Repairing the Damage

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Nutritional abuse, toxic metal accumulations, pesticides and herbicides, industrial chemicals, viral invasions, immune disorders and other chronic diseases all add up to produce serious long-term damage to the nervous system. These factors are interrelated in that they all spur the formation of free radicals and lipid peroxidation. Virtually all mechanics of aging lead back to cellular damage caused by free radicals and lipid peroxidation.

We produce huge numbers of free radicals throughout our lives, but the reason we are totally unaware of it while we are young is that the human body has an incredible repair system that involves hundreds of highly efficient enzymes, RNA, and DNA. Only a very small amount of the injury goes unrepaired in youth.

It is instructive to examine a condition called xeroderma pigmentosum to get an idea of how important this system really is. Because the cells of people afflicted with this disease lack certain DNA repair enzymes, any exposure to sunlight causes severe, chronic damage to skin leading to multiple skin cancers. In fact, these peoples' risk of skin cancer is two thousand times higher than people with normal repair mechanisms. Even the risk of internal cancers is increased twelve times higher than normal.501

For those of us with normally functioning repair systems, we may be unaware that damage is occurring, but the small amount of damage that goes unrepaired begins to mount slowly. By the time we reach fifty-five, this accumulated damage begins to affect cellular function and energy production in mitochondria—whose DNA lack the numerous repair mechanisms that protect nuclear DNA.

As we age, these injuries snowball. By seventy, for example, DNA damage occurs at a rate fifteen times faster than it does in young people. Especially frightening is that the risk of increased DNA damage exists even in people with normal antioxidant levels: adequate protection for older folks requires much higher levels of antioxidants. While young people do well at ten servings a day of fruits and vegetables, the elderly need twelve servings to gain health benefits. (Interestingly, younger people gain no further advantage after ten servings.)

It has been shown that people suffering from Alzheimer's disease have impaired DNA repair. Whether this is inborn or develops as a result of the disease itself, we do not know for sure, but the evidence seems to indicate that it plays a significant role in development of the disease.502

Melatonin and curcumin enhance production of repair enzymes,503 which then aid in repair of pre-existing DNA damage. When DNA is functioning properly, it can give the cell the information it needs to make repairs as well. Acetyl-L-carnitine, CoQIO, alpha-lipoic acid, and DHA can repair membrane damage and return fluidity to this vital cellular component.

Special lipid nutrients are also needed for membrane repair and are vital for maintaining a healthy nervous system: phosphotidylcholine, phosphotidylserine, phosphotidylethanol-

amine, and phosphotidylinositol. These special fatty acid molecules are found in rather high concentrations in egg yolks, or may be taken as supplements. Lecithin contains the major phospholipids and could significantly improve recovery from brain trauma and stroke. In addition, studies showed it improved recall in age-related memory loss and Alzheimer's dementia. Not only will lecithin aid in the repair of membranes, but it will also supply the brain with additional acetylcholine.

Phosphotidylserine has been getting a lot of attention lately because experimental studies have shown that it can restore receptors on brain cells, which permit neurotransmitters to communicate with neurons, most frequently lost in Alzheimer's disease.504 Clinical studies using phosphotidylserine have been promising, especially for mild memory loss associated with aging. One double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 494 people between the ages of sixty-five and ninety-three found that those supplemented with 300 mg a day demonstrated a statistically significant improvement in behavioral and cognitive testing.505 In a separate study, Dr. T. H. Crook and colleagues found that the best effects were in elderly people who had the greatest difficulty to begin with.506 In addition to its affects on memory and cognitive brain function, phosphotidylserine also significantly relieves depression in the elderly.507

The big question is: what will it do for the person with Alzheimer's disease? Studies have shown a significant improvement in behavior and some improvement in memory.508 The best results were found in people with early disease.

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