My 13th book, Best Future You, is out!
Over the next several weeks, I’ll be posting excerpts from the book and blogging frequently about the main concept in the book – which is the idea of harnessing your body’s internal cellular biochemistry to achieve true balance in body, mind, and spirit – and in doing so, help you to become your “Best Future You” in terms of how you look, how you feel, and how you perform on every level.
Chapter 4 – Don’t Take Antioxidants— Make Antioxidants
CDR and…Brain and Nervous System
Aging is characterized by a progressive decline in the efficiency of cellular function and the increased risk for disease and death – not a happy future! At the very heart of the aging process is the balance between cellular stressors and our ability to maintain biochemical balance and avoid cellular damage in the face of those stressors. The “free radical theory of aging” suggests that reactive oxygen molecules (free radicals) produced during cellular energy metabolism have damaging effects on all cells and across all tissue in the body – causing cumulative damage over time that ultimately results in aging, dysfunction, and death.
Each of our cells has a built-in system of defense to protect from damage by cellular stressors – the CDR pathways. In the aging (healthy) brain, as well as in the cases of several neurodegenerative diseases, there is a dramatic decline in the body’s ability to mount a robust defense against cellular stressors – which increases the vulnerability of the brain and the entire nervous system to damage. For example, oxidative damage to the DNA and cell membranes has been detected at levels more than 10 times higher in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients and 17 times higher in the brains of Parkinson’s disease patients compared to healthy subjects.
Brain neurons and nerve cells in general are high in lipids (fats) that are highly susceptible to attack by free radicals. High levels of damaged fatty acids, as well as damaged proteins, have been identified in aging brains and associated with cognitive deficits. In the brain, such damage to fatty acids and proteins is known to set off an immune/inflammatory response that often leads to further cellular damage when prolonged. Elevated levels of inflammatory cytokines leads to a vicious cycle of further cellular damage that propagates through a chain reaction across tissues.
Natural plant-derived bioactive compounds (phytonutrients) have been shown to exert both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects in brain tissue. For example, known CDR-activating phytonutrients such as EGCG from green tea, curcumin from turmeric, and quercetin from onions have been shown to reduce amyloid plaque accumulation (Alzheimer’s) and increase regeneration of dopamine fibers (Parkinson’s), suggesting a general neuro-protective benefit of natural CDR activators. Indeed, population studies have shown a dramatic protective effect of diets high in fruits/vegetables and healthy oils (Mediterranean and Okinawan diets) on risk for dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other neurodegenerative diseases.
Although the range of brain and nervous system diseases is varied with distinct pathologic features, there is considerable scientific evidence to support oxidative stress as a common pathogenic mechanism in many neurological conditions. Oxidative damage occurs early in virtually all nervous system disorders, including chronic conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, and ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), as well as acute brain injury such as stoke and traumatic brain injury (TBI, including concussions), suggesting that oxidative stress plays a prominent role in disease progression. CDR activation is known to be disrupted in many nervous system disorders and brain levels of protective antioxidant enzymes (superoxide dismutase, catalase, glutathione, etc) are typically reduced in neurodegenerative disorders as well as during normal aging. For example, neurons with low CDR activity are more susceptible to oxidative and inflammatory stress, but cellular damage can be reduced through CDR activation. In both Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and University of Pittsburgh (J Neuropathol Exp Neurol. 2007) have described an insufficient and disrupted activation of the CDR pathways in neurons located in the areas of the brain affected by the disease process.
Other studies (Free Radic Biol Med. 2009) have shown that CDR-activating herbs often work synergistically. This means that when several CDR-activating herbs are used together on cells, their antioxidant effect is more than the sum of the effects from the individual ingredients. In a recent study funded by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the United States Department of Defense), CDR-activating herbs were found to induce CDR and protect brain cells subjected to the stress of high altitude. Results showed that CDR activation was effective in supporting a healthy response to “leaky” blood vessels in the lungs and the brain caused by being at high altitude. CDR-activating herbs were found to induce CDR at a higher degree than a range of prescription drugs for treating altitude sickness and reduce cerebral vascular leak by 62%, suggesting a promising approach to supporting brain health during various forms of cerebral stress.
These and other recent scientific findings have linked CDR activation not only to an elevated antioxidant capacity, but also to increases in other types of protective proteins such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF – a brain protein associated with stimulation of neuron growth and with anti-depressive effects). Interestingly, several established natural CDR activators such as curcumin, sulforaphane, spirulina, cannabidiol, and melatonin, have been shown to exert neuroprotective effects in brain and nerve tissue. While the brain-protective benefits of isolated phytonutrient bioactives is extremely interesting, even more interesting is the emerging approach of scientifically examining the synergistic combinations of nutrients to determine improved potency and efficacy for maintaining optimal brain health and preventing neurodegenerative diseases.
Thanks for reading – be sure to tune in for the next installment about, “CDR and…Skin (and Aging)”