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Feed Your Brain

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"Eat your vegetables," she commanded her 10-year-old son. "Why should I?" he replied, flexing his preadolescent attitude.

“Eat your vegetables,” she commanded her 10-year-old son.

“Why should I?” he replied, flexing his preadolescent attitude.

She smiled. “Because you need your antioxidants to combat those junk-food-induced free radicals that are damaging your mitochondria, causing brain degeneration that will leave you staring blankly into space with your mouth hanging open!”

He gave her that look. You know the one - blank stare, mouth hanging open.

“See?” she said. “It’s happening already!”

Dinner table levity aside, degenerative brain diseases are no joke. Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and vascular dementia, to name a few, are expected to rise dramatically. Alzheimer’s affects 10 percent of people over 65, and a full 50 percent over 85. Demographers are predicting staggering health-care costs from such diseases as the boomer generation ages. The slow mental and physical deterioration from these diseases calls for constant, comprehensive care.

The causes of degenerative brain diseases remain undetermined. Often, symptoms do not appear until the disease is advanced. Drug treatments aimed at relieving symptoms are of little help and cannot halt disease progression. We could be in big trouble!

Free-Radical Damage

Researchers have been scrambling to find the biological mechanisms behind degenerative brain diseases, hoping for a cure, or at least a way to slow the inevitable decline and control the debilitating symptoms. Progress over the last 10 years has given insights into free-radical damage to brain cells, inflammation, and the promise of antioxidants for prevention and treatment.

Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that destroy other molecules. We depend on them to kill bacteria and create energy in our bodies, but, when allowed to run rampant, free radicals attack healthy cells, particularly the energy-producing particles within each cell, called the mitochondria.

This eventually leads to inflammation and cell death. Free-radical production increases with external stresses such as trauma, infection, junk food, environmental toxins such as pesticides, and aluminum.

Enter the Antioxidants!

Fortunately, our amazing bodies and the equally amazing properties of some foods have a way to stop free radicals from killing us. Dr. David Perlmutter, an award-winning American neurologist, has done extensive research on degenerative brain disease. This, combined with his clinical experience have convinced him that adding a group of chemicals called antioxidants to our diets is good preventive medicine, and that antioxidant foods and supplements can delay the onset of degenerative brain diseases and lessen the severity of symptoms. His book, BrainRecovery.com (also his Web site), explains that all diseases in this group share two elements: reduced mitochondrial energy production in brain cells and defective antioxidant protection. See the box for antioxidants in foods and supplements that help neutralize free radicals and stop the cell damage that impairs memory and other cognitive functions.

It would be foolhardy and expensive for people to start buying and taking antioxidant supplements on their own. A licenced naturopathic doctor or medical doctor who embraces alternative therapies can assess individual needs and recommend high quality supplements screened for purity and potency. For patients already diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Lou Gehrig’s, MS, or vascular dementia, or with a high genetic risk of developing these diseases, professional advice is essential.

Unfortunately, the majority of medical doctors continue to treat brain-disease patients with prescription drugs, some of which actually speed up disease progression by stimulating excessive free radicals. Patient resource centres such as the Alzheimer Society of Calgary and the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada do not routinely hand out information on diet or antioxidant treatments. Studies are kept on file and available to those who ask, but are not offered. By contrast, ample information on drugs is freely provided. This is surprising considering the hundreds of studies published in top-ranking medical journals and cited in Dr. Perlmutter’s book that distinctly show the power of antioxidant treatments.

Dr. David Hogan, Specialist in Geriatric Medicine at the University of Calgary and a doctor at the Cognitive Assessment Clinic at Foothills Hospital, says, “Some research suggests that consumption of [vitamins] C and E may decrease the risk of developing dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s, and vascular dementia or a combination of the two, but it’s not conclusive.” As for treatment, Dr. Hogan says the strongest evidence shows that high doses of vitamin E might help slow the rate of decline. He cautions, however, that research on antioxidants is still ongoing.

Dr. Patricia Wales, a Calgary naturopathic doctor, emphasizes the use of vitamin and mineral therapy to improve general health, fats and oils high in essential fatty acids to decrease inflammation and keep nerves healthy, and support for the adrenal glands during times of stress to minimize free-radical damage.

Early prevention of degenerative brain diseases is simply one more reason to listen to the cry of modern nutritionists, “Eat lots of fruits and vegetables!” Your kids may roll their eyes at you, but persist - the abundant antioxidants in this food group provide daily protection for all of us against free radical cell damage.

Prevention and Treatment of Degenerative Brain Disease

Consult your health care practitioner before starting an antioxidant regime.

High Antioxidant Foods and Vitamins:
Carrots, yams, and spinach (vitamin A),
Oranges, broccoli, and tomatoes (vitamin C)
Almonds, sunflower seeds, and whole grains (vitamin E)
Tuna, sunflower seeds, Brazil nuts (selenium)

Supplements:
Alpha lipoic acid
N-acetyl cysteine
Acetyl-L carnitine
Vinpocetine
Glutathione (by injection)

Food or Supplement Form:
Selenium, zinc, quercetin, flavonoids, beta-carotene, coenzyme Q10, hesperidin, folic acid and Vitamins B12, B3 and B6

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