New research suggests that a phospholipid that occurs naturally in our bodies and can be made from beef, oysters and soy and taken as a supplement, improves the function of genes involved in degenerative brain disorders including Parkinson's disease and Familial Dysautonomia (FD).
The research, published in the journal Human Molecular Genetics and noted in the Jerusalem Post, focused on the phospholipid phosphatidylserine, which is currently available as a supplement and thought to improve cognition in older people.
Parkinson's disease affects nearly one million Americans, according to the Parkinson's Disease Foundation. Familial dysautonomia (FD), is a genetic disorder that affects the development and survival of certain nerve cells. The disorder disturbs cells in the autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary actions such as digestion, breathing, production of tears, and the regulation of blood pressure and body temperature, according to the National Institute of Health. Familial dysautonomia occurs primarily in people of Ashkenazi (central or eastern European) Jewish descent. It affects about 1 in 3,700 individuals in Ashkenazi Jewish populations, according to the the Dysautonomia Foundation. Babies born with FD have a 50 percent chance of surviving to age 40.
In FD, a genetic mutation prevents the brain from creating healthy IKAP proteins, which leads to early degeneration of neurons. When researchers applied the phosphatidylserine to cells taken from FD patients, the gene function improved and and they noted elevated levels of IKAP proteins. Researchers replicated these results in a second experiment administering the supplement orally to mice with FD.
The finding are very encouraging, head researcher Gil Ast, of Tel Aviv University's Department of Human Molecular Genetics, told the Jerusalem Post: “That we see such an effect on the brain – the most important organ in relation to this disease – shows that the supplement can pass through the blood-brain barrier even when administered orally and accumulate in sufficient amounts in the brain.”
The researchers say the supplement’s positive effects extend beyond the production of IKAP. Not only did phosphatidylserine impact the gene associated with FD, but it also altered the level of a total of 2,400 other genes – hundreds of which have been connected to Parkinson’s in previous studies, according to the Jerusalem Post. The researchers believe that the supplement may have a beneficial impact on a number of degenerative diseases of the brain, and major potential for future treatment for these diseases.
In related news, recent research from the University of Washington in Seattle suggests that Solanaceae, a flowering plant family with some edible sources of nicotine, may protect against Parkinson's. Read more about it here.