Factors in Brain Degeneration (2nd of a series)

December 31, 2015 at 6:45 pm Leave a comment

This is the second article in my series on traumatic brain injury (T.B.I.).

In this article I want to discuss what is needed to protect your brain from neural degeneration resulting in all sorts of things from mild memory issues to brain fog to Parkinson’s disease to severe Alzheimer’s disease.

It is first important to understand the role of essential fatty acids (EFAs) in brain development and structure. You are probably aware of the terminology “omega-3” and “omega-6.”

Omega-6 fats are what could best be described as warm weather oils. These include: corn, soy, sunflower, safflower and canola oils. Canola is particularly bad because it is an over processed, non-food oil. It has been processed to make it “food grade,” but in the processing it becomes loaded with trans-fats and toxic chemicals.

Omega-3 oils are found in very few of our modern foods. Sources include: liver, cold-water fish (think herring, cod and salmon), fish oil, organic meats, organic, range-free egg yolks and (in much lesser amounts) flax oils, whole grains, walnuts and dark green leafy vegetables. Many of these foods are no longer part of the Standard American Diet (SAD) due to the mistaken and harmful recommendations of the American Heart Association. How many of us have reduced our intake of eggs due to cholesterol concerns? A recommendation that has now been found to be totally unwarranted. And organ meat? Heaven forfend!

During pregnancy and infancy, brain development and architecture is dependent upon adequate amounts of omega-3 EFAs. I read a book some years ago, Smart Fats, that pointed out that with the ubiquity of fast foods like McDonald’s french fries, we are actually changing the architecture of our children’s brains. An omega-6 derivative is being substituted for DHA (the omega-3 component); this is a key difference between human and chimpanzee brains. Why do I mention brain development? Because our brain cells have the same needs throughout our lives to maintain both structural integrity and cognitive function.

A very important article regarding the development of our brains is found on PubMed. It’s title “Evolutionary Aspects of Diet: the Omega-6/Omega-3 Ratio and the Brain.” The author points out that during the Paleolithic period (40,000 years ago), human beings developed eating a diet that had a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids of about 1:1. Today, with our overuse of warm weather oils our diets now have a ratio of between 10:1 to as much as 20 or 25:1.

However, even more importantly, our genes have not changed in that relatively short period of time. So we have altered our nutrition without regard for what our bodies are genetically equipped to handle. We still don’t know what all of the consequences will be, but some of them are now coming to the surface in the guise of chronic degenerative diseases like senile dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinsonism.

Another important function of EFAs in our diet is their function in the production of tissue hormones, called prostaglandins. This is why they are called “essential.” To clarify, we now need to make a short excursion into biochemistry. I promise to make it as painless as possible!

The two major groups of these hormones are PGe1 and PGe2. PGe1 is anti-inflammatory and is made from omega-3 precursors. PGe2 is pro-inflammatory and is made from omega-6 precursors. As previously stated, the problem we currently have is that due to our food production practices, we now have far too much omega-6 and almost no omega-3 in our diet.

PGe1 has the following positive actions:

  • Helps remove excess fluids and sodium from the body
  • Improves circulation
  • Decreases inflammation
  • Improves nerve function (including brain cells, resulting in improved cognitive function; reduce the risk of depression and other central nervous system disorders)
  • Boosts the immune system by causing the death of cancer cells
  • Regulates calcium metabolism (important in muscular contraction, including the heart)
  • Increases protein synthesis in muscle cells
  • Elevates levels of intramuscular glutamine
  • Increases growth hormone secretion
  • Makes insulin work more effectively

By contrast, PGe2 increases inflammation and interferes with the normal cell membrane structure. Trans-fats are also implicated in decreasing the elasticity of the cell membranes and increasing the incidence of arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Trans-fats should be avoided at all costs. One easy switch is to remember organic butter is healthier than margarine, a non-food.

I have already enumerated the best food sources of omega-3 oils, particularly cold-water fish. One word of warning, however, because much of the fish we consume is now farm raised (particularly salmon), their flesh lacks high levels of omega-3 oil. In the fisheries, they are fed corn meal, resulting in a replacement of the anti-inflammatory omega-3 with omega-6 oils.

The same is true of much of the meat we consume. Feedlots use corn to fatten the steers for slaughter. In the wild, grazing animals have a ratio of 1:1 omega-3 to omega-6 in their flesh. I recommend that you only consume organic, grass-fed beef or buffalo. The advantage to buffalo is that they cannot be raised on feedlots, so you know that their EFA ratios are what they should be.

Let’s now tie all of this back to chronic neurodegenerative diseases. A short summary of the primary culprits follows:

  1. The proliferation in the brain of destructive chemicals called free radicals.
  • Therefore, you need to maximize your intake of anti-oxidants that protect the brain.
  • You also need to protect your brain from oxidative stress; a primary source of this damage is excessive exercise.
  • Free radicals also promote inflammation, which results in the death of brain cells. This is in addition to the inflammatory effect of PGe2.
  • The rapid increase in the American diet of chemicals that are actually neurotoxic. Examples include: aspartame, monosodium glutamate (MSG) and Splenda. Nearly all prepared foods contain some form of MSG as a flavor enhancer, even foods purchased at the health food store. Some common synonyms include: hydrolyzed protein, textured protein and yeast extract. (The article referenced above contains a more exhaustive list.)
  1. Many drugs also compromise brain function. They include: Tylenol (which depletes glutathione, an essential anti-oxidant in the brain that protects brain cells) and anti-cholesterol drugs (which have been shown to cause permanent memory loss.
  2. The decline in the ability of the brain cells to make energy (ATP).
  • Since diabetics have difficulty metabolizing glucose (the primary fuel for the brain), they lack the ability to create ATP from burning glucose.
  • The result: the brain cells suffer from this lack of energy, which is why Alzheimer’s is sometimes called Type 3 diabetes.

So, what should you do? I will answer that question in detail in my next article. For right now, let me recommend that you have a test to determine your personal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in your red blood cells. I have a lab test available for only $70.00 (which is much less than other labs) that can give you your personal ratio. Then, you will know how many and how drastic may be the changes you need to make to your diet and supplement program. This is particularly important if you are experiencing memory loss or the resting tremor commonly associated with Parkinson’s disease. Another indicator that you should seriously consider taking this test is if you are having balance or coordination problems. Just give me a call and I can arrange to have the test done for you.


Entry filed under: Dementia, Parkinson's Disease, Traumatic Brain Injury. Tags: , , , .

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