Friday, August 22, 2008

Wonder Nutrients for Cognition, Part 1

Cognitive decline is an increasing concern in industrialized nations. While advances in hygiene, science, and medicine has led to the longest life expectancy in modern history, diseases that affect the nervous system are now being diagnosed in record numbers in the U.S. For example:

— 6.8 million Americans suffer from dementia (1 in 10)
— 4 million have Alzheimer’s Disease, a number expected to quadruple in the next 40 years.
— 1.5 million suffer from Parkinson’s Disease with 50,000 new diagnoses each year.1,2

It is generally agreed that genetics play an important role in whether or not a person develops a neurological disease. However, the loss of physiological function in humans is not relegated to genetics alone. Research indicates that nutrition and other environmental factors can modify the phenotype – the ways our genes are expressed.3 If a person has a genetic predilection for Alzheimer’s Disease, for example, that person’s diet, toxin exposure, and level of stress can turn that biochemical switch on or off. Thus, a person may or may not express the disease depending on their lifestyle.

Natural Support for Cognitive Function
One of the more exciting discoveries in the field of natural medicine pertaining to cognitive function was by the Chinese. In the 1980s the Chinese government began to explore new applications for many of their traditional herbs, and they discovered a compound in Chinese Club Moss – traditionally used for trauma – called, Huperzine A, which has shown promising benefit for cognitive function by acting as an acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitor.

Acetylcholine is a chemical formed from the precursors choline and acetylcoA and catalyzed by choline acetyltransferase (CHAT). Acetylcholine facilitates communication between neurons and mediates release of other neurotransmitters. Its function is critical for cognitive processing, memory, arousal, and attention. It can be destroyed, however, by the presence of the AChE enzyme, which breaks down acetylcholine back into choline and acetylcoA. Therefore, current drugs for the treatment of Alzheimer’s exert their effects by blocking AChE and increasing synaptic acetylcholine levels. Unfortunately, these drugs are not without unfavorable side effects.

The compound, Huperzine A, however, has shown inhibitory effects against AChE without the negative side effects associated with AChE-inhibiting drugs. It is so effective that there are pharmaceutical companies attempting to make drugs from Huperzine A, it has been favorably reported on by JAMA, and it is now licensed for distribution through the Mayo Clinic. Huperzine not only protects acetylcholine from the damaging effects of AChE, but it also provides multiple neuroprotective effects via its brain-specific antioxidant properties, and it also readily crosses the Blood-Brain Barrier.

Other benefits of Huperzine A include:
  • Anti-excitotoxic and anti-apoptotic effects
  • Greater activity at N-methyl-D-asparate (NMDA) receptors
    -NMDA antagonist
    -Inhibits glutamate neurotoxity, an effect not seen with donepezil or tacrine (Ved, 1997)
    -Direct, specific activity at NMDA receptor (Wang, 1999; Gordon, 2001; Zhang, 2001
  • Antioxidant effect
  • Huperzine A protects against hydrogen peroxide induced apoptosis in PC12 cells (Xiao, et al, 1999)
  • Reduces hippocampal oxidative damage in aging rats (Shang, et al., 1999)
    -Protection against amyloid toxicity in vitro and in vivo
  • Blocks suppressive effect of AB on long-term potentiation in rat hippocampal slices (Ye, 1999)
  • Attenuates AB toxicity in cell lines (Zhang, 2002) and primary neuron cultures (Xiao, 2002)

One needs to be aware that currently 100% of the research available on Huperzine A is done with the purified form, not the standardized extract. The purified form is the more expensive version, but currently it is considered the better of the two forms.

Palm Tocotrienols
There are a number of natural vitamin-E tocotrienols, most of which are derived from palm. Based on the NIH-funded study at the Ohio State Medical Center on neuron protection, it was found that the palm tocotrienols are extremely effective in protecting brain cells from toxicity, with alpha-tocotrienols showing the best benefit. Palm tocotrienols are the only source of significant levels of alpha-tocotrienols, and are the most widely researched source for antioxidant cardiovascular protection.

5-Methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF)
5-Methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF) is the end metabolite of folate metabolism. It is able to enter the cerebrospinal fluid where folic acid does not. It likewise crosses the Blood-Brain Barrier where folic acid does not. It is also effective in reducing homocysteine, an important factor in maintaining proper neurological and cardiovascular health. Folate is a major contributor to methylation, as well as playing an important role in overall neurological function.

Putting it Together in One Formula to Support Acetylcholine/Brain Function
There is only one company that I know of offering a cognitive support product rich in the purified Huperzine A, along with palm tocotrienols and 5-MTHF. Individuals benefitting most from this unique formula would be those who are:

  • Over 40 years of age and want proven protection
  • Feels their memory is not as sharp as it used to be
  • Forgets names of people
  • May have a family history of dementia
  • Has a personal history of head trauma
  • Can’t learn new things as fast as they used to (e.g., hooking up a DVD player, remote control)
  • Is in the early to mid stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s.

While the prevalence of neurological disease is on the rise, thankfully so are natural and proven approaches for neuro protection.


  1. MSNBC Health: Neurological Disorders (March 1, 2001
  2. Family Caregiver Alliance. Clearinghouse: Fact Sheets.
  3. Kelly PJ, Eisman JA, Sambrook PN. Interaction of genetic and environmental influences on peak bone Density. Osteoporos Int. 1990;1(1) :56-60.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Studies Say Most Women Still Unaware of Importance of Folate Supplementation

Just the other day I saw something I had never seen before – a public service announcement on the side of a bus encouraging women to supplement their diets with folic acid. I was glad to see that the importance of supplementing with this vital nutrient is going mainstream.
Even so, studies show that the majority of U.S. women of childbearing age do not comply with government requirements to take a daily supplement of folic acid.

Folic acid and folate are two forms of vitamin B-9, and sufficient levels are required for the proper development of the fetal nervous system. Low maternal levels of folate can cause neural tube defects, including brain and spine abnormalities that can lead to disability or death.Because the neural tube develops within the first weeks of pregnancy - before women typically realize that they are pregnant - it is important that women of childbearing age maintain sufficient levels of folate at all times.Two studies published in the Journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report highlight folic acid intake as a continuing maternal health issue.

In the first, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed the results of Gallup surveys conducted between 2003 and 2007 to determine women's awareness, knowledge and use of folic acid supplements. All women surveyed were between 18 and 45 years of age. Excluding those with confirmed pregnancy, no more than 48 percent of women in any one age group took a folic acid supplement daily. Rate of supplementation was lowest among women between 18 and 24, ranging between 25 and 31 percent. Women between 18 and 24 also had the lowest awareness and knowledge about the importance of folic acid for healthy pregnancy.

In the second study, researchers from the CDC and the Puerto Rico Department of Health compared folic acid knowledge and consumption with the occurrence of neural tube defects among Puerto Rican women between 18 and 44 years of age between 1996 and 2006. In 1997, only 22.4 percent of women surveyed were aware of the importance of folic acid, and only 20.4 percent used supplements. These numbers rose to 70.2 and 30.9 percent respectively by 2003, but had fallen to 56.5 and 24.8 percent by 2006. The occurrence of neural tube defects among Puerto Rican children fell between 1997 and 2003, and has remained steady since then.

Folic acid is important not only for prevention of neural tube defects, but also for prevention of various cancers. It is a major player in the prevention of heart disease, and deficiencies have been shown to be involved in depression and other neurological conditions. In light of the vital role that folate plays in our health, and in consideration of how many women (and men) still don’t understand its importance – at least not enough to actually begin taking it, it seems imperative that practitioners begin promoting its use among their patients.

The Right Form
Folate in the form of folic acid is effective in many people, but research has shown that there is a significant portion of the population that cannot metabolize folic acid in that form. Folic acid must be metabolized through five biochemical processes from an enzyme called, L-5-methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (I must really be a nerd because I didn’t even have to look that up to spell it!) into the end metabolite called, 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF). Because of specific genetic mutations referred to as single-nucleotide polymorphisms, as much as 40% of the adult female population is missing the L-5-methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase enzyme, and therefore cannot metabolize folic acid. However, the enzymatic processes leading to conversion of folic acid can be bypassed entirely by supplementing with the end metabolite – 5-MTHF – instead of using folic acid.
NOTE: Refer to the ingredient index in the back of your product catalog to find 5-MTHF-rich products.