Enhancing Support for Brain Functions
Note: the nutraceuticals and supplements discussed in this post is not intended to be understood as an endorsement of their usage. Any changes to intake in the form of supplementation should be discussed with a physician prior to use.
As a Certified Brain Fitness Coach, the need to expand your knowledge of nutraceuticals cannot be overlooked. Often credited with serving to support optimal cellular functioning, nutraceuticals play an important role in ensuring your clients have the foundational building blocks that allow them (and their physical form) to continually produce neurotransmitters and co-factors at levels essential to supporting optimal brain health.
Aging occurs when cellular death from reactive oxygen species occurs at a faster rate than cellular growth. What is interesting is the science that allows us to see the brain as the most metabolically active organ in the body, causing it to generate a large amount of reactive oxygen species in the process. The brain is also quite vulnerable to oxidative stress; these reactive oxygen species often get neutralized by the brain’s natural antioxidant systems in a healthy individual.
These systems operate efficiently for most of our lives but in an aging individual, the reactive oxygen species are often in excess of the antioxidant capacity…resulting in cellular aging. The solution is to incorporate nutritional solutions to support the brain’s antioxidant capacity.
One of the most popular supplements to support brain function is Gingko Biloba. This extract, from the Gingko Biloba tree, is native to China. It is widely recognized for its neuroprotective antioxidant properties and ability to enhance circulation. Ginkgo extracts contain several active constituents including flavonoids terpenoids and organic acids. These compounds have been shown to act as free radical scavengers which give Ginkgo Biloba’s antioxidant and neuroprotective properties; promising research studies report that supplementation with Ginkgo Biloba protects cell membranes from lipid peroxidation and neurons from oxidative damage.
Ginkgo Biloba’s ability to improve cerebral and peripheral circulation through decreasing blood viscosity and affecting vascular smooth muscle contraction may result in the benefits reported with blood flow. Ginkgo has also been shown to inhibit cellular toxicity, induced by beta-amyloid proteins which are implicated in Alzheimer’s disease and have been demonstrated to enhance cognition in healthy individuals as well as those with age-related cognitive decrements.
Vinpocetine is an alkaloid compound extracted from the periwinkle plant, and functions as a phosphodiesterase inhibitor. It is an effective vasodilator and has been used in the prevention of cerebral vascular disease, and has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties. Positron Emission Tomography (PET) based studies demonstrate vinpocetine’s uptake across the brain and its ability to effectively regulate blood flow and metabolism.
Vinpocetine appears to have many varied pharmacological effects for example some studies indicate that vinpocetine might enhance cerebral blood flow without affecting peripheral blood flow. preliminary evidence indicates that vinpocetine stimulates cerebral metabolism and increases glucose and oxygen consumption by the brain. Potential mechanisms for these effects of vinpocetine include direct or indirect cholinergic activity, augmented norepinephrine effects on cortical cyclic adenosine monophosphate (AMP), and increased turnover of the brain’s catecholamines.
It is currently being studied for improvements in microcirculation in the brain and for increasing cerebral blood flow by improving red blood cell deformability. Vinpocetine may also play a role in reducing cerebral vascular resistance and inhibiting platelet aggregation.
Alpha Lipoic Acid
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is a powerful antioxidant, which neutralizes free radicals. Current research is suggesting that supplementation of ALA serves to detoxify and protect the body. ALA serves to recycle both vitamins C and E, as well as supporting glutathione production, making it a vital tool in maintaining optimal antioxidant production in the body.
Since ALA is soluble both in water and fat, it can move into all parts of the cells to remove damaging free radicals.
Free radicals are atoms, or groups of atoms, that contain an unpaired electron. While lasting less than a second, if in excess they can cause irreversible damage to the heart, nerve, and immune cells of the body. Free radicals can be produced by radiation, x-rays, environmental pollutants – like tobacco smoke. Aspects of a poor diet – such as cooking fats at high temperatures, can increase excessive free radical production. This can also result in damage to genes, which then produce mutated proteins. Free radicals can also destroy cellular membranes. Ultimately, excess free radical production is what leads to cellular aging.
ALA has also been shown to be very powerful in controlling blood sugar levels in individuals with diabetes. It can also detoxify heavy metals and protect nerve tissue against oxidative stress.
ALA acid is synthesized by the body but it is also found in the diet by consuming red meat, organ meats, spinach, broccoli, potatoes, yams, carrots, beets, and yeast.
Huperzine (also known as “Huperzine A”) is an alkaloid extracted from the Chinese club moss. In studies, it has been seen to function as a reversible selective inhibitor of acetylcholinesterase but has also been shown to protect against oxidative injury, neuronal apoptosis, and glutamate-induced toxicity. Huperzine elevates acetylcholine levels throughout the brain, especially in the frontal and parietal cortex. it also protects against glutamate toxicity by blocking glutamate-induced neuronal calcium influx and cellular death. This sounds very much like a discussion for a science laboratory but in essence, huperzine boosts acetylcholine levels, which can serve to support cognitive function.
Benefits of Supplements for Brain Health
In studies measuring the effects of repetitive sub-concussive impacts in living professional football players on brain function, interesting results have been published in the past 15- 20 years. Many types of supplements have been tested on this unique portion of the population. Since football is one of several contact sports, there has been a fair amount of attention focused on the significant damage to the brain among those with head injuries (concussions, etc.) and what the effects of certain supplements are.
One recent study observed both imaging and assessments of cognitive and psychiatric function for a group meeting these criteria. In addition, researchers used a rehabilitation component to their study to evaluate the effectiveness of the supplements and nutrients often evaluated for supporting brain health and function.
While much still is unknown about the long-term results of interventions, coaches are encouraged to explore supplementation with an open mind. It may be as simple as recommending a high-potency multivitamin and omega-3 fatty acid supplement; It may include an intervention to coach a client in need of lifestyle interventions (including nutritional coaching or access to a weight management program).
The range is broad. If sleep is a concern, then this is a coaching opportunity. But when there are needs beyond what a coach can address, it is assuring to know that clinical/lab testing is always an option to be recommended. This might be as common as a sleep apnea study or your client may be part of a testing protocol done on the brain by researchers performing a study.
The benefits of supplementation are believed to be significant. These include enhancements of:
- increased blood flow as measured by imaging in areas important in focus and impulse control
- emotional regulation
- visual processing spatial processing reaction times
Often, the results reported by participants in research studies include improvements in:
Keep in mind that no one should take supplements of any kind, including those labeled as “all-natural,” without talking to your physician about it first.
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