telling us that vitamin D insufficiency and deficiency was associated with higher risk for dementia and AD.  What this means is that even having levels that are slightly decreased (insufficiency) are associated with higher risk.  Keeping vitamin D levels up not only is important for bone health, cancer reduction and fall prevention but also reduces your risk of AD.  Pretty amazing stuff.

Another study on vitamin D found that:

“Clinical data suggest that vitamin D insufficiency is associated with an increased risk of several CNS diseases, including multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, seasonal affective disorder and schizophrenia.  Overall, imbalances in the calcipherol system appear to cause abnormal function, including premature aging, of the CNS.”

– Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2009 Dec;34 Suppl 1:S278-86

This study is particularly interesting in that it shows that low vitamin D levels are associated with an increased risk of several CNS or central nervous system diseases including AD.  It also concluded that imbalances in the calcipherol, or vitamin D, system causes premature aging of the brain and central nervous system.  Why is this problematic?  Remember, the number one risk factor for AD is aging.  If we can slow this process, particularly in the brain, we can slow the onset of AD.  Vitamin D can do this for you.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids (Fish Oil)

“A plethora of in vitro, animal model, and human data, gathered over the past decade, highlight the important role DHA may play in the development of a variety of neurological and psychiatric disorders, including AD. Cross sectional and prospective cohort data have demonstrated that reduced dietary intake or low brain levels of DHA are associated with accelerated cognitive decline or the development of incipient dementia, including AD.”

-Clin Interv Aging. 2010 Apr 7;5:45-61.

DHA is a particular form of omega-3 fatty acid or fish oil.  This study concluded that low intake of this particular fatty acid or low brain levels of it are associated with cognitive decline and accelerated development of AD.  This is of particular interest because of all of the wonderful other benefits that omega-3’s give us.  You can prevent or reduce the risk of many other diseases simply by supplementing with fish oil.

There was this study as well:

“Plasma DHA was associated with slower decline on BVRT (Benton Visual Retention Test) performances in ApoE-epsilon4 carriers only. EPA and DHA may contribute to delaying decline in visual working memory in ApoE-epsilon4 carriers.”

-Neurobiol Aging. 2010 Jun 4.

This study was done on people who have the gene that is linked to an increased risk of AD.  What it concluded was very exciting.  Basically it found that the higher the omega-3 DHA was in the plasma the slower the decline in memory in people that were genetically predisposed to getting AD.  That’s wonderful news!  Many people think that their genetics are their destiny, but this study showed otherwise.

In Summary

This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of research that is available on how to combat and reduce your risk of developing AD.  What we did not touch on in this article is that keeping your heart healthy and controlling your blood sugar is of utmost importance.  Do those things and take the supplements listed above and you can significantly reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

2 Comments

Filed under Brain Health, Diet, Public Health