Anti-Aging and Neuroprotective Smart Drugs

01/04/2014 Tags: all, science

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Our brains are constantly ageing. Even through normal function, the neurons that make up your brain are subject to the build-up toxins, physical damage, chemical changes and premature death. Over time these factors can lead to a dramatic decline in brain function, and while the effects of ageing on the body are normally quite clear, damage to the brain is not always so evident. As these changes are more difficult to detect, we are far less likely to take preventative measures before the damage becomes irreversible.

In the UK it is estimated that some 800,000 people are currently suffering from some form of neurocognitive disorder, and the risk of developing such conditions rises dramatically beyond the age of 65. Despite years of dedicated research, how the brain functions is still largely a mystery, and scientists have not yet been able to develop a cure for these conditions. Unfortunately it seems that unless we take preventative measures now, we are more than likely to develop some form of cognitive impairment as we grow older.

There are however, number of supplements that are designed to slow the ageing process, and even repair the brain. These supplements, often termed smart drugs, have many different purposes, and while they can protect the brain, they also offer a range of cognitive enhancements from improved memory to greater alertness and concentration. These supplements are so effective in terms of neuroprotection and enhancing cognition, that they are being researched as a possible treatment for neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. To understand how we can protect the brain and the best types of smart drug for this, it is a good idea to first examine what forms of damage it could be subjected to.

 

Accumulation of Toxins

Metabolic processes in the body produce a number of waste products which your body is constantly trying to dispose of. Over time, or perhaps due to reduced disposal efficiency, these waste products can accumulate and begin to cause problems. One such substance is lipofuscin, a granular pigment that is produced during the oxidation of unsaturated fatty acids. Lipofuscin is found in many parts of the body including vital organs (liver, heart and kidneys), the retina, and nerve cells. Excess amounts of this toxin have been implicated as a major risk factor for degenerative eye diseases, chronic obstructive problems and lysosomal diseases, as well as neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons.

Fortunately several smart drugs are known to significantly decrease the accumulation of lipofuscin, particularly in the brain. This includes Centrophenoxine, DMAE, Ginkgo Biloba extracts and Acetyl-L-Carnitine. Such supplements are usually taken to reduce the appearance of age or liver spots, although they work equally as well for removing lipofuscin deposits in the brain.

 

Loss of Plasticity

Plasticity can be loosely defined as the brains ability to change and adapt as a response to learning, stress or environmental factors. Synaptic connections between neurons are dynamic and constantly changing according to the usefulness of the information they represent. When we acquire new information, new connections are formed and if this information is recalled regularly, such connections can be strengthened. Similarly, memories or information that are not as useful may have their associated synaptic connections cut back, as the brain has a limited number of resources. However, as we get older, the plasticity of the brain decreases as a result of waste build-up and reduced cell function. Degradation can also be seen in neurites (extensions from the cell body) through which synapses are formed, contributing to cognitive decline with advancing age.

Early research into brain plasticity suggested that the nervous system was fixed and could not regenerate after a certain age. However we now know that with the appropriate exercise and supplements, neurogenesis (the formation of new neurons) can occur even in advanced age. The brain’s ability to survive and adapt is quite remarkable and there have been cases of individuals having large portions of their brain removed as a result of strokes or severe injuries. In some cases, the brain has shown to compensate for this loss by dramatically increasing the number of new connections formed in remaining parts of the brain.

Neuroplasticity can be increased by the use of supplements that enhance acetylcholine activity, most notably the racetam family (Piracetam, Oxiracetam, Pramiracetam, Aniracetam) as well as some non-racetam supplements like Noopept. Noopept appears to have the additional advantage of increasing nerve growth factor that can stimulate neuronal growth.

Chemical Changes

Another change that can be observed with advancing age is the reduction of grey matter. Grey matter is composed mostly of neuronal cell bodies, as well as blood capillaries and glial cells that support and protect neurons. It is distinguished from white matter that appears white due to the presence of myelin, a substance that insulates the axons and dendrites of neurons to increase the speed of nerve impulses. Grey matter is an extremely important component of the nervous system, and is involved in memory, sensory perceptions, muscular locomotion, speech and emotions to name but a few. Without grey matter we would be unable to perform tasks that involve information processing from mathematical equations to problem solving, and even reasoning skills in everyday situations. Declines in grey matter volume can even change the physical properties of components in the brain. For example, it may lead to cell membranes becoming less permeable meaning substances cannot be transported across them efficiently, or reduce the brains electrical conductivity, all of which results in cognitive processes occurring slower.

The brain may also see a reduction in the production and overall levels of particular neurotransmitters which are vital to practically all thought and memory processes. Dopamine in particular is known to decline as we age, bringing with it a reduction in several cognitive functions including working memory, problem solving, attention, planning, multitasking and inhibition. Among the other neurotransmitters that also see a reduction with age are serotonin, that is responsible for learning, memory, appetite, sleep and mood, as well as glutamate which has been implicated in maintaining synaptic plasticity. Acetylcholine production may also drop off and this neurotransmitter has been linked to all aspects of memory from formation to recall.

In order to maintain healthy neurotransmitter levels, you may want to consider supplementing your choline intake with products such as Centrophenoxine, CDP Choline or Alpha GPC which will aid in bolstering dopamine and serotonin production. Racetams are also a good choice for boosting neurotransmitter levels, and have the added advantage of enhancing cognitive performance at the same time. For those who prefer a more natural alternative, herbal supplements like Vinpocetine and Huperzine A can serve a similar purpose.

 

Free Radicals

Free radicals are molecules that have an unpaired electron in their outer atomic shell which makes them highly unstable and reactive. When such molecules react with biological structures like a neuron, they can cause oxidative damage. These biological structures may in turn become free radicals due to the loss of electrons, and cause a chain-reaction, oxidising and damaging additional cells.

It is this mechanism that is hypothesized to be the basis of ageing, as well as the possible cause of health problems ranging from heart diseases, to cancer and degenerative diseases. Free radicals are produced by our bodies on a constant basis, for example this occurs during the production of adenosine tri-phosphate (ATP), an energy molecule used by practically all of the cells in your body. The brain is especially at risk from free radical damage as neurons require a lot of energy, and hence a lot of ATP to function efficiently.

The most effective way to reduce the amount of free radicals is to use antioxidants. As the name might suggest, these substances stop oxidative damage from occurring by neutralising the free radicals. This is achieved by using substances that can easily give up an electron to the free radical, without becoming a free radical itself. There are many smart drugs that function effectively as antioxidants including L-theanine, Ginko Biloba, Ginseng, Melatonin and several of the Racetams.

Of course, for the best protection against the effects of ageing, you might want to consider using a combination of these supplements as part of a stack. For example, combining Centrophenoxine with a Racetam should give you more comprehensive protection against free radical, toxin and chemical damage, while simultaneously maintaining the integrity of neurons and brain plasticity. With smart drugs it is now possible to slow, stop and even reverse the effects of ageing, allowing you to avoid cognitive decline, and continue learning even at an advanced age.