There are many products on the market to support neurological health, but defining and promoting neurological health can be confusing. Is it help for sciatic pain in the leg? Shingles virus eruptions? Alzheimer’s disease? Migraine headaches? Diabetic neuropathy? These are very different diseases, with complex factors contributing to these illnesses. What they all have in common is that they affect the nervous system. Scientists break the nervous system down into the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and peripheral nervous system (complex networks of nerves throughout the body).
Today’s wireless youth may not appreciate this analogy, but in the early days of computers, physical links had to be in place—cables—in order for computers to communicate. So I have always thought of the brain as the body’s computer and the spinal cord and nerves as cables that carry the computer’s signals and orders out to the network. If you cut a cable, the signal ends. If you damage the cable, the message is distorted. The same is true of our nervous system.
While there are a multitude of serious diseases that can impact any system in the body, in many ways, the most difficult are the neurological diseases. This is because they affect our interface with the world—how we see, feel, hear, touch, smell, how we move our bodies, and how we think and hold on to our identity. In so many ways, our neurological function defines our very being. Therefore, when something isn’t working correctly, the results can be disastrous.
In addition to a healthy diet and lifestyle, there are many natural supplements that can help prevent neurological disease or ameliorate existing illness. Any antioxidant, any reduction in inflammation, any brain and nerve cell protectants, any modulations of the immune system can help with neurological health. In this article, I am selecting a few with excellent research and proven benefits.
CoQ10, also known as ubiquinone, is an extremely important coenzyme for proper neurological function. However, CoQ10 can be oxidized, which requires conversion, or reduced, which is the active form. Therefore, I am leaning toward the newer ubiquinol formulations (reduced CoQ10) as research has shown that people who are poor CoQ10 converters may be more prone to neurological diseases, especially Parkinson’s disease.
In understanding how this supplement works, it is important to know that inside each cell are many engines that convert fuel to energy. These engines are called mitochondria. CoQ10 is required for these engines to function, so low CoQ10 means low rates of turning fuel into energy—the energy for the cell to stay alive and do its job. In diseases like Parkinson’s, there is premature cellular die off in the substantia nigra of the brain. There are also high levels of oxidative stress associated with this damaged area. While CoQ10 does not cure this disease, human clinical trials have shown it may greatly slow down the progression as it infuses these brain cells with a boost to stay alive longer.
In a very recent trial, researchers gave people with Parkinson’s disease 300 mg ubiquinol (reduced CoQ10) each day for almost a year, and another group placebo. The researchers evaluated the progression of the disease using the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS), and found the CoQ10 group was faring far better than the placebo group. Other studies have shown this as well. Because mitochondrial function plays a role in so many neurological diseases, CoQ10 is a good choice for almost any neurological protocol. There are studies on reducing migraine headaches, protecting the brain from toxic exposure, and a variety of other neurological health issues as well. Curcumin
As we learn that chronic inflammation contributes to the development of almost every chronic disease, it makes sense that a super-potent herbal anti-inflammatory plant compound would be vitally useful for neurological disease. However, curcumin does much more than that. It is a super-antioxidant, it promotes liver detoxification, which reduces brain exposure to toxins, and promotes the creation of new brain cells. Like the ultimate Swiss Army Knife that doubles as a corkscrew, scissor and screwdriver, curcumin’s amazing multi-functionality makes it crucially important to any neurological protocol.
Many human studies have proven curcumin’s significant antidepressant effect. While some consider depression a mental illness, I think it is in fact a neurological disease that impacts thinking behavior. If brain disease impacts thinking behavior, we classify it as “mental illness” which distances it from the very real inflammatory brain disease and dysfunction that distorts thinking.
Research in scientific models of Alzheimer’s disease have shown that curcumin can reduce the amount of beta amyloid plaque by as much as 30 percent in a few weeks. Human research on high absorption curcumin bound to turmeric essential oil has also shown a trend to destruction of these damaging proteins that clump in the brain. A significant risk factor for Alzheimer’s is chronic inflammation and curcumin effectively reduces brain inflammation.
It has also been found that another group of compounds in turmeric called turmerones has demonstrable brain health benefits, especially in one of the most damaging of all neurological events, a cerebrovascular accident (CVA) also known as a stroke. Strokes deprive entire areas of the brain of both nutrients and oxygen and cells die. The quicker the intervention after a stroke, to try to restore circulation to the compromised areas, the better the outcome, so never hesitate to seek emergency medical care if you experience one-sided weakness/numbness, one-sided facial droop, difficulty with language and sometimes blurred vision.
Turmerones and Curcumin
Recovery after stroke can be difficult, but there are two key areas that must be addressed to facilitate healing. The first is inflammation (a stroke causes significant inflammation and damage in the brain) and the second is neurogenesis (formation of new nerve cells in the brain to take the place of damaged or dead cells).
Curcumin and turmerones address both of these important factors in stroke recovery—reducing inflammation after a stroke, and increasing formation of new nerve cells in the brain. In an animal model of stroke, curcumin administration increased levels of a compound called BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor) by 40 percent. The brain uses BDNF to build and protect nerve cells. Turmerones are also shown to provide benefits that may enhance stroke recovery. In an in-vitro study, exposure to ar-turmerone from curcumin increased numbers of numbers of neural stem cells by up as much as 80 percent.
Studies have shown that both curcumin and turmerones are powerful anti-inflammatories and cross the blood-brain barrier to get where they are needed most. Researchers are still investigating the effects of curcumin and turmerones for stroke recovery but because of their benefits on both brain and heart health; they can also prevent strokes in the first place.
Additionally, BDNF has also been found to play an important role in restoring brain balance in major depressive disorder as well. This should not be surprising, as it has been found that people with major depression have higher rates of Alzheimer’s than the general population. This indicates that perhaps these processes are linked, both by inflammatory changes and decreases in BDNF.
Grape Seed Extract
Grape seed extract has a multitude of clinical studies targeting neurological activity. It is an extremely potent antioxidant, helps to prevent beta amyloid deposition in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease, eases depression, reduces blood pressure and protects arteries (important for stroke prevention and recovery) and protects brain cells from damage in scientific models of Parkinson’s disease.
The most active compounds in grape seed are called oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPC). OPCs come in many sizes. The largest, sometimes called “tannins,” are not absorbed. For full medicinal strength, it is important to make sure that the OPCs are standardized to be low molecular weight so that they are small enough for absorption. There is a high degree of quality variables in grape seed extract products sold across North America. Some are superb and some virtually ineffective, so some investigation prior to purchase is warranted.
Apoaequorin is a protein from jellyfish that was first discovered in the 1960s. This special protein gives jellyfish a unique characteristic called bioluminescence—the ability to emit blue light in the dark.
Although we may be somewhat removed from jellyfish in the tree of life, the structure of apoaequorin is very similar to one of our own calcium-binding proteins. The most abundant mineral in the body, calcium, is essential for numerous chemical reactions that occur every day. Although calcium is best known for its role in strong bones, calcium is also very important for our nervous system. Calcium plays a role in the ability of the brain to reorganize itself and make important changes that can greatly impact our neurological health.
For proper functioning of our neurological system, we need to maintain a certain level of calcium in our neurons. While at many stages in life we may be told to supplement with calcium, the older we get, the harder it is to remove excessive levels of calcium from our neurons. Basically, the floodgates that let calcium in remain open, and this can lead to excess excitability in our neurons and can even result in cellular death. If enough neurons are lost, we may start to see adverse changes in memory and cognition. Several studies have concluded that above normal calcium levels may contribute to the pathology of neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s disease.
Because apoaequorin can bind excess calcium, thus preventing its damaging effects, apoaequorin may prove to be a necessity for the aging brain. In a clinical study on apoaequorin, 218 individuals aged 40-91 were supplemented with apoaequorin or a placebo. After the 90-day study, there were significant enhancements in verbal skills and recall for those in the apoaequorin group.
Other Excellent Supplements for Healthy Neurological Function
There are many other supplements that can make a real difference in the health of the brain and the nervous system. I would be remiss if I did not mention the methyl (or bioactive) forms of the B vitamins, as the body requires this form for optimal neuro function. Alpha lipoic acid is critical for nerve repair, and studies show it to be helpful in other neurological diseases as well. Petasides hybridus, or Purple Butterbur, has excellent studies on migraine headache prevention. Glutathione in intravenous or sublingual form can restore levels of active glutathione that are often diminished in diseases that affect the brain and nervous system. Since glutathione so easily oxidizes, it can’t be swallowed. The digestive process converts it to the inactive form, even if it is enteric coated. It makes sense to ask for published data showing impact on active glutathione levels with whatever form is selected.
Research is ever expanding in the realm of effective treatments for Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, migraines, strokes, transient ischemic attacks, Parkinson’s disease, depression, vascular dementia, Lyme’s neurological dysfunction and more. The more we learn, the better we can guide people to the best natural interventions for these very frightening diseases. VR
Effects of curcumin on brain-derived neurotrophic factor… http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1139/apnm-2013-0133
Antidepressant-like effects of curcumin in WKY rat model… http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3525727/
Aromatic-turmerone induces neural stem cell proliferation… http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4180255/
Anti-inflammatory effects of aromatic-turmerone… https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22728094
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor… http://pharmrev.aspetjournals.org/content/64/2/238.full
Grape seed extract enhances neurogenesis… https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21043032
Consumption of grape seed extract prevents amyloid-beta deposition… https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19384583
Grape powder prevents cognitive, behavioral and biochemical impairments… http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4329242/
Grape and Alzheimer’s… http://ntdaily.com/grape-seeds-connected-with-improving-alzheimers-treatment/
Grape and Alzheimers… https://www.mountsinai.org/about-us/newsroom/press-releases/a-natural-chemical-found-in-grape-seeds-may-prevent-development-or-progression-of-alzheime
Reduced glutathione levels in patients with PD… http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8080242
Glutathione a review on its role… http://www.fasebj.org/content/23/10/3263.full
Reduced intravenous glutathione… http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8938817
“CoQ10 protected against neuronal death after exposure to parqauat – herbicide linked to increased risk of Parkinson’s, preserving almost 20% of neurons from premature death. [animal model]” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24483602
CoQ10 and Parkinson’s: http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/one-form-coq10-treats-parkinsons-study-finds
CoQ10 levels associated with risk of disabling dementia: http://www.atherosclerosis-journal.com/article/S0021-9150(14)01419-1/pdf
Yoritaka A, Kawajiri S, Yamamoto Y, Nakahara T, Ando M, Hashimoto K, Nagase M, Saito Y, Hattori N. Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot trial of reduced coenzyme Q10 for Parkinson’s disease. Parkinsonism Relat Disord. 2015 Aug;21(8):911-6. doi: 10.1016/j.parkreldis.2015.05.022. Epub 2015 May 29
Ahmadian SS., Rezvanian A, Peterson M, Weintraub S, Bigio EH, Mesulam MM, Geula C. Loss of calbindin-D28K is associated with the full range of tangle pathology within basal forebrain cholinergic neurons in Alzheimer’s disease. Neurobiol Aging. 2015 Dec;36(12):3163-6170.
Moran DL, Underwood MY, Gabourie TA, Lerner KC. Effects of a Supplement Containing Apoaequorin on Verbal Learning in Older Adults in the Community. Adv Mind Body Med. 2016 Winter;30(1):4-11.
Ohmiya Y, Hirano T. Shining the light: the mechanism of the bioluminescence reaction of calcium-binding photoproteins. Chemistry & Biology. 1996;3(5):337-347.
Alpha lipoic acid slows Alzheimer’s http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17982894
ALA for depression: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11090300
ALA plus omega-3 for AD: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3886557/
Cheryl Myers is an integrative health nurse, author, and an expert on natural medicine. She is a nationally recognized speaker who has been interviewed by the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Prevention magazine. Her many articles have been published in such diverse journals as Aesthetic Surgery Journal and Nutrition in Complementary Care, and her research on botanicals has been presented at the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the North American Menopause Society. Myers is the head of Scientific Affairs and Education for EuroPharma, Inc.