All humans have an amazing 3lb chunk of tissue embedded within our skull that controls virtually all biological functions called the brain. With nearly 100 billion neurons making thousands of synaptic connections per neuron, many would admit that the human brain is by far one of the most complex and intricate processing and storage systems on the planet. As impressive as this biological computer might seem, it, like many other body parts, gets old and defective with time. However, both the mature Alzheimer’s sufferer and the mentally exhausted college student may be interested in knowing that there are many different natural supplements that can greatly benefit our amazing brains.
Native to China, the maidenhair tree (ginkgo) has many interesting constituents that play different roles in cognitive function. Within the extracts of these ginkgo leaves are found flavone glycosides and different terpenoids which exert different biological effects on the brain and nervous system. One such effect is a reduction in memory loss, as one study suggests regarding the possible effect of ginkgo extract on monoamine oxidase (MAO). This is especially beneficial since one particular monoamine, dopamine, is directly involved in cognitive endurance and memory. In fact, dopamine (and a little involvement of norepinephrine) have been used to treat Alzheimer’s disease. So, inhibiting the synaptic reuptake of this neurotransmitter by ginkgo has a very large impact on improving memory. Interestingly, one of the constituents of the extract of ginkgo leaves, bilobalide, has shown great promise for improving learning and memory. This terpenoid has demonstrated outstanding neuroprotective effects in vivo by increasing superoxide dismutase and glutathione activity, decrease nitric oxide synthase, alleviate neuronal apoptosis (programmed cell death), and decrease TNF-alpha expression in the brain. This 5-hit punch to decreasing cognitive function yields bilobalide a hot commodity to the ginkgo extract. Since ginkgo has also been linked to increased circulation, the outcome of one study that shows ginkgo extract (along with fish oil and multi vitamins) increasing regional cerebral blood flow to healthy individuals seems to makes sense.
Of all phosphatides found within the cell membrane in humans, phosphatidylserine is one of the most active players in memory and cognitive performance. The amino acid portion of this phospholipid hangs out within the inner cytosolic part of the membrane and has been shown to greatly enhance memory, executive functions, and mental flexibility. Phosphatidylserine seems to work its magic by having a trophic effect on the brain, namely the cerebellum, hippocampus, and other zones. It does this by increasing nerve growth factor (NGF)-receptor density in these areas. Phosphatidylserine also seems to have the ability to improve cognitive function and memory by stimulating the release of dopamine and acetylcholine (one of the main neurotransmitters involved in memory) in the striatum and cerebral cortex, respectively. One study even showed how supplementation with phosphatidylserine drastically enhanced the amount of glucose uptake in the temporo-parietal areas of the brain, showing great promise for Alzheimer’s sufferers. Although the exact mechanism is not completely understood, phosphatidylserine has also been shown to reduce neural cell degradation caused by free radicals. Much promise has also been given to Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder and phosphatidylserine supplementation10. Throughout all of the various routes of action phosphatidylserine takes on the brain, it seems to be a key player in overall brain performance, especially when taken in conjunction with other cognitive-enhancing supplements.
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