Reprinted with kind permission of Life Extension.
By Arlan Myerson
Your brain is under assault from environmental toxins, oxidant stress, inflammation, blood flow fluctuations, and excess glucose.(1,2) Collectively, these factors contribute to a state of neurotoxicity that accelerates brain aging.(1-4)
Currently there are no medical options to halt this steady march toward mental darkness. Pharmaceutical intervention is largely palliative and cannot cure or restore lost brain function.
For thousands of years, Chinese doctors have used gastrodin, extracted from the root of the exotic orchid, Gastrodia elata, to treat a range of cognitive problems ranging from vertigo and headaches to paralysis and seizures.(5-8)
What scientists today are discovering is that gastrodin acts as a broad-spectrum “brain shield” that protects against various factors that cause age-related degradation of our mental processes.
The wide ranging brain benefits of gastrodin were long ago identified.
What has researchers excited are new findings showing that gastrodin has regenerative properties that include rebalancing neurotransmitters, improving blood flow, decreasing memory loss and protecting brain functions.(9-13) In short, gastrodin provides unparalleled, multi-factorial brain protection in both extreme and everyday conditions.
Impressive human studies using gastrodin in hospital settings confirm its benefit in shielding the brain against neurological insults, including protecting the brain against memory loss that can occur when one undergoes open heart surgery!(14) In the discussion that follows, we highlight leading research showing how gastrodin protects against factors that conspire to deteriorate our brain.
Neuroregeneration – Once Thought to be Impossible
Not so long ago, most scientists thought that adult brain tissue had no hope of regenerating itself. The loss of brain cells and brain function was considered irreversible. According to neurologists, once your brain had finished growing, the ongoing loss of brain cells was just a natural part of aging.(15)
But molecular science is revealing startling discoveries about the brain’s ability to heal itself. What scientists have now found is that the brain can regenerate the neurons involved in brain remodeling (plasticity). Plasticity is the process by which brain cells reorganize and restructure their connections to form new memories and facilitate learning.(16)
Scientists in China and Singapore have made remarkable findings about how a natural orchid extract called gastrodin stimulates these neuro-regenerative processes. Extracts from the Gastrodia orchid have been shown to have a beneficial influence on up to nearly 20% of the genes that control the brain’s plasticity and regrowth. In the studies, gastrodin was shown to mobilize and activate specific aspects of the brain’s regenerative activities.(9,10)
Instead of succumbing to progressive brain shrinkage with constriction of one’s thoughts, feelings, and memories, brain cells have built-in natural, self-healing systems. Gastrodin can turn on and activate these regenerative mechanisms. This may turn out to be one of the most powerful methods ever discovered for preventing loss of brain function at any age.
Brain Blood Flow
A major cause of brain aging and many of the problems that go along with it is a reduction in blood flow to the brain. The result is that the brain becomes starved for oxygen and fuel, producing a low-grade “suffocation.”(17) This reduction in brain blood flow is progressive over the course of an individual’s lifespan.(18) Reduced blood flow has been proven to be a direct cause of poor cognition and memory.(17) Gastrodin has repeatedly shown that it beneficially increases brain blood flow both in laboratory animals and human patients.(12,19,20)
In a study involving 202 patients, a gastrodin-based formula improved brain blood flow in 96% of the patients following brain injuries.(12) In another study of patients with impaired circulation to the rear portions of their brains (where balance, vision, and coordination are processed), 95% of patients given gastrodin plus betahistine (a prescription medication) showed improved blood flow, while only 70% of betahistine control patients showing improvement.(20)
Brain blood flow is also reduced by elevated blood sugar.(21) The result is often memory impairment. Gastrodin, in a recent lab study, improved insulin sensitivity, ridding the blood of excess glucose and reducing body fat.(22)
What You Need to Know The Neuroregenerative and Neuroprotective Power of Gastrodin
- Gastrodin can unlock your brain’s own self-healing, regenerative powers.
- Gastrodin fights the main mechanisms of brain aging that are common to simple age-related memory loss.
- Laboratory studies reveal how gastrodin re-balances disordered brain chemicals that produce too much cellular excitation and too little of the opposing calming, inhibitory effects you need to keep your brain functioning normally.
- The combination of gastrodin’s neuro-regenerative and neuro-protective properties are opening new vistas in prevention of everything from “where-did-I-put-my-keys” memory deficits, to major neurodegenerative disorders, to destructive strokes.
- Even such apparently unrelated conditions like seizures, tics, migraines, and diabetic neuropathy are yielding to gastrodin’s healing powers.
Improved GABA Levels
While “burnout” is a popular phrase to illustrate extreme fatigue, it is a very real condition that occurs in your brain from too much stimulation . Given the multi-tasking pace of our lives, combined with the incessant information overload, most of us are suffering from an imbalance of our neurotransmitters.
Your brain is constantly working to maintain a balance between the cells that create electrical activity, and those that reduce or calm brain activity.
Brain cells modulate different neurotransmitters to excite or calm the brain. When the brain is resting or calm, it uses a neurotransmitter called GABA.(23)
Heightened brain stimulation, with its increased cellular activity, puts an enormous strain on brain tissue, whereas inhibition tends to promote rest, regeneration, and healing.
This delicate balance of neurotransmitters is of tremendous importance to healthy brain function. Too much excitatory input, or too little inhibitory input, disturbs the balance, overstresses the brain, and leads to a “burn out” of brain cells.
Scientists also found an extreme neurotransmitter imbalance in people undergoing surgical anesthesia, and even in “normal” aging.(24-28)
Gastrodin helps restore the vital balance of neurotransmitters. Studies show that gastrodin increases levels of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA by as much as 34%, which exerts a calming effect on the brain and counteracts the overactive brain activity.(11,29,30)
Pharmaceutical companies are spending huge sums on research and development of drugs to control neurotransmitter imbalance. However, their approach has been not to create balance but to simply suppress excitation. Their only drug offering, Namenda(®) (memantine), has had little impact on neurodegenerative diseases, and no effect on the heightened brain activity seen following low blood-flow conditions such as surgery and anesthesia.(31-33)
One of the greatest fears of getting older is the threat of memory loss. Not recognizing your loved ones or even remembering your name is a devastating condition. Studies show that gastrodin can help counteract many of the key processes that lead to memory loss.
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When rats are subjected to toxic drugs that impair memory, they become confused and take longer to find their way through familiar mazes, or to rescue themselves from danger. The stress of dangerous situations also freezes up memory, just as it does in humans.
Gastrodin reverses those impairments, helping the bewildered animals consolidate and retrieve memories they’d already stored away.(34) In rats exposed to aluminum, similar improvements in memory preservation were obtained even without a reduction in brain aluminum levels.(35)
Reducing the Cognitive Risks of Open Heart Surgery
Perhaps the most dramatic demonstration of gastrodin’s ability to prevent brain aging caused by circulatory deficit comes from a recent human study done under the extreme stress of open heart surgery. During this operation, the patients’ hearts are stopped while they are kept alive only by use of the heart-lung machine. In this procedure, blood flow to the brain is reduced as fat globules introduced by the surgical trauma causes cerebral capillary beds to occlude. Up to 55% of patients may suffer memory loss and cognitive impairments after bypass surgery that can last for weeks, months, or forever following surgery.(36,37) Surgeons refer to these cognitive deficits resulting from open heart surgery as “pumphead syndrome.”(37)
The symptoms involved in pumphead syndrome resemble accelerated brain aging, complete with circulatory deficit, inflammatory changes, and increases in abnormal proteins such as those seen in neurodegenerative diseases.(38) The only difference is that, instead of slowly occurring over many years, these cognitive changes occur within the single hour of open heart surgery.(38,39)
In a human clinical trial, intensive care specialists in China injected gastrodin or a saline control solution in 200 patients undergoing open-heart surgery.
Prior to surgery, all of the patients tested normal on memory and cognition. After the operation they found that 42% of patients had cognitive decline, which included substantial memory loss.(14)
The outcome in the gastrodin treated group of patients was very different. Only 9% had any change at all from baseline. Even three months after surgery, 31% of the patients who did not receive gastrodin continued to have memory difficulties. Yet only 6% of the gastrodin group had residual memory problems.(14)
This study showed that even under the extreme conditions of open heart surgery gastrodin prevented rapid brain aging produced by intensive brain stress, including catastrophic loss of memory. This is the most compelling evidence yet of the clinical impact of gastrodin’s multiple brain-protecting and brain-healing effects.
One of the most important genes influenced by gastrodin is the gene that produces neuronal cell adhesion molecules.(9) These molecules are essential to the process by which brain cells find their way to link up with others as synapses. One result of this activity is that new memories can form rather than be erased or forgotten.(63 )Gastrodin also increases the activator protein-1, a regulator of new protein formation which results in new neuron growth and improved memory.(64)
In addition, gastrodin switches on the “misfolded protein response,” a self-healing mechanism that recognizes and destroys the abnormal proteins involved in brain cell death in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s diseases.(65,66)
Gastrodin has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine to prevent and treat seizures with impressive results. As a result, Western medicine is now seeking to exploit it as a source of antiepileptic drugs.(55,56) Following brain injury or stroke, seizures are unfortunately a common and distressing occurrence. They are the clearest example of what happens when the brain’s excitatory neurotransmitters outweigh the inhibitory ones. Rapid and uncontrolled electrical activity are hallmarks of seizure activity typically spreading to both sides of the brain in the absence of adequate inhibitory action.
In a rat model of epilepsy, treatment with gastrodin significantly reduced the frequency and time to onset of seizures; at the same time it reduced brain markers of lipid peroxidation, a side effect of prolonged seizure activity that indicates destruction of brain cell membranes.(56)
Mainstream medicine treats acute seizures with GABA-like drugs that increase inhibitory brain activity (drugs such as lorazepam (Ativan(®)), for example). Gastrodin naturally raises calming GABA levels in brain cells by decreasing levels of GABA-breakdown enzymes. Gastrodin supplementation also lowered seizure-prone animals’ seizure severity scores.(30)
According to the National Institutes of Health, over 40 million adults in America suffer from anxiety disorder.(57) Like seizures, anxiety is a direct result of an imbalance between excitatory and inhibitory brain cell activity, with excitatory stimuli being predominate. Drugs used to treat anxiety, therefore, are usually ones that mimic the calming, inhibitory effects of GABA, such as the benzodiazepines (Valium, oxazepam, and others.)
Gastrodin’s two major breakdown compounds, found in brain cells after ingestion of gastrodin, have been shown to have powerful anti-anxiety effects in mice.(58) Unlike their drug counterparts, however, these gastrodin metabolites did not produce unwanted side effects such as sedation or muscle relaxant effects.
In a study involving 100 patients with neurotic anxiety, 100% of the patients showed improvement with gastrodin therapy.(59) However, in the patient group treated with conventional medicine, 78% of the patients showed improvement. Beyond just improvement, 88% of those treated with gastrodin were clinically cured of anxiety while those taking conventional medicine showed a 32% cure rate.(59)()
The Gastrodia orchid from which we get gastrodin has been used for thousands of years in preventing and treating headaches in traditional Chinese medicine.(60) Now, in a laboratory model of the biochemical effects of migraine headaches, gastrodin has been compared to two approved anti-migraine drugs, sumatriptan and flunarizine.(60) Gastrodin, in a fashion similar to that of the prescription drugs, significantly reduced the expression and actions of proteins known to be involved in the pain response that occurs in migraine and other “vascular” headaches.(60)
Even outside of the brain, gastrodin shows strong evidence of its “nerve shielding” effects. This is evident in studies of gastrodin and painful diabetic neuropathy, a condition in which peripheral nerves become damaged by chronic exposure to high blood glucose levels. We’ve seen that gastrodin reduces insulin resistance and speeds clearance of glucose from blood, which can help prevent neuropathy.(22)
But gastrodin also seems to heal nerve fibers even after diabetic neuropathy develops. Diabetic rats exhibiting pain resulting from normally non-painful stimuli, such as light touch (allodynia) and excessive sensitivity to minor painful stimuli (hyperalgesia) showed improvement in their symptoms following gastrodin administration.(61) In-depth studies revealed a decrease in the nerve cells’ excitability, precisely what we’d expect from the gastrodin compound capable of balancing out the excitatory-to-inhibitory signaling ratio in nerve cells.(61) Human studies show an improvement in nerve conduction velocity and total curative rate in diabetics receiving gastrodin by injection as a drug, compared with a control group.(62)
| A wide range of gastrodin doses have shown protective and supportive effects on neurovascular function, in particular in the context of neurovascular inflammation. One pre-clinical study using a well-validated model showed improved memory consolidation and retrieval in chemically impaired rats using a human equivalent dose of 50 mg daily. This 50 mg dose, when combined with nutrients that function via some of the same mechanisms as gastrodin may be sufficient to derive results in aging humans.(34)|
Those seeking maximum benefit should consider adding 600 mg of gastrodin in divided doses (300 mg twice daily) for thirty days. After thirty days, 300 mg of gastrodin may be sufficient based upon the experience of gastrodin as an over-the-counter (OTC) pharmaceutical agent. As additional research continues on gastrodin, better clarification on optimal dosing for a wide range of neurovascular and neuro-inflammatory conditions should be available.
Every second, your brain is targeted by an onslaught of destructive events that cause it to age. Even so-called normal aging results in multiple damaging cascades of events that lead to memory loss and slowed learning reflexes.
Those who suffer a brain injury, head injury, or undergo heart surgery can accumulate years’ worth of brain aging in a few short minutes.
In recent years, scientists have made significant advances in the understanding of the mechanisms of neuro-degeneration. They’ve even discovered silent brain-healing systems that lie latent, awaiting activation.
Gastrodin, derived from a traditional Chinese medicinal orchid, can activate dormant self-healing programs hidden in the depths of your brain.
Studies show that gastrodin fights brain aging at multiple levels, re-balancing neurotransmitters towards a calmer less overly active state, restoring brain blood flow to more youthful levels, and preventing memory loss and other cognitive changes.
The combination of these protective and self-healing effects may help slow “natural” brain aging while reducing risk for slow-onset disorders. And, by similar mechanisms, gastrodin seems to slow or reverse damage done by acute events.
Gastrodin’s re-balancing act also offers promise to those suffering from seizures, migraine headaches, and even painful diabetic neuropathy.
Guarding one’s brain against daily wear and against potential catastrophes may now be possible with daily use of gastrodin.
Your brain is constantly changing—creating new neurons and increasing the functional connections among them, known as synapses and dendrites. The level at which it performs these functions determines your brain’s fitness, which is dependent on the inflow of nutrients and blood.
Physical exercise promotes brain blood flow(67,68) and the production of blood vessels,(69) brain cells,(69-71) and beneficial brain proteins called neurotrophins.(72,73) In these ways, exercise protects brain fitness and the capacity of a person to meet the various cognitive demands of life.
As a result, studies have repeatedly shown that older individuals who regularly participate in physical exercise are less likely to succumb to cognitive decline, mild cognitive impairment (MCI), or Alzheimer’s disease.(74-76)
In a study of older adults diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, scientists found that 40 to 60 minutes of intensive aerobic exercise four days a week acted as a “potent [non-drug-induced] intervention that improves executive control processes for older women at high risk of cognitive decline.”(77) Another study of 1,300 people by the Mayo Clinic concluded, “Any frequency of moderate exercise performed in midlife or late life was associated with [reduced odds] of MCI.”(78)
Like physical exercise, mental exercise—formal education, continuing to learn, being mentally engaged in life, and practicing cognitive skills—can help prevent cognitive decline, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.(79-81) Mental exercise can also improve normally functioning minds.(82)
Studies show that brain fitness can be improved by various cognitive activities, such as chess, bridge, or more structured computer-based workouts.(83) Scientists found that, compared to other computer-based activities, computerized brain-boosting exercises improved attention and memory in people over age 60.(84,85) Other research showed that participants aged 65 and older who performed mental training for two-and-a-half hours weekly improved their memory, reasoning, and information-processing speed—within five weeks.(86) And individuals who did crossword puzzles four days a week were found to have a 47% lower risk of dementia than those who did a crossword puzzle just once a week.(87)
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