Monday, September 1, 2008

Wonder Nutrients for Cognition, Part 2

Spencer Johansen is the Police Chief in Lexington, Ill. He was only 49 years of age when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Unfortunately the early onset of Alzheimer’s Disease in Spencer Johansen’s case is not isolated. Cases of younger and younger people, some in their early forties, are being reported.
The reasons behind this frightening trend are many and varied. Chronic stress, poor body composition, environmental toxicity, cell phones use, and nutrient deficiency are just some of the many reasons why people get Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia. Thus, lifestyle modification is a key component in not only preventing but also treating cognitive decline with age.
Eating a whole foods diet comprised of fresh fruits and vegetables (preferably organic), lean meats, whole grains, and lots of purified water (not tap water), while cutting back on or eliminating fast foods and packaged foods is the starting place. That needs to be followed up by getting more active, as research is now showing that exercise is as good for the brain as it is the rest of the body.
Removing one’s self from stressful situations, if possible, is also another important component of prevention and treatment. Stress raises cortisol and inflammatory mediators which, if chronic, can cause a catabolic state throughout the body which can break down muscle tissue and effect the brain and nervous system. It is now thought that even negative emotions such as anger, resentment, and unforgiveness can likewise effect all the organ systems by causing these same “molecules of emotion” – as they have been called – to continue coursing through the body.

Brain Protection in Nature
Nature’s pharmacy provides some of the most remarkable substances on the planet in preventing and treating diseases of the brain.

The herb, Ginko Biloba, while no longer considered cutting-edge like newer and novel agents such as huperzine A (see my last post of huperzine), is still an important consideration in brain health because of its broad-spectrum effect on brain tissue and its relatively low cost.

Ginko is an approved treatment for dementia in Germany, and is the only non-prescription substance considered a treatment for dementia in Canada. Many European studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of Ginko in the treatment of patients with age-associated memory and cognitive impairments as well as dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.

The first clinical trial in the U.S. showed that patients with dementia and Alzheimer's receiving 120 mg per day improved the cognitive performance and social functioning of a substantial number of cases compared to a worsening of the conditions in the control group.1

Other benefits of Ginko include:
  • Scavenges oxidative radicals
  • Inhibits platelet aggregation
  • Improves circulation to the brain
  • May help normalize cerebral metabolism under hypoxic conditions
  • May prevent changes in mitochondrial morphology and function associated with aging of the brain.
  • Shown in animal studies to possess anti-stress and adaptogenic properties by decreasing blood glucocorticoid levels and increasing adrenocorticotrophic hormone levels, showing positive potential for stress-related cognitive impairment; prevents stress-induced learning impairment and elevations in stress hormones; and increases acetylcholine synthesis and turnover of norepineprhine. 2,3,4

Some recent studies have called into question the effectiveness of Ginko, but it is important to note that the leaf of Ginko is the most therapeutic part of the plant, rather than the stem or the root. However, a company can use the various parts of the plant in a Ginko product and still call it Ginko. Yet the therapeutic effect of the product would be substantially lower than a product utilizing strictly the standardized extract of the leaf.

It is also now widely held that many negative reports on natural substances are from studies funded in part by drug companies who cannot patent or sell substances like Ginko and who therefore wish only to cast these therapeutic substances in a negative light so as to protect the profit on the sale of their drugs. Upon investigating the poor study design of many of these studies, it would appear that that belief certainly has the ring of truth to it.

In the case of Ginko, the well-designed studies clearly show marked improvement in many aspects of cognition and brain health.

A cutting-edge approach for Ginko supplementation is to combine 60 mg of standardized Ginko leaf extract along with the added therapeutic and antioxidant benefits of Rosemary. Two tablets provide the therapeutic dose of 120 mg used in the studies.


1. Le Bars PL, Katz MM, Berman N, et al. A placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized trial of an extract of Ginko Biloba for Dementia. JAMA 1997;278(16):1327-32.

2. Rai GS, Shovlin C, Wesnes KA. A double-blind, placebo controlled study of Ginko Biloba extract in elderly outpatients with mild to moderate memory impairment. Curr Med Res Opin 1991;12:350-55.

3. Rapin JR, Lamproglou I, Drieu K, et al. Demonstration of the “anti stress” activity of an extract of Ginko Biloba using a discrimination learning task. Gen Pharmacol 1994;25(5):1009-16.

4. Sastre J, Pallardo FV, Vina J. Mitochondrial oxidative stress plays a key role in aging and apoptosis. IUBMB Life 2000 May;49(5):427-35.