Vinpocetine is derived from the vinca alkaloids found in periwinkles (the little blue flowers, not the little snails also called “periwinkles”). Discovered in Hungary in 1976, vinpocetine’s value for treating brain disorders was quickly appreciated in Eastern Europe but was largely ignored elsewhere until fairly recently.
Oral vinpocetine has been used with good effect in patients with poor circulation in the brain (“chronic cerebral vascular insufficiency”):
- to improve cerebral circulation • to improve speech
- to reduce headache, dizziness, tinnitus, fatigue and insomnia
- to increase attention and concentration
- to improve cognition
- to improve mood
Vinpocetine has also scored successes in the following areas of application:
- memory and cognitive enhancement
- poor spatial memory
- “fetal alcohol spectrum disorders” (FASD)
- Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s
- liver damage
- diabetes-related memory loss
- macular degeneration
- hearing loss, tinnitus, Ménière’s disease
- visceral pain
- recurrent strokes and stroke recovery
- nerve damage due to oxidative and nitritive stress
- tumoral calcinosis (calcium deposits)
The majority of the clinical research into vinpocetine has been done in Hungary and Russia — lands where intellectual achievement has long been highly valued. Despite having been burdened for generations by heavy bureaucracies, these countries have managed to excel in mathematics, physics, engineering, music, chess-playing, and other fields. It’s not surprising that techniques for cognitive enhancement would flourish there. We are fortunate to be able to benefit from their efforts.
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The plaques, believed to be characteristic of the debilitating Alzheimer’s disease, starts in the liver rather than in the brain, a new study says.
Greg Sutcliffe and colleagues used a mouse model for Alzheimer’s disease to identify the genes that influence the amount of amyloid accumulated in the brain.
Three genes protect mice from the accumulation and deposition of amyloid in the brain. Lower expression of these genes in the liver prevents the formation of amyloid plaques in the mouse’s brain, the scientists wrote in the Journal of Neuroscience Research.
“We reasoned that if brain amyloid was being born in the liver and transported to the brain by the blood, then that should be the case in all mice and one would predict in humans, too,” said Sutcliffe, adding that blocking the production of beta amyloid in the liver may protect the brain.
Injecting Gleevec, a new drug used for treating leukemia and gastrointestinal tumors, reduces the production of beta amyloid both in the blood and brain of the studied AD mice, the study found.
“This unexpected finding holds promise for the development of new therapies to fight Alzheimer’s,” the lead author said.”This could greatly simplify the challenge of developing therapies and prevention.”
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Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a component of the membranes of all cells. Nerve cells are especially sensitive to deficiencies of PS.
Deficiencies of phosphatidylserine can result from dietary habits or simply from aging. After age 50 the body may synthesize too little of this substance, causing declines in mental function and memory. In clinical studies, patients with dementia have shown improvement after taking supplemental PS — even when the dementia is caused by Alzheimer’s Disease.
PS levels also affect athletic performance by mechanisms that are thought to involve the ability to focus on tasks and to reduce psychological stress.
Studies of PS supplementation suggest the following areas of application:
- alertness, focus, and concentration
- Alzheimer’s and other dementias
- memory, learning, and intelligence
- cognitive decline
- language proficiency
- anxiety and depression
- mood and sociability
- disruptive behavior in children
- ability to cope with stress
- brain aging
- athletic performance
- neurotic thinking
The positive benefits seen in medical studies of PS supplementation have convinced many young, healthy people to use PS to enhance memory, raise intelligence, and retard neurological aging. Doses of 100-300 mg/day are usually used. Doses of 800 mg/day are needed to lower cortisol levels.
Caution: If this supplement gives you a superiority complex, LifeLink wants to remind you: “Hey! Don’t be a smart-alec — until recently you were just as dumb as everyone else.”
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You’re probably familiar with the insidious effects of stress on your sleep quality and its link to anxiety and depression. Now growing body of evidence suggests that stress can take a physical toll, too, damaging everything from your heart to your immune system. It may even shorten your lifespan.
“Chronic emotional stress can affect virtually every organ system in negative ways,” says Dean Ornish, M.D., founder and president of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, Calif. “But stress is not simply a function of what you do. It’s also a function of how you react.”
While scientists are just beginning to untangle the hows and whys of stress-related illness, they believe that certain hormones are involved. Three of those brain chemicals – cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine – that are released when we’re stressed seem to have damaging effects on the body. “When you’re under chronic stress, your body tenses up to prepare for battle in the fight or flight response,” Ornish says, describing that hormone rush, “so the same mechanisms that are really protective can themselves become harmful and even lethal when they’re chronically activated.”
Cortisol seems to “tune down” the immune system and make it less able to fight infection, says Esther Sternberg, M.D., director of the integrative neural immune program at the National Institute of Mental Health. Various studies by Ohio State University (OSU) scientists have found that dementia caregivers have poorer immune function and suffer more sick days, especially respiratory illnesses, than other people. Even immunizations don’t offer them as much protection as they do noncaregivers: Caregivers of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients make fewer antibodies (disease-fighting proteins) when they’re vaccinated against the flu, making them more susceptible to catching the virus, the OSU researchers and scientists at the University of Bristol in England found.
In the case of cancer, epinephrine and norepinephrine can cause tumors to spread by increasing their ability to promote the growth of blood vessels that increase the cancer’s supply of blood and nutrients, according to 2006 research on lab mice at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
And when we comment that a president’s hair seems to have gone white overnight, it turns out that stress really may be aging him. OSU researchers have found that genetic material that’s responsible for helping to repair cells is biologically “older” in caregivers than it is in other people. While there’s no proof that this genetic aging shortens one’s lifespan, that cell aging is associated with many cancers, heart disease and the body’s disease-fighting abilities, Ornish says. (Separate research has, however, found that caregivers who are emotionally stressed out have higher rates of mortality than other people.)
Stress can also have a physical effect on our health if it leads us to behave in unhealthy ways, such as over eating or drinking too much alcohol, a 2007 commentary in the Journal of the American Medical Association noted.
Stress doesn’t affect us equally. “The greater the stress, the more prolonged, the more severe, the more likely you are to become ill,” Sternberg says. And while some studies suggest that women report more stress and symptoms of it, they may also manage it better, suggesting that how we cope with stress can influence whether it makes us sick.
Research at Carnegie Mellon University has shown that people with strong social networks tend to be healthier. There may also be a gender difference: females of many species, including humans, are apt to “tend and befriend” in times of stress by taking care of children and other adults, according to UCLA psychologist Shelley Taylor, Ph.D. That trend was borne out in Hungary after the fall of the Soviet Union: Both men and women there were affected by unemployment at that time, but despite the economic changes, women’s social networks in their towns and churches remained the same. Men, however, suffered more heart disease and death, possibly because they were more psychically affected by economic stresses, according to a 2004 study published in Brain Research Bulletin.
In addition to having friends to lean on, listening to music, exercising and practicing yoga and meditation all have been shown to reduce stress. And there’s reason to believe those strategies can make a difference to your health. Ongoing research by Ornish suggests that stress – management techniques such as exercise, yoga, meditation and support from others – along with a low-fat diet – are associated with lowered LDL or “bad” cholesterol, as well as a “turning off” of genes that promote cancer growth. Those activities also were associated with increased production of telomerase, a protein that repairs the genetic material that controls aging.
“You can’t get rid of stress, you can’t get rid of negative events in your life, but you can do things to cushion yourself from them,” Sternberg says.
And that, Ornish says, is “a very empowering and optimistic message.”
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“In adult centers the nerve paths are something fixed, ended, immutable. Everything may die, nothing may be regenerated.”
— Santiago Ramon Y Cajal, “Degeneration and Regeneration in the Nervous System,” 1928
This long-held tenet, first proposed by Professor Cajal, held that brain neurons were unique because they lacked the ability to regenerate.
In 1998, the journal Nature Medicine published a report indicating that neurogenesis, the growth of new brain cells, does indeed occur in humans. As Sharon Begley remarked in her book, “Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain,” “The discovery overturned generations of conventional wisdom in neuroscience. The human brain is not limited to the neurons it is born with, or even the neurons that fill in after the explosion of brain development in early childhood.”
What the researchers discovered was that within each of our brains there exists a population of neural stem cells which are continually replenished and can differentiate into brain neurons. Simply stated, we are all experiencing brain stem cell therapy every moment of our lives.
As one might expect, the process of neurogenesis is controlled by our DNA. A specific gene codes for the production of a protein, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which plays a key role in creating new neurons. Studies reveal decreased BDNF in Alzheimer’s patients, as well as in a variety of neurological conditions including epilepsy, depression, schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Fortunately, many of the factors that influence our DNA to produce BDNF factors are under our direct control. The gene that turns on BDNF is activated by a variety of factors including physical exercise, caloric restriction, curcumin and the omega-3 fat, DHA.
This is a powerful message. These factors are all within our grasp and represent choices we can make to turn on the gene for neurogenesis. Thus, we can treat ourselves to stem cell therapy by taking control of our gene expression.
Laboratory rats that exercise have been shown to produce far more BDNF in their brains compared to sedentary animals. And there is a direct relationship between elevation of BDNF levels in these animals and their ability to learn, as one might expect.
With this understanding of the relationship of BDNF to exercise, researchers in a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, entitled “Effect of Physical Activity in Cognitive Function in Older Adults at Risk for Alzheimer’s Disease,” found that elderly individuals engaged in regular physical exercise for a 24-week period had an improvement of an astounding 1,800 percent on measures of memory, language ability, attention and other important cognitive functions compared to an age-matched group not involved in the exercise program.
The mechanism by which exercise enhances brain performance is described in these and other studies as sitting squarely with increased production of BDNF. Just by engaging in regular physical exercise, you open the door to the possibility of actively taking control of your mental destiny.
In January, 2009, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science published a study entitled “Caloric Restriction Improves Memory in Elderly Humans.” In this study, German researchers imposed a 30 percent calorie reduction on the diets of elderly individuals and compared their memory function with a similar age group who basically ate whatever they wanted. At the conclusion of the three-month study, those who ate without restriction experienced a small, but clearly defined decline in memory function, while memory function in the group consuming the calorie-reduced diet actually increased, and fairly profoundly. In recognition of the obvious limitations of current pharmaceutical approaches to brain health, the authors concluded, “The present findings may help to develop new prevention and treatment strategies for maintaining cognitive health into old age.” What a concept. Preventive medicine for the brain.
Because curcumin, the main active ingredient in the spice turmeric, increases BDNF, it has attracted the interest of neuroscientists around the world. Interestingly, in evaluating villages in India where turmeric is used in abundance in curried recipes, epidemiological studies have found that Alzheimer’s disease is only about 25 percent as common as in the U.S. There is little doubt that the positive effects of enhanced BDNF production on brain neurons is at least part of the reason why those consuming curcumin are so resistant to this brain disorder.
Like curcumin, DHA enhances gene expression for the production of BDNF. In a recently completed double-blind interventional trial, 485 healthy older individuals (average age 70 years) with mild memory problems were given a supplement containing DHA from marine algae or placebo for six months. Lead researcher of the study, Dr. Karin Yurko-Mauro, commented, “In our study, healthy people with memory complaints who took algal DHA capsules for six months had almost double the reduction in errors on a test that measures learning and memory performance versus those who took a placebo … The benefit is roughly equivalent to having the learning and memory skills of someone three years younger.”
Harnessing the expression of our DNA is empowering, and the tools to better brain health are available to us all — right now!
Results of the MIDAS trial: Effects of docosahexaenoic acid on physiological and safety parameters in age-related cognitive decline. Karin Yurko-Mauro, Deanna McCarthy, Eileen Bailey-Hall, Edward B. Nelson, Andrew Blackwell, MIDAS Investigators
Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, July 2009 (Vol. 5, Issue 4, Supplement, Page P84).
David Perlmutter, MD, FACN, ABIHM is a Board-Certified Neurologist and Fellow of the American College of Nutrition who received his M.D. degree from the University of Miami School of Medicine where he was awarded the Leonard G. Rowntree Research Award. After completing residency training in Neurology, also at the University of Miami, Dr. Perlmutter entered private practice in Naples, Florida.