SAVING DAD’S BRAIN: (PT 2)
INFLAMED & CONFUSED
hey say good fences make good neighbors. Well then even more so: cell walls.
Cell walls are barriers. Functioning barriers keep what we want out, out, and what we want to keep in, in. And this lets us get things done … like make a home. Or a smoothly-functioning brain cell.
Inflammation (and the process that inflames us once it really gets going, oxidative stress) chews away at our cell walls like termites working on wood framing. We might not notice much at first. Eventually doors start to stick and cracks appear in the plaster. Left to themselves those cracks become holes. Ceilings start to sag.
No one with better options wants to live in a house with holes in the walls. Yet when we expose ourselves to large quantities of poisonous pro-oxidant free radicals like agricultural toxins, household chemicals, common air pollutants, heavy metals … essentially we’re poking holes in the cells of our walls. Eating away slowly at the two by fours behind the plaster.
So what can we do?
Well … one thing we can do to even up the odds a bit is by upping our antioxidant consumption. Fresh fruits, vegetables, hearty, interesting salads built on a base of dark fresh greens. The antioxidants in fresh food are natural molecular fire retardants to the burning in our brains.1,2,3,4
Eat the rainbow. The richer the color mix in your food, the broader mix of phytonutrients and antioxidants you’ll enjoy.
We may or may not notice it in ourselves.
Excellent chance those around us will.
Chronic low-grade inflammation from environmental exposures, toxic food choices or simple stress does much the same thing to us that coming down with a flu does. We don’t want to be around people. We’re grumpy and grouchy. Or worse.5,6,7,8
Like anything else, it’s easy to work this nutrition/inflammation angle badly.
One of the favorite approaches of researchers uninformed about nutrition best practices is to test one single nutrient at a time. Money talks in medical research just like anywhere else, and it’s always easy to do anything badly.9
One page out of the playbook involves testing extremely high doses of nutrients in isolation, which can reverse their normal effects or overload downstream metabolic steps. But the body’s a complex phenomenon reliant on multiple nutrition inputs. So complex formulas of lower-potency with multiple nutrients working as a team are most often what we need to get reliable results.10,11,12,13
Even so … there are many single-nutrient studies that show benefits. Just not all of them. Guess which ones we tend to see in the news.
Antioxidants specialize. Alpha-lipoic acid protects brains14,15,16,17 and peripheral nerves: it’s a specific for arresting and sometimes reversing diabetic neuropathy.18,19,20,21 Vitamin E can lower blood pressure in some individuals when consumed in the right form and in adequate quantities over long periods of time, helps the heart, kidneys and brain.22,23,24,25 Be sure to get the kind with mixed tocotrienols.26 Super-oxide dismutase protects joints.27,28,29 N-acetyl-cysteine or liposomal glutathione30 feeds phase II detox pathways, lowering inflammation everywhere.31,32,33
Vitamin E’s been shown to protect against cognitive decline.40,41,42 It also thins the blood so Dad was able to reduce his daily dose of anti-clotting meds.43,44 CoQ10 helped stabilize his congestive heart failure45,46,47,48 and probably his brain circulation as well.49,50 Lots of vitamin C helped keep his immunity strong51,52,53 while preserving his connective tissue.54,55 Resveratrol stabilized circulation and the brain.56,57 Zeaxanthin, lutein and astaxanthin to preserve his eyesight.58,59 Quercetin to help control his allergic reactions.60,61
Early on we did this with pills. Later we realized it was much easier on him to make berry smoothies, blend the vitamins in with it and get Dad’s nutrients in that way.
In a good part of the population (estimates are about 30%) genetic variations make it difficult for cells to get enough folate. Since folates are key to making neurotransmitters, generating energy and detoxification, this can be a problem.
Decades ago it slowly dawned on us that Dad was the patriarch of a family with many members on the high-functioning part of the autistic spectrum. Including him.
One clue: Dad’s steady performance in a highly technical engineering occupation. Another: his life-long social clumsiness and self-isolation.
Another: his paradoxically priceless reputation for integrity when testifying as an engineer in court. Like many spectrum people, Dad found it impossible to lie or fudge the facts even when the interests of his client demanded it.
In most professions that’d make one unemployable. As luck had it for Dad, it made him priceless. Judges and attorneys became aware that Bill Law couldn’t be bought, and so his testimony gained unimpeachable credibility. “If Bill Law says it, it must be so.”
Later, in assisted care, Dad came down with a shingles outbreak. This is a frequently debilitating condition generating pain levels of 9 and 10. Dad’s pain never got above a 5. Most of the time it was 3-4.
Some autistics can have high pain thresholds.
Other males in the family show spectrum tendencies, too.
So we began giving him folate supplements. We made sure he had plenty of fresh dark green things, especially leafy things rich in natural folates. In view of his advanced age and clear weakness we went excruciatingly slowly, which is a good idea with anyone actually, especially those not in the habit of taking B vitamin supplements.
B vitamins folates are Phase I detox promoters. In Phase I detox toxic molecules are ejected from storage and made even more toxic to prepare them to be excreted. In Phase II other molecules come along, disam those toxic intermediates and frog march them out in stool, sweat or urine.
This means it’s easy to overdo Phase I.62 Get Phase I moving faster than the available Phase II capacity and things back up in Phase I.
Sometimes called a “healing crisis,” overdoing Phase I is a rookie’s mistake. (NAc feeds Phase II, and so is the often helpful antidote when Phase I’s been overdone. Extra vitamin C’s a good idea, too.)
So … we went slowly. And slowly Dad began to perk up. He began expressing preferences he’d never expressed before. He had a new twinkle in his eye and a sense of humor. Gently increasing Dad’s methyl groups from nothing to a moderate dose became a big part of bringing Dad back to life after his wife of half-a-century had passed. Now, as the months went by, Dad slowly became more animated than any of us could ever remember him being.
Don’t get me wrong, he was still no stand-up comedian. Wry and understated but too quiet for the big stage and his timing was off.
But he was there. He hadn’t always been.
The last thing we can do to fight brain inflammation is to grow our awareness of the toxins in our food and the world around us. We need to get pretty good at that to get good at avoiding them and helping our bodies deal with them when we can’t escape them.
A slow but steady infiltration of our environment by extremely dilute but potent toxic chemicals from farm and industry is putting our natural detox capacities to the test.
The poisoning’s effects appear to be highly individualized, unpredictable and building awareness about it appears to not be perceived to be in the self interest of powerful industry players. This makes this poisoning is a non-issue with much of the research community. It takes substantial financial resources to mount large randomized trials on humans if one could even justify such a trial on humans ethically. Which we can’t.
One example: BPA, the common plasticizer, is toxic in nanogram quantities. Think a jigger of vermouth in a thousand railroad tank cars of vodka.
One wrinkle: the environment exposes us to multiple toxins. The toxic impact of multiple simultaneous toxic exposures seem to increase exponentially as the number of toxins increases arithmetically. So we can’t get a good read on the toxic effects of multiple exposures to multiple substances simply by adding their separate toxic effects up.
Three toxins together are far worse than three toxins taken separately. Yet that’s how environmental exposure safety standards are generated: one toxin at a time.
Air pollution is oxidizing … one might want to consider getting an air filter if one lives close to a freeway or in a community where pollutant levels are high.
Many common pesticides and industrial chemicals are oxidizers … this is why those of us who eat organic food and use organic cleaners do so.
Deep fried food is oxidizing because the oils are usually rancid.
Cigarettes and alcohol, too.
Addictive, allergic eating patterns … the kind that have us eating the same foods compulsively over and over again … especially when we’re stressed … can also create low-grade yet stubbornly chronic inflammation.
Look for joints that ache at some times but not at others. That can be a sign of inflammatory exposures. Most stubborn chronic pain also has inflammatory components.
Look for moods that ache. Chronically negative, suspicious, manipulative and justifying it with thoughts that everyone else does it too. Headaches. People who are headaches. Inflamed people would really rather you or they not be there and sooner or later they’ll let you know it one way or another.
So if one wants to preserve one’s mind as one grows older it’s wise to do what we did for my Dad: boost antioxidant consumption. There are studies out there claiming this is dangerous and to be sure it’s always good to know what one is doing. Researchers who get negative results in the lab sometimes don’t.
Another rookie mistake: low-potency mixes of networks of antioxidants seem to work far better than relatively high doses of single-antioxidants … especially when the antioxidants used are artificially created instead of extracted from natural sources. So use low potency formulas and ride that network effect rather than high-potency single nutrients that bully it.
Brightly colored fruits and vegetables are a great way to go as long as they’re organic. These are rich sources of bioflavonoids and carotenoids … thousands of anti-oxidant chemicals with a rich diversity of roles in the body.
It’s a good idea to increase anti-oxidant supplements consumption. The scientific evidence supporting this approach is still weak but growing. Judging from the available evidence and my own clinical and personal experience there’s no question about it: if we want to preserve our minds as we grows older it’s wise to get in the habit of eating lots of brightly colored fruits and vegetables AND a fistfull of capsules and pills once/day. Vitamins C, E, beta-carotene (unless one’s a smoker) and … especially .. alpha-lipoic acid.
Why the emphasis on alpha-lipoic acid?
Alpha-lipoic acid is a specialized anti-oxidant that protects and helps repair mitochondrial function.65,66,67 It’s been used in Germany to treat diabetic neuropathy for more than a generation.68,69 Diabetic neuropathy is a progressive increase in pain and/or loss of sensation in the limbs (most often the feet) when diabetes is allowed to progress uncontrolled. It’s caused by a deterioration of metabolism-ruling DNA in our cells’ mitochondria. Mitochondria are small, bacteria-like structures in our cells where energy is generated. Mitochondria are our metabolic motors.
This is one of the hottest areas in dementia research these days … tracking down relationships between a progressive loss of our brain cells’ ability to generate energy in the mitochondria and the progression of various forms of dementia. Degradation of mitochondrial DNA has also been implicated in rapid overall aging.
So it makes sense to me to take a little extra alpha-lipoic acid. I consider it cheap long-term care insurance. Certainly cheaper than assisted living centers …
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62. A small percentage of the population has genetic SNPs (CBS) that impair their ability to effectively metabolize sulphur compounds like NAc. For these, liposomal glutathione will do the trick. Glutathione itself is not well absorbed when taken orally, but the liposomal form, coating the glutathione molecules in fat, allows fully-formed glutathione to make its way into circulation.
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