Archive for May, 2015
When you think about amino acids, if you think about them at all, you may associate them with proteins for muscle-building.
But there’s a remarkable amino acid that has nothing to do with muscle and everything to do with preserving a better memory as you age.
The drink that contains this amino acid is a familiar one. Keep reading. . .
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Green tea is rich in this unusual amino acid. You’re probably surprised. Tea contains antioxidant phytochemicals but… an amino acid? Yes.
Known as theanine, this overlooked nutrient crosses the brain/blood barrier – with powerful consequences.
Relax Without Grogginess
A unique feature of theanine is its relaxing influence. Research shows that it can both ease emotions and maintain alertness. A study of women with anxiety issues showed that theanine increases brain waves called alpha waves. 1
Your brain hums with alpha waves when you feel serene and insightful. These brain waves are also associated with creativity.
Furthermore, theanine eases stress and limits the release of the stress hormone cortisol. When you’re under constant stress, excess cortisol interferes with your immune system, disrupts your digestion and, some researchers believe, makes you more prone to diabetes.
A Boost to Your Memory
Studies also indicate that theanine can help shore up your memory as you grow older. In one four-month study involving 45 people in their 50s and 60s, researchers discovered the amino acid could offset some of the effects of mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
MCI is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease — it’s often an early warning sign. It makes for moderate but unmistakable reductions in your mental capabilities. In this research, people with MCI who were taking the amino acid improved their memories and scored higher on cognitive tests. Brain wave measurements also showed that theanine significantly increased their theta waves, an increase that indicates an augmented ability to focus and stay alert.2
Meanwhile, a study at Northern Arizona University points the way to a new use for theanine – as an added component in dark, cacao-rich, chocolate that could help you refresh your mental focus.
The Arizona researchers point out that although dark chocolate has brain benefits, the confection can raise blood pressure. The addition of theanine prevents this effect and helps people feel more relaxed and focused.
“L-theanine is a really fascinating product that lowers blood pressure and produces what we call alpha waves in the brain that are very calm and peaceful,” says researcher Larry Stevens. “We thought that if chocolate acutely elevates blood pressure, and L-theanine lowers blood pressure, then maybe the L-theanine would counteract the short-term hypertensive effects of chocolate.”
Stevens found that people eating the theanine-laced chocolate did, in fact, see a rapid reduction in blood pressure.
“It’s remarkable,” says Stevens. “The potential here is for a heart healthy chocolate confection that contains a high level of cacao with L-theanine that is good for your heart, lowers blood pressure and helps you pay attention.”
This type of chocolate with theanine is not available yet, but reportedly Hershey is researching the possibility of putting it into a new product.
Until there’s a new chocolate bar, the best way to get theanine is through drinking green tea or by taking a supplement. Personally, I enjoy green tea, which includes not only this amino acid but also a host of other beneficial natural chemicals.
All of us have a controversial amino acid called homocysteine circulating in our blood that may affect how our brains age.
Bur researchers still argue over the role of homocysteine in Alzheimer’s disease. Does the presence of high levels of this substance cause memory problems? Or is it merely a marker that can indicate that brain-damaging processes are underway? Keep reading to get the story. . .
This “Forbidden” Food
Problematic Amino Acid
Homocysteine is created when the body metabolizes proteins. The body then converts homocysteine into other substances healthy cells need. To use homocysteine properly, the B vitamins folate, B6 and B12 have to be present.
In some people, levels of homocysteine can accumulate in the blood, though the reason for this is elusive. If you are one of those people, though, you may have an increased risk of both heart disease and cognitive problems.
Studies have found that when homocysteine builds up:
- The ability to process information may slow.1
- Memory can suffer.2
- Your mobility as you age is more likely to be impaired.3
- The hippocampus – an area of the brain critical to memory — may shrink.4
Taking Vitamins May Help Some People
For some people, taking B vitamins helps improve brain function while lowering homocysteine. But their usefulness may depend on your genes.
For instance, one study showed that for people with a gene called APOE ε4 (a gene that increases your risk of Alzheimer’s disease), a higher level of vitamin B12 in the blood was linked to having a bigger and healthier brain. But homocysteine levels didn’t seem to be related to how the brain was functioning in these folks.
The same research showed that for people who didn’t carry the APOE ε4 gene, the B12 level didn’t seem to affect brain health. But the non-APOE ε4 carriers who had smaller brains also tended to have higher homocysteine levels.
Amidst these contradictory findings, most everyone seems to agree that many of us need more B vitamins, along with a nutrient called choline found in eggs, shrimp and green vegetables. Choline plays a part in metabolic processes in the liver as well as in the maintenance of nerves and brain cells and memory preservation.
A study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill deprived men and women of choline for six weeks to see what would happen (don’t try this at home!).5
The results weren’t pretty.
- Everybody in the study developed higher homocysteine levels.
- Most of the men and women suffered muscle damage and developed fatty livers.
- More than 20 percent of the men had muscle and liver problems even when they consumed the recommended intake of choline, most likely because the recommendation is too low.
“These study results clearly indicate that some adults, notably men and post-menopausal women, need more choline than is recommended by the current AI (adequate intake),” says researcher Kerry-Ann da Costa.
Choline is usually grouped with the B vitamins and found in B-vitamin multis, but in lower doses than experts now consider optimal. (By the way, our sister company, Green Valley Natural Solutions, offers a choline supplement called Brain Vitality Plus.)
Dealing with Homocysteine
To hold down homocysteine levels:
- If you take B vitamins, take a B complex supplement that includes all the Bs. They work better in concert together.
- If you take supplements, make sure you take folate, not folic acid (the synthetic form). Folic acid, especially taken by itself, can lead to metabolic problems.6
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and get consistent exercise to help lower homocysteine. Research shows even yoga may lower your homocysteine levels.7
The exact role of homocysteine in Alzheimer’s is still debatable. But don’t wait for the final word on this enigmatic substance to improve your odds of keeping your brain healthy in the coming years.
As a Natural Health Insiders reader, you know that inflammation goes hand in hand with chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Scientists are continuously discovering new proof that inflammation plays a huge role in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s as well.
So it makes sense that the anti-inflammatory remedies we’ve found to help fight cancer and prevent heart disease are often excellent caretakers of long-term brain health and cognitive function, too.
Today I have one particular remedy in mind — a powerful antioxidant widely known for its range of health benefits, including its ability to fight cancer and reduce systemic inflammation. It’s something humans have been enjoying for nearly 5000 years … but does its fire-fighting power extend to the brain?
Here’s what my research staff found. . .
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Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you already know that green tea has a wide range of exceptional health benefits. Scientists attribute them to green tea’s high concentration of micronutrients called polyphenols.
Catechins, a sub-group of polyphenols, are powerful antioxidants proven to scavenge free radicals and fight inflammation. (You know that a tea is high in catechins if it has an “astringent” mouthfeel.)
One particular catechin called epigallocatechin-3 gallate (EGCG) makes up about half the polyphenols of green tea. It’s piqued the interest of scientists over the past few years … especially for its potential as a neurotherapy i.e. a brain medicine.
As always, the first question to ask about a potential natural brain-booster is whether the active ingredient is able to cross the VIPs-only, “velvet rope” called the blood-brain barrier.
The news is good: There is no doubt that the blood-brain barrier recognizes EGCG as a VIP. A 1998 Japanese animal study published in the journal Carcinogenesis showed EGCG is present throughout the body, including the brain, within one hour after it’s ingested … and considerable amounts remain in the body up to 24 hours later.1
This implies that if you drink green tea regularly or take a green tea supplement you maintain effective levels of EGCG in the brain.
But EGCG is more than just a potent anti-inflammatory. It takes brain health to a whole new level.
Alzheimer’s Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery
As you know, both neuroinflammation and sticky amyloid beta plaques in the brain are implicated in Alzheimer’s disease. They cause neuronal death and loss of brain tissue.
There is convincing evidence that EGCG has the ability to not only reduce inflammation, but prevent and even help brain tissue recover from amyloid plaques if you already have them:
- It effectively prevents development of amyloid plaques from two angles. A 2005 study showed EGCG blocks precursor proteins the amyloid proteins require to form … and a 2006 study confirmed it inhibits amyloid fibrils (base units of the plaque) from forming.2,3
- It prevents proteins that have formed from aggregating into the dangerous, sticky plaques.4
- And it’s been shown to promote neurogenesis, or the formation of new neurons, by supporting the brain’s neuron-creating stem cells … especially when combined with carnosine, blueberries, and vitamin D3.5
It appears that green tea has the power to fight Alzheimer’s from every angle, making it, I think, an essential addition to your daily brain-boosting routine.
Quality Always Counts
As you can probably guess, drinking a cup of green tea is different than taking a concentrated extract in a supplement.
For example, a dried green tea leaf is between 20% and 45% polyphenols by dry weight. But when steeped, only 5% of those antioxidants actually end up in your teacup. So you end up with approximately 3mg of EGCG per cup of tea. It sounds small, but remember the polyphenols work in your body up to 24 hours.
By the way, I’d avoid bottled teas you find in convenience stores if you’re after health benefits. According to research presented at the 2010 American Chemical Society conference, some bottled teas have less than 5% of the polyphenol content of a single cup you’d brew at home … plus, they often contain sugar, artificial sweeteners, colors, or other additives.
These additives may be causing more inflammation and harm than the benefits of the tea can mitigate. But as long as they’re not sweetened, they make a much better grab-and-go beverage than soda or a sports drink!6
If you’re not interested in drinking 3 to 5 cups a day, a high quality extract is convenient and preserves the antioxidants found in the dry leaf. Look for decaffeinated extracts, standardized to at least 50% polyphenols, in 100mg to 200mg per capsule, with no other fillers or preservatives from a reputable company you trust. Brands like Life Extension, Source Natural, and NOW Foods are usually good bets.
The bottom line with tea is to insist on quality. A good supplement or a high quality, organic, whole-leaf tea will likely provide more health benefits in the long run.
A Somewhat Dubious Study of Green Tea’s Benefits
There’s no doubt that green tea is a powerful multifaceted anti-aging remedy. However, it’s important not to get ahead of ourselves or attribute “magical” results where there’s no proof.
I’m thinking of a very small, recently published Swiss study on green tea extract that got a lot of attention from the media because it had a novel twist. The researchers observed human subjects while they were undergoing functional MRI (an MRI that can read brain scans while tasks are being performed.)
The researchers hypothesized that green tea extract increased cognitive function, specifically working memory, what we call “short-term memory,” where new information is processed and stored.
Once a week for four weeks, 12 men were given 13.75g or 27.5g of green tea extract (or none as the control group) via feeding tube. Memory tests were given while the men were examined by functional MRI.
A Sudden Surge in Brain Power –
But Maybe for the Wrong Reason
The results led the researchers to believe the green tea extract was increasing the “brain’s effective connectivity,” that is, the influence one area of the brain exerts over another. This increased “whole brain” connectivity resulted in better performance on the working memory tests.7
I have several issues with this study, but my main problem is the researchers did not use pure green tea extract. The “test fluids” contained milk whey, other vitamins and minerals, and both sugar and artificial sweetener.
And beyond that? They didn’t decaffeinate the green tea extract! At 5% to 10% caffeine, that means participants were given between 68mg and 275mg of caffeine — the equivalent of 1 to 4 cups of coffee, delivered straight to the stomach. That would be quite a shot to anyone’s cognition!
I have a strong suspicion the increase in cognitive function was from the caffeine, not the EGCG. Confirmation would require a larger study using decaffeinated and pure extracts at levels normal people would be taking (about 3mg EGCG per cup of green tea). The authors wisely noted this issue at the end of their paper.
Bottom line: It’s important to check your facts – and also to use your own good sense.
1 Wide distribution of epigallocatechin gallate, a cancer preventive tea polyphenol in mouse tissue
2 Green tea EGCG modulates amyloid precursor protein cleavage and reduces cerebral amyloidosis in Alzheimer transgenic mice
3 Neuroprotective effects of green and black teas and their catechin gallate esters against b-amyloid-induced toxicity.
4 Insights into antiamyloidogenic properties of the green tea extract (-)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate toward metal-associated amyloid-β species.
5 Dietary supplementation exerts neuroprotective effects in ischemic stroke model.
6Bottled tea beverages may contain fewer polyphenols than brewed tea.
7 Green tea extract enhances parieto-frontal connectivity during working memory processing.
Many studies indicate that performing intellectually demanding or creative tasks as you age keeps your brain stronger and more vibrant.
But research into how the brain juggles its supply of neurotransmitters — the chemicals that neurons use to communicate with each other – came up with a surprising result. Sticking to a strict schedule of creative endeavors may make them more effective as a way to improve your brain health. It’s not just what you do but when you do it. . .
4 Deadly Mistakes that
Every day, you’re probably doing four things that shrink your brain— literally! These common, avoidable mistakes kill brain cells. They cause you to lose not only your memory but also your ability to think fast and make decisions.
I know you’re probably making these four brain-killing mistakes because almost EVERYBODY makes them. And it’s easy to know you’re making these four mistakes because your body tells you.
Don’t wait till things get really bad and you can’t remember the names and faces of those you love—or even how to eat or go to the bathroom! Yes, that’s what happens when you have dementia. It’s tragic AND it’s avoidable!
If you take action when you first experience these symptoms, you can help avoid the risk of brain decay, age-related memory loss, foggy thinking and degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Instead, you can hold on to your foolproof memory and “wow” your friends and family with your mental fitness for years to come.
This is all explained in the first chapter of our new Special Report, How to Save Your Brain—you can read it for FREE if you click here.
Drawing for Memories
Research at the Mayo Clinic shows that the most enjoyable and dependable way to boost your brain power may be creative activities like arts and crafts.1
The Mayo researchers looked at more than 250 people in their 80s whose brains were working well. During the four years of the study, those who engaged in arts like sculpting, drawing and painting were 73 percent less likely to run into memory problems than those who didn’t take part in these disciplines.
Crafts like woodworking and quilting reduced the chance of brain problems by 45 percent. Social activities, whether in actual physical groups like book clubs and theater-going or virtual get-togethers on social media via a computer or smartphone reduced the risk by a little more than 50 percent.
“Our study supports the idea that engaging the mind may protect neurons, or the building blocks of the brain, from dying, stimulate growth of new neurons, or may help recruit new neurons to maintain cognitive activities in old age,” says researcher Rosebud Roberts.
Maximizing the Benefits of Activity
Here’s where we get to the surprising result I mentioned at the beginning: The schedule you keep for these activities is also important for your brain health.
Research in Canada suggests that it’s best to do your arts and crafts or other mind-strengthening activities at the same time each day in order to reinforce the brain benefits.
A study at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute and McGill University shows that the brain continually goes through what is called an ultradian rhythm – four-hour cycles during the day where your levels of dopamine (an important neurotransmitter) rise and fall. 2
The researchers note that while it’s widely believed that sleep problems are linked to problems with circadian rhythms (24-hour cycles in the body), their study shows that sleep abnormalities and other mental problems stem from difficulties with the four-hour ultradian rhythms.
The rhythmic rise and fall in dopamine observed by the Canadian scientists is but one aspect of dopamine’s complex functions in the brain and body. Dopamine is involved in your ability to move around, feel emotions, perform rewarding behavior and feel pleasure. Besides being made by neurons, it is also made by immune cells, and researchers believe it takes part in communications between your nerves and the immune system.
While much of the Canadian research focuses on the link between mental illness and problems with ultradian rhythms, their study demonstrates a physiological link between a consistent daily schedule and brain health.
According to researcher Arthur Konnerth of the Technische Universitaet Muenchen in Germany, who has studied what happens in the brain during sleep,3 “The brain is a rhythm machine, producing all kinds of rhythms all the time. (There are internal)… clocks that help to keep many parts of the brain on the same page.”
For more proof of how a repetitive schedule helps the brain, consider that historians who have studied the habits of the great philosophers note that most of them kept rigorous, consistent schedules every day of their lives.4
To help your brain stay on top of its game, you should have that same daily philosophy.
Lee Euler, Publisher
You’ve often been told it’s bad for your health (and, no, for once we’re not talking about some kind of food). Today’s must-to-avoid can. . .
• heighten the risk of death from heart-related problems five times over
• double the risk of developing diabetes and obesity
• reduce the chance of fertile women conceiving by 12%
• increase the risk of breast cancer
• raise the risk of disabilities later in life by a whopping 70%
. . .and it increases the risk of developing dementia by 65% — nearly two thirds.
So though you’ve heard it before it’s well worth repeating – and it’s this…
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Chronic, unrelenting stress is a major hazard for the health of your whole body including your brain.
That 65% increase in dementia risk is based on a study that began in 1968 involving 1,415 Swedish women aged 38 to 60 (essentially, middle-aged). Interviews, hospital records and psychological examinations were conducted over a period of 35 years.
The researchers concluded that there is “an association between psychological stress in middle-aged women and development of dementia, especially Alzheimer’s disease.”
Lead researcher Lena Johansson said, “This is the first study to show that stress in middle age can lead to dementia in old age, and confirms similar findings from studies of animals.”
One of the hormones that plays a big role in the body’s response to stress is cortisol. It was designed to prepare the body for an emergency situation so that we can fight or run away.
But modern life, with its concerns over money, problems at work, family responsibilities and health issues, means that these days cortisol is not produced only in response to short-term threats like the sabretooth tigers our ancestors used to confront. It’s produced all the time.
Cortisol Shrinks the Brain
This high level of cortisol over time will disrupt brain function and neurophysiology. It will cause the brain to shrink, a physical phenomenon that’s known to be related to loss of memory, cognitive ability and, eventually, dementia.
In a study conducted by The Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, 103 healthy 18 to 48 year olds were assessed for stress by interview and MRI scan.
Those with high cumulative cortisol levels had less gray matter in the prefrontal cortex and a reduced number of connections between brain cells. This makes it difficult to store information and respond rapidly to the environment and stressful situations.
Lead researcher Emily Ansell said, “We found that the accumulation of stressful events was affecting key regions of the brain [that] regulate our emotions, help us control our impulses and help us process our daily experience. They also control our physiology. These regions have implications for long-term health.”
Another study involving 48 healthy women over a period of 20 years showed that in those who experienced more chronic stress, gray matter also shrank in the hippocampus region of the brain – an area that’s vital for memory and learning.
How to Overcome Stress
According to Paul Rosch, President of the American Institute of Stress, “It’s difficult to think of any disease in which stress cannot play an aggravating or causative role.”
Fortunately, a recent survey of American adults showed that four out of five people do engage in some activity to relieve or manage their stress.
The consequences of chronic stress are too serious to ignore, so if you’re among the one out of five who currently don’t take any action, then I recommend you start. Relief can be as simple as listening to music, reading, or taking some deep breaths. Or you might like to take up meditation, yoga, tai chi or (one of my favorites) treat yourself to a regular massage.
A particularly effective method which has been scientifically validated comes from the HeartMath Institute in California. Their approach has been shown to reduce cortisol by 23% in just one month. It enables you to interrupt and change your immediate reaction to a stressful event to stop the emotional and hormonal fallout that flows from it. Further details at https://www.heartmath.org/
Lee Euler, Publisher