Mitochondria produce about 95 percent of energy within cells: a lifetime of damage to delicate membranes and DNA within these structures leads to significantly impaired energy production throughout the body and the brain. Fortunately, improving lipids in the membrane, especially DHA, goes a long way in repairing this damage. This is done by improving diet and with special supplementation. In addition, increasing your antioxidant protection (mainly vitamins, minerals, and flavonoids) can reduce further damage to this energy-generating system.
Several special supplements that stimulate mitochondria are available without prescription, and can dramatically improve energy production, thereby improving brain function. I have discussed CoQIO throughout this book: this substance is the first in a line of five compounds that constitute mitochondria's energy-supplying cycle—called the electron transport system. CoQIO is severely deficient in Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's.481 In addition to increasing brain-cell energy production, it also acts as an antioxidant, protects the brain against excitotoxicity, increases cellular glutathione levels, and has been shown to improve memory as well as other brain functions. When combined with niacinamide, CoQIO strongly protects against the damage seen in Parkinson's disease.488
A recent study found that CoQIO taken by mouth did enter the brain in useful concentrations and that it protected brain cells against excitotoxic damage. In addition, CoQIO protected neurons from viral damage, including mumps.489 CoQIO's protective properties stem not only from its ability to increase brain-cell energy production, but also its capacity to protect the mitochondrial membrane.490
Alpha-lipoic acid protects cells by acting as a powerful antioxidant, by chelating dangerous metals (arsenic, cadmium, and mercury), by increasing glucose transport into brain cells, by blocking excitotoxicity, and by altering gene expression. A recent study found that supplementing old mice with alpha-lipoic acid could significantly improve mitochondrial function, reduce lipid-peroxidation damage, and not only stop the age-related decline in overall energy production, but reverse the aging of the cell's mitochondria.491 Another study also found that alpha-lipoic acid could reverse aging of the mitochondria, and improve memory function.492
L-carnitine's major function is to guide fatty acids into the cell so they can be metabolized. Another form of this nutrient, called acetyl-L-carnitine is more suited for the brain because it enters the brain more easily than L-carnitine. In addition acetyl-L-carnitine can aid in the formation of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which we know plays a vital role in memory.
Acetyl-L-carnitine is unique in its ability to provide a number of important protective functions. For example, it is an antioxidant, increases mitochondrial energy formation, chelates iron, increases brain glutathione levels, and increases brain levels of CoQIO.493 It has also been shown to reduce the amount of an age pigment in the brain called lipofuscin.494 It stabilizes membranes and reduces the loss of receptors in the brain.495 The latter is especially important, since the loss of brain neurotransmitter receptors is one of the hallmarks of brain aging, and is especially severe in Alzheimer's disease.496
Both experimental and clinical studies using acetyl-L-carnitine have demonstrated a significant capacity to slow, and even reverse, the affects of aging on the brain.497 Several studies have shown that acetyl-L-carnitine may be effective in slowing the course of Alzheimer's disease, and in improving behavior and attention span in people with the disease.498
By increasing brain-cell energy production and brain-cell repair, as well as providing antioxidant protection, vitamins and minerals also play an important part in protecting the brain from degeneration due to disease and aging. Most B vitamins, particularly thiamine and riboflavin, are involved in energy production. Folic acid, B12, B6, and niacinamide all contribute to DNA repair and synthesis. Vitamins C and E protect brain cells from oxidative damage and protect microvessels that feed the brain. Several studies have shown that vitamin C supplementation seems to protect the brain against Alzheimer's disease and age-related memory loss.599
Because it is both a powerful antioxidant and is capable of blocking excitotoxicity, magnesium is one of the most important minerals involved in protecting the brain. It is also vital for reactions that produce cellular energy. Magnesium depletion of the hippocampus also occurs in Alzheimer's disease.500
It is important to maintain proper levels of the antioxidant enzymes, manganese, selenium, zinc, and copper. While deficiencies can result in a significant increase in free-radical damage to the brain (thought to be a mechanism of injury in all degenerative diseases), there is also evidence that high brain concentrations can produce neurological injury. For example, excess zinc has been associated with Alzheimer's disease and excess manganese produces a neurological disorder resembling parkinsonism.
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