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.