Brain Function and Neuroprotection – how to support a healthy & vibrant brain

Updated: Nov 26, 2020

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. ...”

Most of our body functions are under the control of our brain. It is a complex, sophisticated and yes, divine entity whose functionality is not completely understood yet.

The brain is a 3.3lb organic blob that is ~2% of the average human’s body weight, but it uses ~25% of all our metabolic energy input and 20% of oxygen available in the body!

Neuorprotection is very important because our brain is the least understood organ with very sophisticated balancing responsibility. Given the importance of the brain, it is best to support and preserve its structural and biochemical integrity so it can have efficiency and longevity.

We will talk about some actions we can take to protect and preserve our brain functioning, but first, a few facts that will help make the journey easier.

Nerve cells (neurons)

Neurons have sensors (dentrites) that scan the surroundings for information relaying it to the neurons for interpretation and response. The specific response is relayed in the form of chemical (neurotransmitters) and electrical messengers, down its tail, the axon, from one cell to another cell. Synapses are junctions or empty spaces between neurons where chemical and electrical messages are exchanged.

Glial (glue) cells nourish, support and protect the neurons from wear and tear. Some glial cells specifically insulate axons and just like the rubber around an electrical cable it mitigates speedy transport and prevents signals from crossing each other. Some of these cells help protect neurons from pathogens and diseases. They also shuttle blood/nutrients to the neurons and clear waste away from the brain.

Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers stored in neurons and deployed to cause reactions in order to keep our biological systems in equilibrium and influence our moods and feelings. They are the main players in shaping our day-to-day life functions and experiences. These are some of most well-understood examples of neurotransmitters and what you can do to affect them and keep your brain healthy;

Acetylcholine is the most studied neurotransmitter and is responsible for voluntary and involuntary muscle contraction. It helps you walk and also keeps your heart beating. It also plays a role in memory formation, learning, and neuronal development among other functions.

  • Disrupters - Heavy metals such as arsenic, lead and mercury disrupt the cellular physiology and chemical functioning of the brain.

  • Deficiency - When blocked it can cause paralysis. Alzheimer patients also test for reduced levels of Acetylcholine.

  • Restorative Nutrition - Whole grains, eggs, meats and fish, are all high in choline.

Dopamine plays a key role in the pleasure sensation of the brain and this is why it is linked to addiction and other pleasure-seeking tendencies. It is also instrumental in facilitating learning, attention body movements.

  • Disruptors – Heavy metals, pesticides, synthetic chemicals in products such as plastics and fragrances can mimic hormones and interfere with with this delicate endocrine balance.

  • Deficiency - It is observed to be the main neurotransmitter lacking in Parkinson’s disorder.

  • Restorative Nutrition - Omega-3 rich fish such as salmon and mackerel, yogurt, fruit and vegetables, in particular bananas, nuts, such as almonds and walnuts, dark chocolate, and mucuna beans which posses a high concentration of plant L-Dopa, a precursor of several neurotransmitters including both epinephrine and norepinephrine and dopamine.

Adrenaline and Noradrenaline are endogenous chemicals produced by the adrenal glands and the brain. Both are released as the body’s emergency response to excitement and stress. They induce what is called “fight or flight” response in the body by elevating the heart rate, increasing blood flow to the muscle, sharpening the mind, and elevating blood sugar.

  • Disruptors – Extreme and prolonged stressful periods

  • Deficiency Repeated cycles of fight or flight can cause high blood pressure and heart diseases. And these cycles can even happen when you are sleeping! In extreme cases of obstructive sleep apnea and in people with obesity they may be exposed to high levels of adrenaline/noradrenaline during sleep as they struggle to breathe.

  • Restorative Nutrition/lifestyle - Practice deep breathing techniques and meditation. Increase magnesium intake to relax and tone stressed muscles and aid sleep. Also incorporate mild nervous system sedative herbal teas such as chamomile.

Gaba (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is the inhibitory neurotransmitter, a sort of traffic controller that makes sure all messengers stay calm (not overactive) and on their specific pathways. It also reduces the activity of the nerves and therefore reduces the chances of over excitability.

  • Disruptors – Unhealthy gut microbiome can be the main culprit since Gaba is produced by healthy gut cells.

  • Deficiency – Disruption of this neurotransmitter can result in anxiety, chronic stress, difficulty concentrating and forgetfulness, headaches, insomnia and loss of control of other brain activities. It is sort of like a busy traffic stop without a stoplight resulting in hecticness and crashes. In extreme cases seizures and epileptic episodes occur.

  • Restorative Nutrition – The following foods contain Gaba or boost the body’s ability to produce it itself. It is found in a variety teas (green, black and oolong tea), fermented foods (yogurt, kraut, kefir) whole grain, leafy green veggies and herbs such as kava kava, passionflower.

Serotonin is mainly (90%) located in the gut where it regulates small intestine movements, but there are very important serotonin pathways in the brain. Serotonin is sometimes called the “happy hormone” because it has been shown to regulate happiness, and stabilizes our mood for our overall feeling of well being.

  • Disruptors – Stress, Poor diet. Lack of vitamin D, and poor sleep hygiene or lack of restorative sleep time for the body to replenish itself.

  • Deficiency - Low amounts of serotonin in the body lead to sleep disorders, over-eating, aggressive behaviors, poor memories, fibromyalgia and depression. Serotonin also plays a role in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety disorders, phobias post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and some cases, epilepsy. Balance is key with serotonin because significantly high level of serotonin in the bones can lead to osteoporosis. It can also mean trouble such as slow-growing gastrointestinal system tumors and metastatic carcinoid tumors (MCTs). The symptoms here can sometimes be mistaken for irritable bowel syndrome.

  • Restorative Nutrition & herbal therapy – Serotonin building block is the tryptophan molecule. It is found abundantly in sea vegies, nuts, seeds, chicken meat and eggs. Herbs such as stinging nettles (fresh) have plant serotonin. The seeds of an African medicinal vine called Griffonia simplicifolia have a reactive version of tryptophan that is able to easily cross the blood-brain barrier and is converted to serotonin.

Melatonin is a naturally occurring neurotransmitter produced from in the pineal gland in the brain. It is a hormone associated with maintaining sleep wake cycles and other biological rhythms. It regulates the human biological clock.

  • Disruptors – Calcification (hardening) of the pineal gland, ultimately impeding its proper function.

  • Deficiency - leads to disturbed sense of direction, poor sleep and memory

  • Restorative Nutrition & herbal therapy – Like serotonin, tryptophan is a precursor to melatonin. Things like turkey, chicken, meat, cheese, yogurt, eggs, and fish have the amino acid L-tryptophan, so they are good for sleep and body clock regulation. Plants and herbs such as oats, barley, wheat, rice grapes, some algae and St John's wort also have tryptophan.

As with all other high traffic information conducting systems (roadways) natural wear and tear is inevitable. But there are many other factors that can prematurely interrupt, disrupt and accelerate neuro-damage. Brain inflammation, oxidative processes, poor nutrition, damage to the conducing structures, could lead to miss firings and cross messaging which ultimately results in confusing messaging and inefficient brain activities.

Neuroprotection and using restorative nutrition and lifestyle aims for the maintenance and preservation of both structure and function of the brain in order for it to manage this complex feat that is body equilibrium. While there are substantial development in development drugs that that support and balance various neurological deficiencies and disorders, there are some concerns. The use of antidepressants and anxiety disorders drugs can lead to increased tolerance and ultimately dependence.

These are the reasons why preservation – neuroprotection – is so important:

  • Preserve and restore physical and biochemical integrity of the neurons structure

  • Prevent neuron & axon injury and loss of various CNS functions

  • Maintain and bring some integrity to this complex system.

  • Reduce and detoxify our body of bio-accumulation of toxic biological, chemical, or physical agents that can cause neurotoxicity and adversely effect the structure or function of the nervous system.

Here are some photochemicals (plant medicine) for supporting and protecting brain health. You can use these simply in the form of an herbal tea;

Circulation promoting herbs to nourish the brain:

  • Bacopa monnieri is reputed for enhancing circulation to the brain, thereby increasing short and long-term memory and learning.

  • Ginkgo biloba increases blood flow of the brain and enhances cognitive function.

  • Common Sage is clinically shown to have cognitive-enhancing properties.

  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) relives psychological tension. It is also circulation and nervous stimulant.

Antioxidants for Inflammation reduction and neuron protection:

  • Astragalus is more than an antioxidant, is also an immunity booster and brain (pituitary) activity activator.

  • Tulsi (Holy basil) has adaptogenic qualities and clinically shown to protect organs and tissues against chemical stress from heavy metals and industrial pollutants.

  • Green tea has immune and inflammatory modulating activities. It can however be too stimulating to the nervous system (disturb the mind in some people)

  • Thyme fights harmful pro-inflammatory free radicals

  • Ginger Increases the peripheral circulation and detoxifies the body from toxins

  • Berries

  • Turmeric is a free radical scavenger

  • Ginseng decrease chronic and cell stress

Nutritive and nerve toning herbs

  • Oats (Avena sativa) is a nervine tonic that nourishes the nervous system

  • Vervain (verbena officinalis) Strengthens the nervous system and relaxes tension

  • Wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa) is a remedy for overactive nervous system

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