Natural Foods Merchandiser

Research unfolds world of brain health

Brain health is one of the most researched areas of natural medicine, and keeping up can make one's brain hurt. Here's a review of some recent studies that can take the gray out of comprehending promising avenues in gray-matter health.

Research on phosphatidylserine, a phospholipid, a type of fat found in every cell in the body and that aids memory in the brain, has been positive, but there's a hitch: It's derived from cow brains. Or at least it was until recently when mad cow disease put an end to that. A new soy-derived form of PS has been shown to be safe for human consumption, but research on its efficacy is scant. A study published in 2001 in Nutritional Neuroscience found that soy-derived PS wasn't of much help in memory tests on older adults. However, a 2000 study in the Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences found a significant boost in brain function in healthy elderly adults who took soy-derived PS.

Researchers have found that choline, an essential nutrient, appears to make brain cells faster, bigger and stronger. A study published in 2004 in the Journal of Neurophysiology found that prenatal choline intake in rats gave their offspring a brain boost. The authors wrote, "Our results indicate that moderate dietary supplementation with an essential nutrient during a brief period of prenatal development produces enduring changes in both the structure and function of [brain] cells."

"Alpha-GPC is a delivery form of choline," according to the Physician's Desk Reference, and should theoretically increase choline levels. Alpha-GPC, a substance derived from soy lecithin, is also known as choline alphoscerate. The journal Mechanisms of Ageing and Development published a review study in 2001 looking at 13 clinical trials of alpha-GPC. Ten of those studies were done on people with dementia disorders. Researchers concluded "administration of choline alphoscerate significantly improved patient clinical condition.

Clinical results obtained with choline alphoscerate were superior or equivalent to those observed in control groups under active treatment and superior to the results observed in placebo groups."

A 2005 article in the Journal of Neuroscience found that the mighty green tea can help stave off Alzheimer's disease. The main polyphenolic substance in green tea, epigallocatechin gallate, reduced the production of a protein that can accumulate in the brain and cause damage. Researchers concluded that their findings "raise the possibility that EGCG dietary supplementation may provide effective [protection] for AD."

A September 2005 article in the Journal of Biological Chemistry found that resveratrol, a polyphenol found in grapes and red wine, could have a therapeutic effect for those suffering from Alzheimer's disease. The authors note that numerous studies have "shown that moderate wine intake reduces the risk of developing AD." Researchers found that resveratrol works by helping to clear a peptide implicated in the development of AD.

The Journal of Pediatric Psychiatry published a study in March that made fatty acids' benefits file fatter. Higher levels of decosahexaenoic acid (a component of omega-3 fatty acids) in mothers' breast milk correlated to better brain functioning in newborns. Researchers concluded the "results suggest that breast milk DHA is beneficial to the neonate's neurobehavioral functioning" and that further studies are needed.

Quincy Bioscience, based in Madison, Wis., is touting its calcium-binding protein aequorin as the possible next big thing for its protective antiaging properties. Where does the protein come from? Jellyfish. But don't go bingeing on jellyfish yet. Two tons are necessary to yield a scant 125 milligrams of the substance. The company, along with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, is conducting research that Quincy execs call "promising," with an eye toward a 2007 market launch.

In the fall 2005 issue of the Annals of Clinical Psychiatry, a review study looked at the role of antioxidants in the prevention of AD. Researchers concluded that aged-garlic extract, curcumin, melatonin, resveratrol, ginkgo biloba extract, green tea and vitamins C and E all showed promise. They wrote, "While the clinical value of antioxidants for the prevention of AD is often ambiguous, some can be recommended based upon: 1) epidemiological evidence, 2) known benefits for prevention of other maladies and 3) benign nature of the substance."

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 5/p. 36

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