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Nourish - Micronutrients – Maintaining the Oxygen Balance in Your Brain

Oxygen makes life possible, but it can also take life away. Each of your hundred-billion brain cells, uses oxygen to stoke the fires of consciousness. Your brain's need for oxygen is more than ten times greater than the rest of your body. This same oxygen, however, can also erode the very structure of those brain cells.

Micronutrients from food can help maintain the oxygen balance in your brain. They can help beneficial oxygen reach your brain as well as combat the highly-reactive forms of oxygen called free radicals.

Micronutrients Topics:
The Free Radical – An Oxidant Waiting to Happen
Antioxidants

The Free Radical – An Oxidant Waiting to Happen

Highly-reactive forms of oxygen called free radicals create chemical reactions that damage brain cells. If free radicals get out of control, cells will be damaged faster than they can be repaired. Like a biological form of rust, a lifetime of oxidative insult can lead to diminished brain function.

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The Physics of Free Radicals

At the molecular level, biochemistry becomes physics. The atoms in a chemical bond share a pair of electrons that create a magnetic attraction. These atomic bonds are constantly breaking and reforming.

 

When a bond breaks, each atom reclaims its electron and briefly becomes a free radical, an unstable molecule that immediately seeks to pair up with another atomic partner.

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Combating Radical Oxidants with Antioxidants

Antioxidants (anti-oxygen) are your first line of defense against free radicals. Free radicals are a normal part of metabolism and play a vital role in many biochemical processes, but they must be kept under control. To counteract these radical oxidants, the brain needs an ample supply of antioxidants. Basically, antioxidants are molecules that free radicals find more attractive than cellular components.

Antioxidants can be found in micronutrients obtained from food. There are many different kinds of micronutrients that function as antioxidants to neutralize, or quench, free radicals. Each works in a unique manner and has a particular area of expertise, but they also complement each other in an extraordinary synergy that effectively controls free radicals.

 

In a sense, antioxidants sacrifice themselves to preserve your body parts. They readily donate their electrons to prevent free radicals from stealing electrons out of membrane fatty acids, mitochondria, DNA, and elsewhere.

Antioxidant levels diminish with age, therefore the aging brain appears to be an easy target for oxidative damage. This underscores the importance of getting enough antioxidants through diet and supplements.

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How Do You Round Up Free Radicals?

With a posse, of course.

Dubbed the "antioxidant network" by Lester Packer, Ph.D., these cooperating chemicals include vitamin C, vitamin E, glutathione, coenzyme Q10, and lipoic acid. They actually revive and spare one another from destruction. In his book, The Antioxidant Miracle, Dr. Packer gives an example of how this metabolic synergy works to protect cells.

 

"When vitamin E disarms a free radical, it becomes a weak free radical itself. But unlike bad free radicals, the vitamin E radical can be recycled, or turned back into an antioxidant, by vitamin C or coenzyme Q10. These network antioxidants will donate electrons to vitamin E, bringing it back to its antioxidant state. The same scenario occurs when vitamin C or glutathione defuses a free radical."

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Pollution and Free Radicals

Free radicals also assault us from the outside, primarily via the skin and lungs. Our modern industrial environment – especially the internal partial-combustion engine – provides the chemical soup that the sun's ultraviolet rays excite to produce free radicals.

In the presence of heat and sunlight, ozone forms quickly from nitrogen oxides in polluted air and volatile organic compounds from vehicle exhaust. A highly reactive gas, ozone is the main component of summer smog that promotes the formation of free radicals.

Ironically, too little ozone in the stratosphere allows more UV radiation to interact with too much ground-level ozone. (What we need is an ozone pump!)

 

Chemical pesticides, herbicides, and petrochemical paints and solvents are also sources of free radical exposure. When you eat fats processed at high temperatures, or deep-fried, then you are consuming foods that add to your free radical load. Tobacco smoke is a major contributor.

Photograph courtesy of Native Forest Network

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Oxidative Damage-Studies

Domenico Pratico, MD’s, research has demonstrated that oxidative damage precedes the amyloid plaques that destroy brain cells – primarily in the hippocampus, followed by the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain – all of which can lose from 30 to 40% of their neurons as the disease progresses.

The Penn researchers studied brains of engineered mice vs. a control group at six developmental milestones, from 1 to 18 months. Although the plaques were still undetectable at eight months, Pratico said, "At seven months, there is 25% more oxidative damage in the AD mice than is present in normal mice, and this differential keeps increasing until it is 100% higher at 10 or 11 months. At 12 months, oxidative damage is 200% higher."1

 

Dr. Nick Fox and his team at University College in London used a "voxel-based" fMRI scanning technique to track the brains of people who did not yet have Alzheimer's disease, but who had a family history of it. Brain degeneration was observed about three years before clinical symptoms of the disease appeared.2

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Oxidative Damage Shortens Cell Lifespan-Study

At the end of chromosomes are bits of genetic material called telomeres. Their length determines how long a cell will live, and each time a cell divides some of its telomere is lost.

German scientists have found a strong association between telomere length and vascular dementia, a type of brain damage caused by diseased blood vessels. When the telomeres in the white blood cells of 186 people were measured, those with shorter telomeres were three times more likely to have vascular dementia.

 

The rate at which telomeres shorten in human cells is associated with the cells' ability to withstand oxidative damage, therefore the researchers believe that vascular dementia can be slowed by antioxidants.3

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Antioxidants

Antioxidants attract and gather the free radicals that are associated with many brain maladies. Find out how antioxidants protect your brain and how specific micronutrients benefit your brain. You can also learn how the lack of specific micronutrients can increase the risk of stroke and cognitive decline.

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Antioxidants Protect Against Mental Decline and Dementia

Evidence is mounting that cumulative oxidative damage to brain cells causes the fuzzy memory, slow learning, and loss of coordination that often accompanies aging – as well as the dementias that plague us today.

 

Even the form of dementia known as Alzheimer's disease (AD) seems to begin with oxidative damage long before any symptoms arise. "Alzheimer's disease is a very complex disease that does not appear to have a single cause, but our research indicates that oxidative stress is probably a primary event in the course of the illness," says Domenico Pratico, MD, of the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Pennsylvania.

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Antioxidants Protect Against Vascular Dementia-Study

A major study involving 3,385 Japanese-American men from the Honolulu-Asia Aging Study reinforces the value of antioxidants for the brain. Elderly men who took supplements of both vitamin C and E had an 88% reduction in the frequency of vascular dementia compared with men who did not take the supplements. The protective effect was substantially greater in men who reported long-term use of both vitamins.

 

Regarding the mechanism of the protective effect, Dr. Kamal H. Masaki and co-authors of the Honolulu Heart Program say that the study's results support "hypothesized roles for cellular and molecular oxidative injury in the pathogenesis of brain aging and neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's dementia and Parkinson's dementia, and vascular dementia."4

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Cognitive Function in Elderly Women and Men-Study

Dutch researchers concluded that cardiovascular health appears to be a primary biological reason why elderly women tend to have better cognitive function than their male peers. Dr. A. J. M. de Craen and his team at Leiden University Medical Center tested 600 people over age 85. "Good cognitive speed was found in 33% of the women and 28% of the men. Forty-one percent of the women and 29% of the men had a good memory," they reported.

 

The odds of having a better memory were 80% higher in elderly women, even after considering factors such as formal education and depression – a difference far greater than in younger people.5

Bear in mind: heart smart is brain gain. Both organs rely on a healthy circulatory system. In fact, a stroke is sometimes referred to as a "brain attack."

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Antioxidants Help Your Brain Breathe

You can live without food for weeks, without water for days, but only for a few minutes without oxygen.

 

Although 20-25% of all inhaled oxygen should go to your head, many obstacles can considerably reduce the amount of oxygen that actually reaches your brain cells.

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Lesson 1-Learn How to Breathe

The average pair of lungs can expand to a volume of about 5,000 cubic centimeters, yet most of us normally use less than a third of this capacity. Breathing is an involuntary bodily function that you can also consciously control, but few of us are taught good breathing habits.

Pay attention to your breathing. Is it slow and deep, or quick and shallow? Is your belly expanding and contracting, or is your chest doing all the work?

 

When you inhale from the belly by expanding your diaphragm, more air is drawn into the lowest portion of your lungs where much of the oxygen absorption takes place. Belly breathing also requires less muscular energy than chest breathing – both in muscles used and in frequency of breaths.

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Lesson 2-Take a Walk

Walking is especially good, because it increases circulation to the brain. Compared to more strenuous exercises, walking doesn't divert extra oxygen and glucose to muscles.

 

 

As you walk, you effectively oxygenate your brain. Maybe this is why walking can "clear your head" and help you think better, especially after a meal when your brain may be deprived of glucose.

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Lesson 3-Eat for Healthy Lungs

Lung tissue is easily damaged by free radicals. A nutritional program high in antioxidants may help ensure proper absorption of oxygen. Antioxidants, especially vitamin E, protect red blood cells and capillaries that deliver oxygen to your brain cells.

 

Vitamin E also protects fatty acids in the bloodstream from toxically combining with oxygen and diminishing the amount of oxygen available to the brain.

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Lung Function and Diet-Studies

In a study of nearly 14,000 adults, Dutch scientists found a direct correlation between healthier lung function and a greater intake of solid fruits, such as apples and pears, that contain protective phytochemicals called catechins. Tea is also a good source of these antioxidants, but higher consumption of tea alone did not lower lung disease risk.7

 

Decreased lung function was associated with low blood levels of vitamin E and beta-cryptoxanthin (an antioxidant found in oranges), as well as with other antioxidants (vitamin C, vitamin A, lutein, beta carotene, and lycopene). Researchers at the University of Buffalo's School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences tested 1,616 people (35 to 79 years old), who were all free of respiratory illness. Those with healthier lungs had higher antioxidant levels.8

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Cigarette Smoke and Antioxidants

Cigarette smoke interferes with your lungs' ability to absorb oxygen – and produces neurotoxins such as carbon monoxide, cyanide, and acetaldehyde. It contains high levels of free radicals that deplete the body's antioxidant supply.

 

Smoking one cigarette destroys about 25 mg of vitamin C, and secondhand smoke lowers vitamin C levels in children by 20%.9

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Smoking and Pregnancy-Statistics

Based on the outcomes of more than 25,000 pregnancies, Danish researchers concluded that "one fourth of all stillbirths and one fifth of all deaths occurring during the first year of life could be avoided if all pregnant women stopped smoking by the 16th week of their pregnancy."10

In the United States, nearly 20% of pregnant 18- and 19-year-old teenagers smoked cigarettes in 1999 – a 5% increase in five years. Of the half-million women who smoked while pregnant, 12.1% delivered a low birth weight infant compared with 7.2% of women who did not smoke.

 

Low birth weight is associated with many health problems later in life. For example, Spanish researchers found that infants with the lowest birth weights had the highest blood pressure in childhood and adolescence.11

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Advice for Smoking Pregnant Women

"The best advice we can give all women is to begin their pregnancies as healthy nonsmokers," says the U.S. Surgeon General in the August update of the 2001 Report on Women and Smoking.

 

There is no safe level of exposure from active smoking, advises the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Even when women smoked less than five cigarettes per day, there were detrimental effects on the birth weight of their babies.12

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Antioxidants-Plants

Plants, like humans, need to protect themselves from free radical damage, so they have evolved many different kinds of phytochemicals to do so. (Phyto is Greek for "plant.") The pigments in bark, rinds, seeds, leaves, fruits, and flowers are very active antioxidants.

 

An estimated 25,000 different micronutrients exist in the plant kingdom, (or "kindom," as the ecologically-minded prefer to say). Indigenous and scientific cultures have identified only a small percentage of this amazing treasury.

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Defense Plants: Fruits and Vegetables-Study

Dr. Frank Speizer of Harvard Medical School reported that eating more fruit was associated with reduced risk of high blood pressure – a major risk factor for stroke – in a study of 113,000 health professionals. Research has consistently shown that increased consumption of citrus fruits and cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage and broccoli is "associated with reduced risk of coronary heart disease and stroke."13

When the dietary habits of 126,000 men and women aged 34 to 75 were analyzed, it showed that the risk of coronary heart disease was reduced by 4% with just one additional serving of fruit or vegetables per day.

 

"Our data support a protective effect of greater consumption of fruits and vegetables, in particular green leafy vegetables and vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables, against risk for coronary heart disease," said Dr. Kaumudi J. Joshipura and his colleagues at Harvard University. "The mechanisms through which vegetables and fruits protect against cardiovascular disease are likely to be multiple," because they contain myriad compounds.14

Keep in mind: what's good for coronary health is good for cerebral health, because both the heart and the brain rely on a healthy vascular system.

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Defense Plants: Apple a Day-Study

Researchers at Cornell University have revised an old adage to say: The phytochemicals in an apple a day keep the doctor away. That's because whole fruits provide the "balanced antioxidants needed to quench reactive oxygen species."

"Eating fruits and vegetables is better than taking a vitamin pill," according to Rui Hai Liu, assistant professor of food science. His team found that vitamin C is only responsible for a small portion of the antioxidant activity. Instead, almost all of this activity in apples is from phytochemicals. Eating 100 grams of fresh apple with skins provided the total antioxidant activity equal to 1,500 milligrams of vitamin C.

 

"What this study shows is the combination of phytochemicals plays a very important role in antioxidant and anticancer activity, and the real health benefits may come from a phytochemical mixture."15

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Defense Plants: Lutein and Decreased Risk for Stroke-Study

Researchers at the USC and at UCLA looked at the relationship between the thickness of carotid (neck) artery walls and consumption of lutein, a phytochemical cousin of beta carotene. Increased carotid thickness is associated with increased risk for stroke.

In an 18-month study of 480 men and women 40 to 60 years old, the average increase in artery wall thickness was five times greater in those with the lowest blood levels of lutein, compared to those with the highest levels.

 

USC professor of preventive medicine James Dwyer, Ph.D., said, "The importance of our findings concerning lutein and atherosclerosis is that we may have identified one of the many components of vegetables that account for the protective effects of vegetables."16

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Dietary Sources of Lutein

Part of the carotenoid family of phytochemicals, lutein is found in carrots and in dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and collard greens,

 

as well as in oranges and eggs. It is the pigment that gives corn and marigolds their golden color.

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Defense Plants: Blue Benefits Brains

Some of the most potent plant-derived antioxidants are the proanthocyanidins – a subclass of bioflavonoids named for the blue (cyan) pigment that gives certain plants their distinguishing blue hues. This blue color seems to indicate antioxidant protection that's particularly beneficial for the brain.

Proanthocyanidins are able to cross the blood-brain barrier and protect against both water- and fat-soluble free radicals. This allows them to prevent damage to the fatty membrane of a neuron as well as to its aqueous interior.

 

The antioxidant activity of proanthocyanidins is many times that of vitamin C or E. What's more, they have a "sparing" effect on these antioxidant vitamins, because proanthocyanidins are the first to neutralize free radicals. This allows the vitamins to carry out their other metabolic functions, instead of being used up to control free radicals.

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Blueberries Rule-Study

When Tufts University researchers analyzed more than 40 fruits and vegetables, they found that raw blueberries contained the highest level of antioxidants – nearly 60 times the recommended daily levels – more than blackberries, beets, spinach, and garlic.17

 

Animals fed an antioxidant-rich blueberry extract diet showed fewer age-related motor changes and outperformed their study counterparts on memory tests. "The exciting finding from this study is the potential reversal of some age-related impairments in both memory and motor coordination, especially with blueberry supplements," said Molly Wagster, Ph.D., of the National Institute on Aging's Neuroscience and Neurospsychology of Aging Program.18

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Defense Plants: Grape Seeds and Pine Bark

Dark red grapes are rich in proanthocyanidins, especially their seeds, so grape seed extract is frequently used in nutritional supplement programs. Other plants well-known for their high levels of proanthocyanidins include pine and ginkgo trees.

 

Our knowledge of pine bark goes back nearly 500 years to when the French explorer Jacques Cartier reported that a tea made by Native Americans from pine tree bark saved the lives of his crew who were dying of scurvy.

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Defense Plants: Ginkgo Leaves

Ginkgo leaves contain potent proanthocyanidins that protect cerebral blood vessel walls by neutralizing free radicals. Ginkgo is particularly effective in quenching the super-oxide anion and hydroxyl free radicals.

The oldest species of tree on Earth is the ginkgo. After the glacial era they were found only in Asia, where Buddhist monks considered them sacred. Introduced to Europe in 1727, their beautiful fan-shape leaves inspired Goethe to compose a poem in honor of the Ginkgo biloba (bi-lobal) tree, whose leaf he considered a symbol of the heart.

 

Research has shown ginkgo's positive effect on memory and mental acuity. In France and Germany, ginkgo is widely prescribed for mental problems associated with poor memory, difficulty concentrating, confusion, anxiety, and depression.

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Defense Plants: Curry Power

Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound found in the curry spice turmeric, which has a long history of dietary and medicinal use in India. In animal studies at UCLA, curcumin was shown to reduce the accumulation of beta-amyloid plaques in the synapses of the rodents' brain cells. Synapses connect nerve cells and are crucial for memory, so their loss correlates well with memory decline in Alzheimer's disease, said Dr. Sally Frautschy.

 

Rats fed curcumin also performed much better in memory-dependent maze tests compared with rats on normal diets. Frautschy plans to test the phytochemicals in rosemary and ginger, because their structures are similar to curcumin's.19

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Antioxidants-Vitamin C

Millions of times each second, a vitamin C molecule sacrifices one of its electrons to neutralize a free radical.

The brain has priority to the body's store of vitamin C, which is concentrated in the fluid around neurons up to 100 times higher than elsewhere in the body. When levels become deficient, vitamin C will be leached out of body tissues to maintain adequate levels in the brain and lungs. Otherwise, the brain would literally be destroyed by a frenzy of free radical damage in a matter of minutes.

 

Because it is very similar to glucose, vitamin C readily enters into brain cells. There it protects DNA and other cellular components, and is used to synthesize two important chemical messengers – the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine – and to protect them from oxidation.

Vitamin C is thought to be the "hub of the antioxidant network," because it's the link connecting the fat-soluble antioxidants to the water-soluble ones. Vitamin C recharges vitamin E after it has been depleted.

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Vitamin C and Stroke-Study

A Japanese study found that the risk of stroke was inversely related to vitamin C in the bloodstream and frequency of vegetable consumption. Epidemiologist Tetsuji Yokoyama, M.D., and his team examined 880 men and 1,241 women in rural Japan over during a 20-year period beginning in 1977.

 

"The risk of all types of stroke was 58% lower among those who consumed vegetables six to seven days per week, compared to those who only consumed them up to two days a week," Yokoyama reported.20

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Vitamin C and Longevity-Study

As an antioxidant, vitamin C neutralizes free radicals that damage DNA and other cellular structures. Although vitamin C is not solely responsible for the increased longevity, it is a marker for a diet high in fruits and vegetables.

 

A four-year British study of nearly 20,000 individuals 45 to 79 years old, compared medical data with blood levels of vitamin C. Researchers conclude that the risk of death was cut in half for individuals who had the highest levels of vitamin C in their blood, compared to those with the lowest levels. This was independent of other factors such as smoking, blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and age.21

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How Much Vitamin C?

An essential nutrient that must be obtained from dietary sources, the vitamin C in your body needs frequent replenishing, especially since it's more rapidly depleted by so many factors common to modern lifestyles.

The adult RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance revised by the the U.S. Food and Nutrition Board in April 2000) for vitamin C is 90 mg per day for men. It's 75 mg for women, but new data suggest it should also be 90 mg, says Dr. Mark Levine of the National Institutes of Health. (Smokers need 35 more milligrams.) The upper limit is 2,000 mg; more can cause diarrhea.

 

Since RDAs are the amount required to prevent deficiency diseases, 90 mg may fall short of what's needed for optimal brain nutrition. Many researchers believe that adults need more than 10 times this daily amount: from 500 mg to several grams, depending on the circumstances. High-stress, smoking, pollution, infection and illness, wound-healing and recovery from surgery all demand more vitamin C.

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Foods Containing Vitamin C

Present in many fruits and vegetables, the richest sources of vitamin C are rose hips, guava, black currants, cranberries, kale, parsley, peppers, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, collards, and cabbage. Good sources include citrus fruits, tomatoes, artichokes, Swiss chard, and strawberries.

Water, heat, light, oxygen, and cooking all destroy vitamin C. Drying fruits destroys much of their vitamin C content, although freezing does not. Aspirin triples the excretion rate from the body, and secondhand smoke lowers vitamin C levels in children by 20%. Smoking one cigarette destroys about 25 mg of it.

 

 

Stress hormones deplete it, since vitamin C is needed to synthesize them. As a water-soluble vitamin, it is also lost through perspiration due to heat or exercise.

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The Best Vitamin C Supplement

The preferred type of vitamin C supplement is the mineral ascorbate form that also includes bioflavonoids, the phytochemical necessary for proper absorption of vitamin C. The prime function of bioflavonoids is to increase capillary strength and regulate absorption. Also known as vitamin P, for "capillary permeability factor," bioflavonoids also prevent vitamin C from being destroyed by oxidation.

 

The best natural sources of bioflavonoids are the white skin and segment part of citrus fruit (lemons, oranges, grapefruit); also apricots, elderberries, hawthorn berries, blackberries, cherries, and rose hips.

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Vitamin C for Hypertension-Study

A 500 mg daily supplement of vitamin C significantly reduced high blood pressure in hypertensive patients in a placebo-controlled, double-blind study. Researchers measured diastolic, systolic, and mean blood pressures one month after the vitamin C intake began. All pressures declined about 9% – reductions comparable to those of some prescription drugs used to reduce hypertension.

"We believe this is a significant finding that may be of considerable value to patients who have moderately elevated blood pressure," said co-author Balz Frei, professor and director of the Linus Pauling Institute.

 

Vitamin C may help protect the body's level of nitric oxide, he said. Nitric oxide is a natural compound that contributes to healthy blood pressure by relaxing blood vessels. Oxidative stress, however, can inactivate or inhibit nitric oxide.22

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Antioxidants-Vitamin E

Vitamin E is the primary fat-soluble antioxidant in the body, which makes it a crucial brain protector since the brain is composed mostly of fat. One molecule of vitamin E can protect 200 fatty acid molecules from free radical damage, thereby helping brain cells remain functionally healthy for a longer life.

Vitamin E resides in the fatty membrane of the cell, as well as in the membrane of the cell's nucleus where its DNA is housed. It safeguards the hundreds of energy-producing mitochondria within each cell.

 

Cerebral capillaries are strengthened by vitamin E, as are red blood cells. Vitamin E helps makes more oxygen available to the brain. It dissolves blood clots while insuring proper clotting – important factors for stroke prevention.

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Foods Containing Vitamin E

Seeds, nuts, and soybeans – and their unrefined expeller pressed oils – have the highest concentrations of vitamin E. Significant quantities are found in brown rice, oats, fresh wheat germ, and in eggs from free-range chickens. Smaller concentrations occur in dark green leafy vegetables, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli.

 

The RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) of vitamin E is only 15 mg or 22 IU per day, but 300-500 mg is closer to the amount often recommended for optimal nutritional benefits. The tolerable upper intake level is 1,000 mg. (Higher levels risk uncontrolled bleeding.)

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Modern Life and Vitamin E

Stored less efficiently in the body than the other fat-soluble vitamins, vitamin E needs replenishing, much like C and the B vitamins.

Processed foods, alcohol, tobacco, or smog increase your need for vitamin E.

Fatigue, stress, and pollution can deplete it.

 

Heat, oxygen, freezing, and chlorine destroy vitamin E.

Signs of deficiency include neuromuscular impairment, insomnia, fatigue, infertility, poor skin condition, or cold toes and fingers.

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Selenium: A Boost to Vitamin E

Vitamin E works in synergy with selenium. Together, they are more powerful than either one alone. An essential trace mineral, selenium is a necessary component of several important antioxidant enzymes your body manufactures to combat free radicals.

 

Selenium is also one of the most powerful detoxifiers of heavy metals that damage the brain and other organs. Selenium binds to mercury, lead, arsenic, and cadmium, which all disrupt brain chemistry by displacing important minerals like iron, zinc, and copper. Selenium is able to "chelate" these metals – a word derived from Greek word for "claw." In a sense, selenium grabs hold of these molecules and removes them from brain cells.

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Vitamin E and Stroke-Study

Strokes might be prevented by taking high doses of vitamin E, says Dr. James H. Dwyer of Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, because the antioxidant helps prevent the progression of hardening of the arteries. Using ultrasound, he measured the effect of vitamin E on plaque build-up in the carotid artery walls of 573 men and women. A slower progression of atherosclerosis was associated with vitamin E doses of at least 300 mg per day.23

 

Risk of stroke was lowered by 53% in people who took a vitamin supplement containing vitamin E, according to Richard T. Benson, M.D., of the Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in New York. Out of the 850 African American, Hispanic, and Caucasian adults studied, those who never had a stroke were twice as likely to have taken vitamin supplements, compared to those who had experienced a stroke.24

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Vitamin E and Longevity-Study

In a study with 11,178 subjects between the ages of 67 to 109 years old, the U.S. National Institute of Aging found that seniors who supplemented with vitamin E were less likely to die prematurely from any cause.

 

Subjects who took at least 100 IU of vitamin E per day had a 27% lower risk of mortality – even lower when vitamin C was added.25

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Antioxidants-Vitamin B

Vitamin B1 is necessary for proper functioning of the nervous system and good mental health. It is needed to convert glucose into brain energy, and is required to create myelin.

 

This protective insulation around nerve fibers permits efficient communication throughout the nervous system. Even a mild B1 deficiency can cause nerves to become hypersensitive and an individual to become irritable, apathetic, and forgetful.

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Foods Containing Vitamin B

B vitamins are water-soluble and are not retained too long in the body, so must be replenished regularly through diet. They are plentiful in whole grains, eggs, beans, and fresh leafy green vegetables, as well as in wheat germ and brewers's or nutritional yeast. High-temperature cooking or commercial food-processing destroy vitamin B.

 

Vitamins B12 and folic acid (also a B vitamin) are found in many foods. Vitamin B12 occurs primarily in animal foods, including fish, meat, and poultry, as well as in dairy products and eggs. Rich food sources of folic acid include leafy greens such as spinach and turnip greens, dry beans and peas, fortified cereals and grain products, and some fruits and vegetables.

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Modern Life and Vitamin B

Caffeine, alcohol, or excessive consumption of sugar can deplete your body's store of B vitamins more rapidly, as can smoking or the use of prescription drugs.

 

Exercise and physical or psychological stress also increase the need for B vitamins.

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B Vitamins and Dementia-Study

Dr. Hui-Xin Wang and colleagues at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden found that elderly people with low levels of either vitamin B12 or folic acid were twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's disease, compared to those with normal vitamin levels.

When they observed 370 people age 75 and older for three years, 78 developed some form of dementia. And, nearly 60% of those that had Alzheimer's disease also had low levels of vitamin B12 or folic acid.26

 

Both vitamins are important to proper mental function. Although the elderly have a greater chance of becoming nutritionally deficient, the authors emphasized that there is no evidence that a deficiency in vitamin B12 or folic acid actually causes Alzheimer's disease.

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Vitamin B and Stroke Prevention-Study

Stroke prevention may be as simple as taking three B vitamins involved with reducing blood levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that damages blood vessels. The World Federation of Neurology is coordinating a large clinical trial involving 3,200 participants with high blood levels of homocysteine, who all recently experienced a stroke.

 

They are being given high or low doses of vitamin B12, B6, and folic acid. which the body uses naturally to lower homocysteine levels.27

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Two out Five People Have Vitamin B12 Deficiency-Study

Nearly two out of five people of all ages tested by Dr. Katherine L. Tucker had B12 levels below normal – 17% low enough to cause symptoms of deficiency. Early symptoms include memory and balance disturbances, and reduced sensation in the limbs.

 

More serious ones include severe nerve damage and dementia.

Although vitamin B12 is obtained from meat, it's not well absorbed through digestion, so supplementation is the best way to prevent B12 deficiency.28

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Antioxidants-Magnesium

Proper brain function depends on a constant supply of biochemical energy. When magnesium is chronically deficient or depleted, then brain metabolism and power suffer.

Several factors contribute to the lack of magnesium in our diet.

 

To begin with, a big part of American diets (fats, meats, dairy products) are low in magnesium. This mineral is often depleted in our soils. Processing or cooking further reduce its levels in food, and not all of the magnesium we do consume is absorbed.

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The Top Six Reasons Your Brain Needs Magnesium

#1 Your brain needs magnesium to build the protective myelin sheaths that insulate the nerve fibers which network your nervous system.

#2 Magnesium activates a key enzyme in cell membranes that controls the balance of sodium and potassium. This is absolutely essential to the electrical activity of nerve cells, as well as to the very existence of a cell. If its sodium-potassium ratio got too far out of balance, the cell would burst.

#3 Magnesium activates glutamine synthetase, an enzyme responsible for converting waste ammonia – an extremely toxic byproduct of normal protein metabolism – into urea for proper disposal. The ability to focus and pay attention can be compromised by even small increases in brain ammonia.

 

#4 Magnesium activates almost all the key enzymes needed for your neurons to produce energy from glucose, in the form of ATP molecules. Magnesium is also necessary for the stable storage of ATP, so it won't spontaneously break down and waste its energy as heat.

#5 Of the 300+ different enzymes in the human body that require magnesium to function, a great many are crucial to cerebral metabolism and cognitive function. In the cerebrospinal fluid that bathes the brain and spinal cord, magnesium is present in higher concentrations than in the blood plasma.

#6 Magnesium is needed to activate the enzyme (D6D) that converts dietary fatty acids into DHA, the most abundant fatty acid in brain cell membranes. Deficiencies in DHA have been associated with numerous neurological disorders – from attention-deficits to Alzheimer's disease.

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Factors in Magnesium Loss

Many factors increase magnesium loss from the body, particularly stress – including physical stress from intense exercise. Normal daily loss through urine is from 100 to 300 mg. Of all the drugs known to deplete magnesium, alcohol is the most notorious.

 

An extreme case of alcohol-induced magnesium deficiency is delirium tremens (the d.t.'s), a life-threatening emergency. It is characterized by sweating, shaking, confusion, hallucinations, seizures, agitation, and disturbances of memory. Emergency room treatment for the d.t.'s includes injections of magnesium sulfate.

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Low Magnesium and Increased Stress

Do noises sound excessively loud? Do lights seem too bright? Are your emotional reactions exaggerated? These may be signs of a magnesium deficiency.

Along with vitamin B1, magnesium supports the reparative process that neurons need to offset the stress from the continual firing of the electrical impulse.

 

Low levels of magnesium may cause nerves to fire too easily, even from minor stimuli. Because stress affects the kidneys' ability to recycle magnesium, hypersensitivity can continue to escalate. The brain may even be too stimulated to sleep.

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Magnesium Leaves During Fight or Flight Response

In preparation for "fight or flight," one of the actions of stress hormones is to take magnesium out of muscle cells and replace it with calcium.

 

This gives muscles their needed rigidity to defend against a foe. But, this magnesium does not necessarily re-enter the muscle cells once the stress is over.

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250 References Found Magnesium Deficiency and Stress are Related

A 1994 review of more than 250 references found magnesium deficiency and stress are related. In the authors' words:
"When magnesium (Mg) deficiency exists, stress paradoxically increases risk of cardiovascular damage including hypertension, cerebrovascular and coronary constriction. . . .

 

Dietary imbalances such as high intakes of fat and/or calcium (Ca) can intensify Mg inadequacy, especially under conditions of stress...Thus, stress, whether physical (i.e. exertion, heat, cold, trauma, burns), or emotional (i.e. pain, anxiety, excitement, or depression) and dyspnea [breathing difficulties] as in asthma increases need for Mg."29

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Foods Containing Magnesium

Magnesium is found in many foods, but usually in small amounts. A single food will not meet your daily magnesium needs. A variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains can supply your magnesium requirements as well as make for a more delectable menu.

 

Water can also provide magnesium, although “hard water” has more magnesium than “soft water”.

Check the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) and Table of Food Sources of Magnesium for more information.

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The Recommended Dietary Allowance of Magnesium

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is the average daily dietary intake level that is sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97-98 percent) individuals in each life-stage and gender group.30, 31

 

Life Stage Men Women
Ages 14 - 18 410 mg 360 mg
Ages 19 - 30 400 mg 310 mg
Ages 31 + 420 mg 320 mg

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Table of Food Sources of Magnesium30, 31

Food
Milligrams
100 percent Bran, 2 Tbs
44
Almonds, dry roasted, 1 oz
86
Avocado, California, 1/2 med
35
Avocado, Florida, 1/2 med
103
Banana, raw, 1 medium
34
Bran flakes, 1/2 c
60
Bread, whole wheat, 1 slice
24
Broccoli, chopped, boiled, 1/2 c
19
Cashews, dry roasted, 1 oz
73
Cereal, shredded wheat, 2 rectangular biscuits
80
Chocolate bar, 1.45 oz
45
Hummus, 2 Tbs
20
Kiwi fruit, raw, 1 med
23
Nuts, mixed, dry roasted, 1 oz
66
 
Food
Milligrams
Peanut butter, 2 Tbs.
50
Peanuts, dry roasted, 1 oz
50
Potato, baked w/ skin, 1 med
55
Potato, baked w/out skin, 1 med
40
Raisins, golden seedless, 1/2 c packed
28
Seeds, pumpkin, 1/2 oz
75
Shrimp, mixed species, raw, 3 oz (12 large)
29
Soybeans, cooked, 1/2 c
54
Spinach, cooked, 1/2 c
65
Spinach, raw, 1 c
24
Tahini, 2 Tbs
28
Vegetarian baked beans, 1/2 c
40
Wheatgerm, toasted, 1 oz
90

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Sources of Good Magnesium Supplements

Many nutritionists believe the optimum intake of magnesium – especially when stress is a factor – should be two to three times higher than what Americans are typically getting from their diet. Supplements are the easiest way to increase magnesium intake.

 

Some forms of magnesium that are well-absorbed and well-utilized include magnesium ascorbate, aspartate, citrate, glycinate, succinate, and taurinate. Forms not so well absorbed are magnesium oxide and carbonate.

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