Good nutrition builds better brains. And nutritional depletion threatens those brains in later life. Paul Clayton looks at both aspects.
Scientists believe that chronic accumulation of aluminium in the brain may contribute to or accelerate damage in the brain such as is found in Alzheimer's. Early studies suggested that areas where the water had the highest content of soluble aluminium had the highest incidence of Alzheimer's disease. Further investigation indicated that it was in areas where water was high in aluminium and low in silicon that the incidence of Alzheimer's was high. In areas where the water was silicon-rich, and aluminium-poor, Alzheimer's was relatively uncommon. The evidence linking aluminium to Alzheimer's has been disputed, and it is fair to say that even if aluminium is a contributory factor, it is clearly not the only one. But what is indisputable is that aluminium in the body causes cell damage, dysfunction and death.
Where Does It Come From?
Drinking water is one source of aluminium. In many areas it's added to drinking water as a clearing agent. The bodily defences are fine at dealing with aluminium compounds, which occur in nature, but they cannot cope with some of the new aluminium compounds which industry is now producing. Some of these are highly soluble, such as aluminium maltolate, an additive used in America by the food processing industry. So are the aluminium salts of various fatty acids, which are used in the EC. Citrates are also used by the pharmaceutical industry to produce dispersible and effervescent medication, such as aspirin or paracetamol. The combination of aluminium-containing antacids and citrate-containing medicines produces levels of aluminium in the blood, which if sustained, lead to brain damage, dementia and death. The British Royal Society of Medicine responded in 1993 by recommending that aluminium-containing antacids should not be taken by pregnant women, who suffer from heartburn.
The Silicon Solution
At this point, one might wonder what can be done to reduce the exposure to this hidden hazard. There are several possible strategies. One can filter all water, wash food in filtered water, check E numbers on all processed foods, and throw out all aluminium cookware and stop using all pharmaceutical products and cosmetics. Alternatively one can increase zinc intake, together with vitamin B6, which improves zinc absorption. Another answer is to take supplements of the essential trace element silicon in the form of silicic acid. The silicic acid binds with the dietary aluminium to produce aluminium silicate, which passes harmlessly through the body. The richest food sources of silicon are the cereals, with oats in particular containing very high amounts.
Additional Help For Alzheimer's: Co-enzyme Q10
Another factor which may contribute to Alzheimer's disease is mitochondrial ageing. Mitochondria become less efficient with age, and old, burned out mitochondria cannot make enough ATP (the energy compound) to fuel the body cells. This is another well-established cause of cellular suicide. In cases of Alzheimer's caused largely by mitochondrial inefficiency, high-dose co-enzyme Q10, which can improve mitochondrial output, is the theoretical remedy of choice. The scientific reports, however, are confusing; some find subnormal levels of Q10 in the brains of Alzheimer's victims, while others find increased Q10. This may by yet another indication that Alzheimer's may be caused by various routes.
Co-enzyme Q10 is often referred to as vitamin Q, but although it is vital to life, and occurs in trace amounts in certain foods such as sardines, Q10 is not technically a vitamin because the body can produce small amounts in the liver by itself. Unfortunately, the process requires at least six other vitamins and minerals and most people are depleted in one or more of these. Heavy drinking and liver disease slow the making of Q10 even further.
Q10 is also a powerful anti-oxidant like vitamin E. It protects the lipids in cell membranes and LDL cholesterol in the blood, and thus prevents heart disease. Some studies show that Q10 is better at protecting LDL cholesterol than vitamin E and, according to the major 1994 Harvard trial, vitamin E can cut the risk of coronary artery disease by over forty per cent. Q10 may even be better than vitamin E, and a combination of Q10, E, C, and a few other micronutrients should make you more or less immune to heart disease.
There is good evidence that Alzheimer's is, at least in part, an inflammatory condition. The disease was classically described as having some of the appearance of inflammation, and it has been described by some contemporary researchers as "arthritis of the brain". Other experts disagree, but it is an interesting fact that in people with rheumatoid arthritis, the incidence of Alzheimer's is rather lower than in the general population. When this was first discovered, further work revealed that the reduction of risk occurred mostly in the sub-group of arthritic patients who were treated with indomethacin, one of the few drugs of its type, which penetrates the brain in large amounts. Indomethacin is a powerful drug with potentially serious side effects, and is not recommended for long-term prophylactic use except under medical supervision. However, there are various flavonoids, derived from food crops, which do much of the same thing as indomethacin. The oligomeric procyanidins (OPCs), found in bilberry extract and grapeseed extract, for example, are potent anti-inflammatory agents and, remarkably, have the additional ability of preventing the hyper-phospohorylation of proteins such as the Tau proteins. This combination of therapeutic actions, and their well-attested safety, makes the oligomeric procyanidins excellent candidates for long-term prophylaxis against Alzheimer's disease.
Rosemary contains flavonoids, which are anti-inflammatory and powerful lipid-soluble anti-oxidants. They have another valuable property: they bind to iron, preventing it from generating free radicals. This herb, combined perhaps with thyme, would be a very good bet in the treatment of Alzheimer's, but also of Parkinson's disease and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. An alternative to Rosmary is hawthorn. This plant also contains flavonoids which are anti-oxidant, bind iron and enter the brain when they are needed.
Light At The End Of The Tunnel?
Screening for a lethal disease that cannot be cured raises a difficult ethical dilemma. At the time of writing, conventional wisdom says there is no drug which can prevent Alzheimer's, and there is very little that can be done, other than to slightly delay the progress of the disease. I am no longer convinced that we have to be pessimistic, or as passive. In all the neuro-degenerative diseases (Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Amytrophic Lateral Sclerosis) free radicals have been strongly implicated in causing brain damage. As we get older, and as our diet becomes depleted in micronutrients, more and more of us are developing the so-called neuro-degenerative diseases, and these are eating up an ever-growing share of the health-care budget. Anti-oxidant therapy would appear to be a logical response. Vitamin E is probably an important anti-oxidant in the brain under normal circumstances, but it is not necessarily the best form of therapy, as it takes a very long time to get into the brain and may become pro-oxidant in existing disease states. As a preventative strategy the combination of vitamins C and E with OPC flavonoids and isoflavones should be considered. In addition, one can add thyme oil and phosphatidyl serine supplement in cases where actual mental decline is suspected, with B vitamins or betaine or optional manganese.
Excerpted from Health Defence by Dr Paul Clayton PhD
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