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Nutrition and the Brain

Along with antioxidant research,
brain nutrition is one of the fastest-growing and most exciting
categories of nutrition science. It is also one of the most
important. The brain shares with the liver the dual distinction
of being on the one hand enormously important to survival and
well-being, and on the other hand enormously vulnerable.
Fortunately, as is the case with the liver, the brain is
extremely responsive to nutritional protection and
optimization. Click here for Neuroceutical Supplement Products ---------------------------------------------------
----------------------------- At no time in human history
has the importance of the brain to survival and quality of life
been more evident. We live in a world of high technology, in
which "computer literacy" is often as important to getting a job
as the ability to read. The proliferation of information and
"labor-saving devices," which were supposed to make our lives
easier, has produced the opposite result: our lives have become
bewilderingly complex. To add irony to irony, the industrial
revolution that has made all of this high technology possible
has altered our lives in ways which may be extremely detrimental
to brain health. In order to function optimally, the
brain needs the proper nutrients, which may be compromised in
the modern world. The pressures of daily life make it difficult
for modern Americans to devote the necessary time to prepare
food properly. As a consequence of this and a constant barrage
of advertising, a high proportion of many people's diets
consists of fast foods and packaged foods, low in many essential
nutrients and high in sodium and sugar. Excess sodium can create
a relative imbalance in the sodium/potassium ratio, and
potassium is an important nutrient for nerve conduction (see
"Potassium," page #). Excess simple sugar intake can,
paradoxically, cause low blood sugar, thus depriving the brain
of the fuel it needs. Even people who eat a 'balanced'
diet may be affected by the fact that the soil on which our
grains and vegetables are grown is often depleted of nutrients
and minerals that may be essential for the health of the brain.
Commercial farming uses chemical fertilizers to artificially
enhance the growth rate of plants. The most common such
fertilizer is a simple mixture of nitrogen, phosphorus and
potassium. Over time, complex organic substances and trace
minerals are leached out of the soil, resulting in vegetables
that may look big and healthy, but are devoid of much of the
nutrient and mineral complexity needed to optimally nourish the
brain. Complex Nutritional Needs for a Complex Organ
The human brain is not only the most complex organ in the body,
it is arguably the most complex object in the known universe.
Its nigh-unimaginable complexity has evolved in layers, which
can be seen when one examines its various parts, all of which
have specialized functions. The brain stem or 'reptilian brain,'
the most ancient and primitive part of our brains, determines
our general level of awareness, "notifies" the rest of the brain
in a general way about incoming data, and controls basic bodily
functions such as breathing and heart rate. The cerebellum or
'little brain' is responsible for maintaining and adjusting
posture, coordinating muscle movement and storing 'memories' for
correcting motor functions. The cerebellum in the human brain
has more than tripled in size in the last million years. The
limbic system, called the "mammalian brain" because it is most
highly developed in mammals, developed some two hundred to three
hundred million years ago. In addition to playing a key role in
primal emotional reactions such as hunger, sexual arousal and
the ''fight or flight' reflex, it helps to maintain body
temperature, blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar levels.
One portion of the limbic system, called the hippocampus, also
plays a key role in storing memories. And finally, much
larger and more complex than in any other animal, the cerebral
cortex is the part of the brain that makes us human. The
cerebral cortex is divided into four sections or lobes: the
frontal lobe, which is involved in planning, decision making and
purposeful behavior; the parietal lobe, where sensory
information from the body is processed; the occipital lobe or
"visual cortex," which processes visual information; and the
temporal lobe, which is involved with hearing, perception and
memory. It is the cerebral cortex that gives rise to all the
various levels of thought, from simple decisions like what to
order in a restaurant, to creative endeavors like the creation
of a new recipe or the writing of a sonnet, to complex,
multifaceted challenges that require all of the wisdom and
perspective acquired in a lifetime to solve. Source
Naturals carries perhaps the most comprehensive and
sophisticated line of brain nutrients available today. These
"Neuroceuticals"® optimize the functioning of the brain in three
important ways: 1. They boost the energy available to the brain
by bolstering metabolic energy-production cycles; 2. They
enhance communication between brain cells by supporting the
production and action of neurotransmitters; 3. They provide
protection for the brain's delicate tissues by enhancing its
antioxidant potential; and 4. They provide raw materials to
support the structure of healthy cell membranes. Energy and
Neurons One means of enhancing the brain's activity
through nutrition is to boost the energy available to it. The
brain weighs only about three pounds - about 2% of our total
weight - yet uses 15% of the energy generated by the entire
body. The reason the brain uses such a huge amount of energy has
to do with the way nerve cells, or neurons, carry
impulses. All of the brain's activity, from conscious
experience and thought to unconscious instructions to autonomic
systems, consists of patterns of activation of neurons. A neuron
is a specialized type of cell with a number of branching
extensions or processes called dendrites and one long process
called an axon. Neurons, like all cells, maintain the proper
balance of ion concentration necessary for cell integrity by
pumping sodium ions out of the cell and potassium ions into the
cell, using ATP-driven protein pumps called Na+K+ ATPase pumps,
or sodium-potassium pumps. Potassium ions are allowed to leak
out through special ion channels, a process which continues
until a negative charge builds up (generated by
negatively-charged protein molecules inside the cell). This
negative charge prevents any more of the positively-charged
potassium ions from escaping, and creates a slight difference in
electrical charge between the inside and outside of the cell
membrane. The difference in ionic concentration combined with
the difference in electrical charge across the cell membrane is
called an electrochemical gradient. Neurons utilize this
electrochemical gradient to carry signals. When a neuron
receives a message to 'fire,' either from the environment or
from another neuron, ion channels open in the cell membrane
which allow positively charged sodium ions to flood into the
cell, abruptly changing the electrical polarity of a small
region of the membrane. This change in polarity causes nearby
voltage-gated ion channels to open, allowing more sodium ions to
flood into the cell, further depolarizing the membrane and
causing more ion channels to open and so on. The opening of
sodium channels, depolarizing the cell membrane and forming an
electrical wave that travels down the length of the cell, is
followed closely by the opening of voltage-gated potassium
channels, causing an efflux of potassium that helps bring the
membrane back to its resting potential. The sodium-potassium
pumps then pump furiously to bring the cell back to proper
sodium/potassium balance, readying it to fire again. All of
this, at any given moment on the body, is happening in thousands
of cells at once. It occurs in a fraction of a second - so
quickly that we jerk our hands away from a flame before the
thought 'That's hot!' has even registered. The
maintenance of the proper sodium/potassium balance in the nerve
cells of the brain requires an astonishing amount of energy. And
all of this energy must be produced locally in the brain
&endash; no part of the body can 'lend' ATP energy to any other
part. Consequently, in addition to the proper fuel - high in
complex carbohydrates, low in simple sugars - it is vital for
the energy needs of the brain to supply it with an abundance of
the nutritional cofactors which act as biochemical 'sparkplugs'
in the cellular engine that converts carbohydrates to energy.
These nutrients are called coenzymes. Coenzymes are
organic compounds that are utilized by protein catalysts called
enzymes as carriers of chemical energy in biological reactions.
The 'superstar' of coenzymes is ATP or adenosine triphosphate,
often called the "energy coin" of life because it supplies
energy in virtually all of life's energy-requiring processes,
from the building of new organic molecules to the contraction of
muscles to the workings of the brain. Before ATP can supply
energy, however, it must be created. This takes place locally
inside each cell in three interlocking metabolic cycles called
glycolysis, the Krebs cycle and the electron transport chain. In
these processes, carbohydrates, organic molecules rich in
high-energy bonds between carbon and hydrogen, are broken down
into low-energy molecules of carbon dioxide and water, and the
resultant energy transferred into ATP. A variety of nutrients
function as crucial coenzymes and cofactors in this process,
among them all of the B vitamins, minerals like magnesium and
manganese, and specialty nutrients such as coenzyme Q10 and
lipoic acid. All of these nutrients play key roles in support of
optimal brain function. At one time it was thought that
all of the brain's activity was electrical - that nerve impulses
'sparked' across the synaptic gap to trigger other neurons. It
is now known that the picture is far more complicated than
that. Neurotransmitters and Nutrition It has been
suspected since 1921 that neurons communicated with each other
chemically, but only in the past thirty years has the variety of
these biochemicals, called neurotransmitters, and the complexity
of their action, been established. More than 50 substances which
can be defined as 'neurotransmitters' have been isolated; the
most important of these are the small-molecule transmitters,
which can be divided into three categories: the amino acid
transmitters, which includes gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA,
glycine and glutamate; the biogenic amines, which includes
dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine and serotonin; and
acetylcholine, which is in a class by itself. When a
nerve impulse travels down the length of a neuron and reaches an
axon terminal, it causes neurotransmitters to be released from
small sacs called vesicles. The neurotransmitters rapidly
diffuse across the synaptic gap and plug into ion channels
called receptors, causing them to open. Generally, receptors
(and the neurotransmitters that correspond to them) fall into
two categories: excitatory receptors, which allow sodium ions to
pour into the cell, thus initiating a nerve impulse, and
inhibitory receptors, which allow negatively-charged chloride
ions into the cell and/or potassium ions to flood out, thus
preventing membrane depolarization and inhibiting nerve
impulses. Excitatory neurotransmitters thus tend to stimulate
mental activity whereas inhibitory neurotransmitters tend to
quiet it, playing an important role in inactive mental states
such as rest and sleep. While the action of neurotransmitters is
complex, some general statements can be made about the nerve
activity and mental states they are associated with. How
do we form neurotransmitters in the body? Neurotransmitter
synthesis is highly dependent upon having the proper materials
present, such as amino acids, small, nitrogen-containing organic
molecules, and a variety of other nutritional factors. For
example, the neurotransmitter acetylcholine is constructed from
the B vitamin-like substance choline and a coenzyme form of
vitamin B5 called acetyl CoA. Hence neurotransmitters are
dependent upon dietary factors for their production. Thus, one
highly effective means to increase neurotransmitter production
in the brain is to increase consumption of dietary precursors
for those neurotransmitters; increased dietary levels of the
amino acid glutamine, for instance, may increase brain levels of
the neurotransmitters GABA and glutamate, while increased
dietary levels of tyrosine or phenylalanine may increase levels
of the neurotransmitters dopamine, epinephrine and
norepinephrine, collectively known as catecholamines.
Much nutrition research has focused on the neurotransmitter
acetylcholine, largely because a lack of acetylcholine or
impairment of acetylcholine receptors is associated with many
forms of age-related cognitive decline. Acetylcholine is one of
the most important and abundant neurotransmitters in the human
body. It is the neurotransmitter that sends instructions to our
muscles to contract (see "Calcium," page #), it is intimately
associated with our ability to think and reason, and it is
essential for both the storage and recall of memory. The
abundance and activity of neurotransmitters can be enhanced in
three ways: 1. In the case of certain neurotransmitters, such as
GABA, by consuming the neurotransmitter preformed as a
supplement; 2. By consuming the raw materials from which the
neurotransmitter is formed in the body; for instance, consuming
tyrosine or phenylalanine to support the body's production of
catecholamine neurotransmitters; and 3. By supporting the
metabolic pathways through which neurotransmitters are
generated. The chemical reactions that create neurotransmitters
from their constituent products don't happen by themselves; like
most biochemical processes, they require a bioenergetic 'push'
which is supplied by an organic macromolecule called an enzyme.
Most enzymes are inert until they are "activated" by a chemical
'key' in the form of a B vitamin coenzyme or a mineral cofactor
(see "Coenzymes," page #). Multiple enzymatic pathways, and
hence multiple coenzymes and cofactors, may be required for the
synthesis of one neurotransmitter. For instance, acetyl CoA, one
of the components of acetylcholine, is a Krebs Cycle compound
that contains coenzyme A, a coenzyme form of vitamin B5. The
enzyme that creates acetyl CoA from coenzyme A and pyruvate,
another Krebs Cycle compound, is activated by thiamin
pyrophosphate, a coenzyme form of thiamin (vitamin B1). The
other component of acetylcholine is choline, which the body
synthesizes from the phospholipids phosphatidyl choline and its
precursor, phosphatidyl ethanolamine, a chemical reaction which
is activated by vitamin B12 and folic acid. And so on.
One of the "design features" of the brain that gives it its
remarkable resilience is the high degree of 'redundancy'
inherent in its structure. This means that, even though neurons
do not reproduce and some of our brain cells die every day, the
'circuits' associated with various kinds of mental activity are
duplicated many times over; if one neural pathway is damaged,
another can often take over its function. Consequently, we may
not notice the decline in cognitive ability that takes place
with age until it becomes acute, but this doesn't mean it's not
happening. Nutritional protection for the brain is essential
throughout life. Protecting the Brain With Nutrition
As centrally important to human life, and as complex and
powerful as the brain is, it is also extremely delicate and
vulnerable. For this reason, the body takes extreme measures to
protect it. Unlike any other bodily part, the brain is
completely encased in a hard, thick container of bone. Beneath
the surface of the skull, the brain is cushioned against impact
by cerebrospinal fluid and three layers of membranes. And more
than any other organ, the brain is extremely particular about
what kinds of substances may be allowed to make contact with it.
It is protected against the body's internal environment by
specialized capillaries referred to collectively as the
blood-brain barrier. But despite these protective
measures, the brain can still be harmed by insidious molecules
known as free radicals. Free radicals are deposited in the body
in two ways: either they are introduced to the body from the
outside world, or they are actually produced within the body as
a by-product of metabolism. Certain lifestyle habits, such as
smoking and drinking alcohol, promote free radical formation in
the body. Free radical damage is a particular danger in the
brain for two reasons: one, because the brain uses such an
enormous amount of energy and two, because apart from water, the
brain is mostly made of fat. One of the primary ways in which
free radicals cause damage to bodily tissues is by the
peroxidation, or rancidification, of fats or lipids. The
membranes of neurons, like all cells, are composed of lipids, as
is the myelin sheath. Both the integrity of the myelin sheath
and the integrity of neurons themselves can be compromised by
free radical damage. Free radicals attack cell membranes by
setting off electrochemical chain reactions which can spread
like a brush fire, altering the chemical composition of fats and
making them rancid. This process of lipid peroxidation can
produce a host of toxic compounds, including hydroperoxides,
epoxides, and aldehydes. Lipid peroxidation also produces
cellular debris called lipofuscin or 'age pigment.' This
yellow-brown pigment accumulates in the brain and other vital
organs as we age. Some researches believe lipofuscin is
injurious to brain cells, especially those researchers who
support the "membrane theory of aging," which postulates that
aging is the result of a lifetime of accumulated free radical
damage to cell membranes. Fortunately, nature has created
substances which neutralize free radicals called antioxidants.
The importance of antioxidants to the brain can be seen by
looking at the degree to which the body hoards antioxidants in
brain tissue. The level of vitamin C in the cerebrospinal fluid
(the fluid that surrounds and cushions the brain) is ten times
higher than the level of vitamin C found in plasma. In
recent years, certain plant pigments, or bioflavonoids, have
been found to have potent antioxidant activity. Source Naturals
has dubbed these amazing substances Plantioxidants™. Certain of
these nutrients, including ginkgo and grape seed extract (Source
Naturals' product Proanthodyn™) have a special affinity for the
brain. Aside from their powerful antioxidant action, these
plantioxidants work synergistically with vitamin C to promote
the construction of collagen. Collagen is the most plentiful
protein in the body; it is the structural material out of which
the intercellular connective mesh is formed which gives form and
shape to our brains and all of our other tissues. It is vital to
the integrity of the tiny capillaries that deliver blood to the
brain, vessels with a diameter so small that red blood cells can
only pass through one at a time, in single file. Ginkgo and
Proanthodyn support the health of these brain capillaries, first
by helping to maintain their integrity and flexibility, and
second by dilating them, thus actually increasing the flow of
blood to the brain. Neuron Structure & Phospholipids
Neurons are the only cells in the body that do not reproduce;
the number of neurons we have when we are born is the maximum we
will ever have. This doesn't mean, however, that the brain does
not develop. Neurons can develop new connections to other
neurons by growing new dendrites. A single neuron may have more
than 100,000 dendrites; this web of dendritic connections is the
"hardware" that largely determines the limits of our
intelligence, memory and ability to perceive. Neurons
continually die as we age, but the number of functional
dendritic connections in a healthy brain may make up the
difference, preventing the gradual loss of mental faculties we
tend to associate with aging in this culture. Unfortunately, for
most people in America this is not the case. The
integrity of this dense web of dendritic connections is
dependent upon the proper balance of lipids in our nerve cell
membranes. The membranes of nerves, like all cell membranes, are
composed of phospholipids &endash; organic molecules composed of
two fatty acid chains attached to a backbone of glycerol (a
3-carbon organic alcohol). The third carbon of the glycerol
molecule is attached to a phosphate (a molecular group that
contains phosphorus and oxygen), which is in turn attached to
two long hydrocarbon chains known as fatty acids. The
phospholipid phosphatidyl choline also has a molecule of the B.
A variety of different phospholipids, with different properties,
make up the cell membrane. Studies have shown that the lipid
composition of cell membranes changes with age, affecting such
factors as membrane viscosity, which can interfere with the
cell's ability to exchange nutrients and waste products with the
surrounding environment. One of the effects of this may be a
gradual reduction in the number of dendritic connections in the
aging brain. This, of course, is another key area in
which nutrition can make a positive difference in brain health.
Lecithin, a rich mixture of phospholipids found in many plant
and animal tissues, has been available as a dietary supplement
for years; lecithin contains virtually all of the raw materials
from which the phospholipid portion of nerve cell membranes is
constructed recent years, high-quality plant sources of two
extremely important cell membrane phospholipids, phosphatidyl
choline and phosphatidyl serine, have become
available. Putting it All Together: Comprehensive
Nutritional Support for the Central Nervous System
Ultimately, all of the health and nutrition issues - indeed, all
the issues of any kind - that we face begin and end with the
brain. The body attests to the brain's importance by devoting a
huge share of its vital nutritional resources to the care and
feeding of this single, and singular, organ. At Source Naturals
we have mirrored this fact by devoting the lion's share of our
resources to developing the most comprehensive and advanced
brain nutrition supplements in existence. Source Naturals
Neuroceuticals, like all of Source Naturals' specialty formulas
are based on the concept of dynamic homeostasis. The dynamic
homeostasis model of human health recognizes that the body is
intelligent: it constantly monitors and 'fixes' itself, with
tools thousands of times more sophisticated than anything
designed by science. The body, however requires the proper raw
materials to conduct its work: raw materials that can only be
supplied through nutrition. Knowing what the nutritional
issues associated with optimal brain nutrition are: supporting
the brain's production of energy, providing the raw materials
for the production and utilization of neurotransmitters,
protecting the brain's delicate structures, and supporting the
structure of the brain's cell membranes - can help you make
informed choices about your nutritional needs. Source Naturals
is committed to being a partner in your quest for optimal
performance, health and happiness.

Nutrition, and, the, Brain,