Food for Thought, Help for the Heart
What do we worry about? One of our greatest worries is our health, and two of our biggest health concerns center on two organs that many would say are the premier organs of the body: The brain and the heart.
Fortunately, we can take simple steps to safeguard the threat to these two organs. These include using two powerful supplements -- ginkgo biloba and coenzyme Q10 -- plus making other lifestyle choices.
Alzheimer's disease, dementia, Parkinson's disease...the list of disorders that affect our mental faculties or our nervous systems is frightening. The specter of not being able to take care of yourself, of being mentally unable, is great throughout North America.
Although these disorders have no cure, we may be able to help prevent the onset of mental incapacity through lifestyle: supplements, mental fitness, and diet.
More and more consumers, and more and more research, are pointing to the power of supplementation to safeguard mental fitness. The prime brain supplement is perhaps ginkgo biloba. Ginkgo is routinely among the top five herbs sold in health foods stores, and there is a substantial and growing body of research on the herb. Ginkgo has been studied extensively for its effect on the brain and memory for years and there have been many clinical trials on its use for "mental lapses" in the elderly. It also is an antioxidant, fighting free radicals. (Free radicals are renegade molecules that are indicated in a number of degenerative health problems).
Some of the mor recent studies on ginkgo and the mind include the following:
A 1994 study (Phytomedicine1:9-16) shows that regular administration of ginkgo extract has a positive influence on subjects with cerebral insufficiency. The study focused on "long-term and short-term memory, concentration power, maximum stress, mental flexibility, family problems, and general satisfaction of the patient with his or her life." None of the 90 subjects exhibited any pseudodementias (defined as dementia symptoms due to depression), nor were they using any substances that affected blood vessels. Positive effects were noted after six weeks of use.
Another 1994 study (Human Psychopharmacology9:215-22) reports on the use of ginkgo for senile dementia of the Alzheimer's type. A review of this study in HerbalGram magazine (34: Summer 1995) says that "Accumulating evidence suggests that free radical oxidation and platelet-activating factor (PAF) play important roles in the cognitive decline noticed in dementia. GBE's [ginkgo biloba extract] antioxidant, PAF-inhibiting, and neuronal-protective properties make it one of the clinician's most useful tools for slowing down cognitive decline in the elderly."
When thinking about using gingo, there are two major consideratoins. One, make sure you use a ginkgo product that meets the specifications of the ginkgo used in the many studies. This is a ginkgo standardized to 24 percent flavonoids (ginkgoflavoneglycosides) and 6 percent terpenoids. If your ginkgo does not meet these specifications, there is no guarantee that you will get desired benefits.
Two, remember that ginkgo takes time; most people will not notice benefits for six to eight weeks (although some users notice benefits sooner).
A healthy diet and mental and physical exercise are also food for thought. Research shows that the B vitamins all aid the nervous system and the brain; that the minerals iron, copper, magnesium, zinc, and boron are important for the brain and memory; and that water, of course, is important for transporting nutrients to where they will do some good. Another substance, fish oil, is also important for the development of the brain. Fish oil has components that can affect parts of the brain that deal with learning ability, anxiety and depression, and auditory and visual perception.
Another important aspect of brain health is brain fitness: Use it or lose it. When we are mental couch potatoes, we lose brain cells just because we are not using them. AN editorial in the April 15, 1995, issue of the British Medical Journal speaks on the loss of cognitive ability among the aging population. The authors state, "Psychological research has shown that elderly people have cognitive reserve capacity, which can be activated by simple training programmes."
What does this mean? Very simply, it means pursuing activities that make you think, and this applies to everyone, not just the elderly. This does not necessarily mean taking university classes, joining "great books" discussion groups, or learning other languages. Activities as simple as doing crossword puzzles, reading the paper and discussing the news with others, or learning or participating in a sport, hobby, or craft, all qualify as brain exercises.
You can also work brain exercises into your everyday life. Instead of using an autodialer, memorize phone numbers. Play word games with kids and grandkids; help them with their spelling and vocabulary. When you go shopping, look at your list as you enter the store and remember as many items as you can. All of this will increase you brain fitness.
North Americans worry about heart disease. And why not? It is the No. 1 killer in North America, claiming as many lives as the next eight leading causes of death combined. One of the most powerful things you can do to maintain heart health is use coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10).
CoQ10 is involved in the process the body uses to produce energy. Briefly, CoQ10 functions as a "shuttle," making sure that cells get the components necessary to produce energy. If we have a deficiency in CoQ10, we cannot produce the energy needed to run the body efficiently.
What are the implications of CoQ10 for our health? Many studies have shown that people suffering from different forms of heart disease are deficient in CoQ10. This makes sense, as congestive heart failure results from the inability of the heart to generate the energy and strength necessary to maintain circulation.
One published article reported on an eight-year study following 424 patients with various forms of cardiovascular disease. The patients were given CoQ10 in addition to their prescribed medications. Among the 424 patients, 58 percent showed improvement by one NYHA class, 28 percent improved by two classes, and 1.2 percent improved by three classes. (The NYHA--New York Heart Association -- scale classifies patients with cardiac disease based on clinical severity and prognosis. There are four classes, with class I being the least serious and class IV being the most serious).
In this study, CoQ10 also appeared to help by reducing the amounts of medications the patients were taking. Initially, most patients were taking between one and six medications. By the end of the treatment, 43 percent of the patients had stopped taking between one and three drugs. The authors, in their abstract, note, "In conclusion, CoQ10 is a safe and effective adjunctive treatment...producing gratifying clinical responses while easing the medical and financial burden of multidrug therapy." (Langsjoen, H., et. al.; Molecular Aspects of Medicine.1994; 15 Suppl: S165-75).
An Italian-led study also shows that CoQ10 is beneficial in treating a wide range of heart problems. The study, reported in a 1993 issue of Clinical Investigator(71:8 Suppl:S129-33), looked at 1,715 outpatients with chronic heart failure (NYHA classes II and III). The patients were given CoQ10 for four weeks, in addition to conventional therapies. The authors reported that "despite some methodological limitations in the study design and the short period of treatment (4 weeks) CoQ10 given at a daily dose of 50 mg led to an improvement in the signs and symptoms of heart failure and in the quality of life."
A 1992 report by Folkers, et al., looked at using CoQ10 with patients with heart failure who were eligible or ineligible for a transplant (Biochemical and BIophysical Research Communications1992 Jan. 15; 182(1):247-53).
The abstract notes that 11 exemplary transplant candidates were treated with CoQ10, and that all improved: three improved from Class IV to Class I; four improved from Classes III and IV to Class II; and two improved from Class III to Class I or II. The authors note that "After CoQ10, some patients required no conventional drugs and had no limitation in lifestyle. The marked improvement is based upon correcting myocardial deficiencies of CoQ10 which improve mitochondrial bioenergetics and cardiac performance. These case histories, and very substantial background proof of efficacy and safety, justify treating with CoQ10 patients in failure awaiting transplantation."
A recent study (Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology Jan. 1997;29:16-22) suggests that CoQ10 might work in part by turning off blood platelet cells. Victor L. Serebruany, M.D., Ph.D., of the Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, gave 15 men and women 200 mg of CoQ10 daily for 20 days, then analyzed any changes in their platelet size and activity. After CoQ10 supplementation, the subjects had a lower percentage of large platelet cells and a higher percentage of small platelet cells. This change was significant because large platelets are more likely than small platelets to form clots.
CoQ10, better known as a "heart" product, has also been shown to have a positive effect on the gums, on the immune system, and as an antioxidant. As an antioxidant it has been demonstrated to have neuro-protective properties. Antioxidants might be especially important to the brain because the brain, due to its prolific oxygen use, creates so many free radicals.
A number of other supplements may be helpful to the heart and cardiovascular system, either directly or indirectly. Diets rich in fish oils have been associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease. In an experiment (Supari et al. Circulation 1995;91:1123-28), researchers fed two groups of monkeys a diet promoting heart disease. One group of monkeys also received fish oils. The monkeys eating fish oils had lower levels of damaging superoxide radicals in their heart muscle.
A 1995 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (274:17) points out an inverse relationship between both dietary intake and red blood cell membrane levels of two fatty acids found in fish oil with the risk of primary cardiac arrest. That is, a diet containing fish oil may mean less risk of heart problems.
There is also a relatively unknown substance for heart health called tocotrienols. These substances, derived from a number of sources including palm oil, maybe an imortant antioxidant and aid in lowering cholesterol.
A quick rundown of the literature on this new substance reveals that tocotrienols 1) hold promise as an anti-atherogenic agent (prevent plaque build up in arteries, 2) may protect against atherosclerosis 3) decrease hepatic (liver) cholesterol production, 4) may be a potent cholesterol inhibitor, and 5) may act as an anti-inflammatory.
Lester Packer, Ph.D., a renowned antioxidant researcher, has noted that tocotrienols also hold promise in slowing aging and in fighting chronic disease.
Of course, a good diet and exercise are also keys to heart health. Eat meals that are low in fat and consume plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. This is common knowledge, but few people in North American seem to practice it. The link between exercise and heart health is also well-known. Physical Activity and Health: A Report of the Surgeon General lists the following cardiovascular benefits of exercise:
* Reduces the risk of dying from heart disease, and
* Reduces the risk of developing high blood pressure, and helps reduce blood pressure in people who already have high blood pressure.
This article is reproduced with the permission of AIM International, AIM Partners Magazine, September, 1997