November 1, 2013
By Christine Cheng, B.Sc. (Pharm) and Fred Cheng, B.Sc. (Pharm)
Sometimes it feels like the more candles we have on our birthday cake, the fewer brain cells we have. Unfortunately, this is probably true. Once the neurons (or brain nerve cells responsible for transmitting information in the brain) are damaged or killed, it is not likely they will regenerate. Although neurons are typically the longest living cells in the body, they do die in the natural course of life. Additionally, neuronal death in the brain can also be caused by brain diseases (e.g., Parkinson’s Disease, Huntington’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease), physical damage to the brain, stroke, or spinal cord injury.
So, what can we do to keep our brains healthier and functioning optimally for as long as possible? It may surprise you that physical activity is key! Exercising ensures good blood flow to the brain and like any other organ in the body, the better the blood flow, the more oxygen and nutrients the neurons in the brain receive. Exercise can also improve cardiovascular health, which can decrease the risk of stroke, heart attack, and diabetes, all of which are risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. Consider regular activities such as yoga, walking, bicycling, gardening, or tai chi.
Along the same lines, eating a heart-healthy diet can reduce these same risk factors so try to keep your diet low in red meats (and other sources of saturated fat) and high in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, olive oil and other healthy fats. If you find it a challenge to include all this into your diet, consider a well-rounded nutrient powder such as VEGA ONE, which contains high protein, vitamins and minerals, anti-oxidants, greens, fibre, probiotics, and OMEGA FATTY ACIDS.
There are a few supplements that have shown promise in helping with brain health. PHOSPHATIDYLSERINE is an essential component of the nerve cell membrane and its presence is important in cell-to-cell communication as well as maintenance of the cell’s internal environment. Phosphatidylserine supplementation has been shown to increase levels of neurotransmitters (e.g., acetylcholine, norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine) in the brains of Alzheimer patients. Because neurotransmitters are the molecules used by brain cells to communicate with each other, this could improve brain function.
Carnitine is a molecule that is essential to the normal functioning of the mitochondria, the “power houses” of every cell. As such, carnitine plays an important role in fat metabolism and energy production. Acetyl-l-carnitine is the form of carnitine that is used by the neurons in the brain. It is also important in making acetylcholine, a molecule that is depleted in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. CERALIN FORTE (by Metagenics) contains acetyl-l-carnitine to help ensure a steady supply of the building block for acetycholine as well as other ingredients that may guard against oxidative damage to the neurons.
In addition to the nerve cells in the brain, there are glial cells that support, feed, and protect the neurons. One subtype of glial cells is important in optimizing communication between nerve cells. This is where taking in healthy fats in the diet can help. Using olive oil to cook with, eating fish a few times a week, and/or taking an omega-3 fatty acid supplement such as OMEGAGENICS EPA-DHA 720 (by Metagenics) can provide the body with the necessary building blocks to nourish these lipid-rich glial cells, thus enhancing cell-to-cell communication.
Along with dietary modification and exercise, maintaining strong social connections and keeping mentally stimulated can help lower the risk of cognitive decline. Go for a walk to visit a friend….play card games…play board games…even reading, writing, or playing an instrument can keep your mind active. Our brains are like muscles: if we don’t use it, we will lose it.
(Christine and Fred Cheng are a passionate, charismatic sister-brother pharmacist team at their unique family-owned and operated Pharmasave in Cloverdale, BC. They specialize in natural remedies and compounding for both human and veterinarian use. They would love to hear from you! 604-576-2888; www.cloverdalepharmasave.com. Of course, before you begin any activity program or try any OTC supplementation, check with your physician and pharmacist.)