Neurodegeneration and Preserving Brain Plasticity

We Really Don’t Have an Evidence-Based Model of Medicine

According to the literature, nutritional medicine is the most powerful and effective treatment available for brain and neurodegenerative disorders.  Do you know how many papers are now published supporting the use of essential fatty acids for brain function? And there are still doctors that refuse to recommend these for their patients.

We still have a healthcare system that is so disconnected and fragmented, they don’t even consider it.  There are many flavanoids that have been shown to dampen microglial cell activation that are never used. There are plant compounds that slow down dementia and Alzheimer’s that are not being used.  There are botanicals that increase blood flow to the brain by 300-400% published over and over in the literature that are never used.  Taking all the research into consideration that is available on natural compounds, we can only conclude that we really don’t have an evidence-based model of medicine.

 What People Consider “Aging” is Really Neurodegeneration

We have all been conditioned to ignore neurodegeneration.  We have all been conditioned to correlate loss of memory, loss of sensory function, low energy, loss of motivation and drive, loss of digestive function and depression with the aging process.   However, these changes are not a normal part of the aging process.  If you (or a loved one) can’t focus or concentrate like you used to, can’t remember things you used to, can’t move or exercise like you used to, or do not have the same joy in life as you used to, this is not normal.

We are taught to correlate aging with neurodegenerative processes.  As the brain degenerates, memory declines, you can’t focus, you can’t concentrate, you can’t taste, you can’t smell, you develop poor posture, and poor facial tone.  The autonomic nervous system is also affected, which controls digestion, enzyme production (to digest and absorb food), gut motility (to move food through the GI tract), and large bowel function (to excrete waste).  As the brain degenerates, you also suffer from gastrointestinal problems: you can’t digest your food (poor digestion), absorb your food properly (malabsorption) or excrete waste (constipation).

What is going on?

These are all signs of potential neurodegeneration.  If you think this is normal, you may be dead wrong.  All these processes are controlled by the brain.  What is thought to be “aging” is really neurodegeneration.  What’s the ultimate anti-aging therapy?

The ultimate anti-aging is preservation of the brain!

 Neurodegeneration is Always Progressive

Neurodegeneration only gets worse if you do nothing to slow it down.  The average person loses 3,500 neurons per hour or 84,000 neurons per day.  This equates to over 30 million neurons per year.

  • How has the health of your brain changed over the last 5 years?
  • How is your learning and memory?
  • How is your clarity of thought?
  • How is your energy?
  • How is your digestion?
  • How is your ability to handle stress or new tasks?

If it’s worse, your brain is probably degenerating.

 Preserving Brain Plasticity

You can’t do much to increase the number of neurons you have, but you can do a lot to improve the signaling between these neurons.  Plasticity refers to the efficiency of signaling between neurons to accomplish a task.  This means you may lose neurons but still improve brain function.

If you have more plasticity than neurodegeneneration, you will be able to do new things.  We all have the capacity for either plasticity or neurodegeneration as we get older.  We are all having both processes that occur simultaneously.  It’s just a matter of which one happens more.  If you have more neurodegeneration than plasticity, you will lose brain function.  If you have more plasticity than neurodegeneration, you will gain brain function.

“Synaptic activity is not isolated to learning, but also to the central nervous system modulation of the endocrine, immune, and other physiological interactions.  As synaptic activity declines, so does health in every respect.”(1)

This means that our brain health not only affects learning and memory, but directly affects the health of our endocrine and immune systems as well.  If we have an unhealthy brain, we will probably have an unhealthy endocrine (hormonal) system and a weak immune system (and be prone to infections).

The next series of article will be on the most common causes of an unhealthy brain, including toxic foods, including gluten, sedentary lifestyle, stress, toxic drugs, medications, household and environmental toxins, toxic molds and heavy metals.  We will also discuss the Brain-Gut Connection and the Thyroid-Brain-Immune Connection.  Stay tuned!


1.  Datis Kharrazian, D.C., Brain and Neurotransmitters Seminar, San Francisco, CA, Nov. 22-23, 2008