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Brain Power Supplements

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By Dharma Singh Khalsa • • December 1, 1997

It's a fact that while most health-conscious people work out to keep their bodies in shape, they rarely consider exercising their brains or taking supplements to maximize their attention span or memory. "The brain is flesh and blood," says Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D., founder of The Alzheimer's Prevention Foundation in Tucson, Arizona. He is also the author of the recently published "Brain Longevity," (Warner Books, 1997). "Because of neglect, people's brains can eventually wear out." Khalsa says that the damage is undetectable at first. But when people hit around age fifty, they often realize, to varying degrees of frustration, that their mental powers have diminished. They've run headfirst into what Khalsa dubs the "memory barrier."

Taking the right supplements, exercising regularly and doing breathing and meditation exercises, however, can help you navigate around this barrier. "The brain has an incredible ability to regain lost power and mental abilities, if you give it a chance," says Khalsa. "Where there's life, there's hope." Khalsa speaks from experience. He's a pioneer in the development of programs that remedy various types of cognitive impairment, including those associated with highly stressful lifestyles, complex, and chronic illnesses, age-associated memory impairment (AAMI) and Alzheimer's Disease.

Some of the nutritional supplements which Khalsa prescribes for improving cerebral functioning include vitamin E, which is an antioxidant. He generally recommends taking 400 IU of vitamin E daily. Antioxidants help protect the brain (and other organs) from the damaging effects of cortisol, a hormone that is secreted by the adrenal glands in response to stress. When produced in excess in response to long-term stress, cortisol so injures the brain that it kills and disables brain cells by the billions. According to Khalsa, many researchers and physicians believe that the brain's chronic experience of toxic cortisol levels is a primary cause of brain degeneration during the aging process. "Over time, excessive cortisol destroys the biochemical integrity of the brain and may be one of the primary causes of Alzheimer's disease," says Khalsa. Vitamin E, however, protects neurons from damage by cortisol and free radicals. Most important, vitamin E restores damaged neurotransmitter receptor sites on neurons.

Khalsa's positive clinical results with vitamin E were recently paralleled in a study published in the April, 1997 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine. A two-year National Institute of Aging (NIA) study found that high doses of vitamin E slowed the rate of disability among patients with moderately severe Alzheimer's by an average of seven months.

The Lecithin, Phosphatidyl Choline and DMAE Connection

Research scientists know that lecithin is a vital supplement for the brain for various reasons. The protective sheaths surrounding the brain are made of lecithin, and these are nourished by lecithin supplementation. Dr. Khalsa notes, "Many studies and experiments have shown that ingestion of lecithin, or phosphatidyl choline, can improve cognitive function. Like gingko, though, lecithin is much more effective as a preventive agent than a curative agent."

Derived from soybeans or eggs, lecithin is nontoxic and can be taken in very high dosages. A reasonable dosage would be about 1,500 mg. daily, for a person with no significant cognitive impairment. Along with being an excellent brain supplement, lecithin is a type of lipid that is needed by every living cell in the human body. It enables fats, such as cholesterol and other lipids, to be dispersed in water and removed from the body. Lecithin thus helps prevent fatty deposits from building up in the vital organs and arteries. A major constituent of cell membranes, lecithin controls the transport of nutrients into and out of the cells and helps build and fortify cell membranes. A major constituent of cell membranes, lecithin controls the transport of nutrients into and out of the cells and helps build and fortify cell membranes. Lecithin's active ingredient, phosphatidyl choline (or PC) is the core nutrient that helps build acetylcholine, the chief neurotransmitter of thought and memory.

While being the "main ingredient" of acetylcholine makes PC a "super-brain" supplement, it additionally supports brain function by helping repair and maintain neurons. PC also works outside the brain to metabolize fats, regulate cholesterol and produce the precious myelin sheaths that surround and protect nerves. According to Dr. Khalsa, "For maximum effectiveness, lecithin may be taken with vitamin B5, and also with the nutrient DMAE. DMAE," Khalsa cautions, "may be hyper-stimulating for many people. It should not be taken by epileptics or those with bipolar, or "manic" depression, because it can intensify both conditions."

Clinical studies have found that DMAE, or dimethylamine ethanol, can help create acetylcholine, the primary neurotransmitter of memory and thought, when it is combined with phosphatidyl choline (derived from lecithin), and vitamin B5. In "Brain Longevity," Khalsa writes, "DMAE definitely increases memory-- particularly short-term memory, which is very dependent upon adequate levels of acetylcholine. It also elevates concentration and learning ability. In some of my patients, DMAE-- which stimulates the central nervous system-- has improved mood and subjective perceptions of well-being...A prudent daily dosage of DMAE is in the 50-to-100-mg range."

Phosphatidyl Serine

This brain booster, often referred to as PS, is chemically similar to the phosphatidyl choline found in lecithin. It appears in small amounts in lecithin, however, and it rarely appears in other common foods. PS is a naturally occurring form of fat, or phospholipid, that is present in every bodily cell, but is most plentiful in the brain. Most plentiful in the cell membranes of neurons, PS works to ensure the membranes' permeability, aiding in efficient entrance of nutrients, and exit of wastes.

In "Brain Longevity," Dr. Khalsa reports that, "Many studies indicate that PS is helpful for people with age-associated memory impairment. It also helps to optimize cognition in people who have no cognitive impairment. In one study, a group of memory-impaired patients with an average age of sixty-four showed significant cognitive improvement after taking PS. They improved on a number of memory tests, including tests for recall of phone numbers, of misplaced objects, and of written material. In addition, they had an improved ability to concentrate while reading, conversing, and performing tasks. Researchers said that PS enabled these patients to "roll back the clock" twelve years-- by helping them to achieve an average "cognitive age" of fifty-two."

More good news about PS: it has also been shown to relieve depressive symptoms in a significant percentage of patients with clinical depression. Recommended dosage, according to Dr. Khalsa, is 100 to 300 mg. daily, "depending upon the patient's degree of cognitive decline. Anything less than 100 mg. is ineffectual."

Gingko Biloba

An extract from the leaf of the ancient gingko tree, gingko has been studied in over two hundred controlled, double-blind experiments. Gingko's primary mechanism of action is to powerfully enhance cerebral circulation; it also increases the supply of oxygen to the heart, brain, and all bodily parts. Many studies have found that gingko increases cognitive ability, including memory and attention span, which is why it's become known as the "brain herb." Gingko improves circulation, in part, by inhibiting the action of a substance called platelet-activating factor, which can markedly impair cerebral circulation. Because it promotes cerebral blood flow, gingko is used by many people who suffer from migraine headaches, which are directly tied to disturbed cerebral circulation. Gingko also lowers blood pressure, and expands peripheral blood vessels. Dr. Khalsa recommends taking 40 mg. of gingko three times a day.


Ginseng has been used as a general tonic for millennia by the ancient Chinese, Europeans, and North Americans. This herb has wonderful neurological effects, and because it halts overproduction of cortisol, it's especially useful for diabetics. (Cortisol inhibits insulin's functions, so ginseng's regulation of cortisol helps insulin do its job better.) Because ginseng reduces cortisol production, it saves brain cells from cortisol damage. Some of the most effective forms of ginseng available today include Siberian ginseng, American ginseng and Panax ginseng. Panax ginseng is the most widely used species.

Ginseng helps combat fatigue because it saves glycogen, the form of glucose stored in the liver and muscle cells, by increasing the use of fatty acids as an energy source. Studies show that in lower doses, ginseng raises blood pressure, while higher levels appear to reduce it. Research indicates that high doses of ginseng may help remedy inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, and may also protect against the damaging effects of radiation.

Ginseng became a preferred health tonic in Europe in the late 1600s, after the King of Siam gave France's Louis XIV, the Sun King, a supply of the herb. In the mid-1700s, ginseng became a popular remedy in the United States, where it was harvested and traded in bulk by Daniel Boone. Boone sometimes harvested up to fifteen tons of ginseng at a time in Kentucky, where it grew wild, and brought it to the eastern United States for sale.

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