Life Extension Magazine 2013
Broad-Spectrum Protection Against Brain Aging
By Arlan Myerson
Your brain is under assault from environmental toxins, oxidant stress, inflammation, blood flow fluctuations, and excess glucose.1,2 Collectively, these factors contribute to a state of neurotoxicity that accelerates brain aging resulting in neurodegenerative decline, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s.1-4
Currently there are no medical options to halt this steady march toward mental darkness. Pharmaceutical intervention is largely palliative and cannot cure or restore lost brain function.
For thousands of years, Chinese doctors have used gastrodin, extracted from the root of the exotic orchid, Gastrodia elata, to treat a range of cognitive problems ranging from vertigo and headaches to paralysis and seizures.5-8
What scientists today are discovering is that gastrodin acts as a broad-spectrum “brain shield” that protects against various factors that cause age-related degradation of our mental processes.
The wide ranging brain benefits of gastrodin were long ago identified.
What has researchers excited are new findings showing that gastrodin has regenerative properties that include rebalancing neurotransmitters, improving blood flow, decreasing memory loss, protecting brain functions during a stroke, and potentially reducing risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons.9-13 In short, gastrodin provides unparalleled, multi-factorial brain protection in both extreme and everyday conditions.
Impressive human studies using gastrodin in hospital settings confirm its benefit in shielding the brain against neurological insults, including protecting the brain against memory loss that can occur when one undergoes open heart surgery!14 In the discussion that follows, we highlight leading research showing how gastrodin protects against factors that conspire to deteriorate our brain.
Neuroregeneration – Once Thought to be Impossible
Not so long ago, most scientists thought that adult brain tissue had no hope of regenerating itself. The loss of brain cells and brain function was considered irreversible. According to neurologists, once your brain had finished growing, the ongoing loss of brain cells was just a natural part of aging.15
But molecular science is revealing startling discoveries about the brain’s ability to heal itself. What scientists have now found is that the brain can regenerate the neurons involved in brain remodeling (plasticity). Plasticity is the process by which brain cells reorganize and restructure their connections to form new memories and facilitate learning.16
Scientists in China and Singapore have made remarkable findings about how a natural orchid extract called gastrodin stimulates these neuro-regenerative processes. Extracts from the Gastrodia orchid have been shown to have a beneficial influence on up to nearly 20% of the genes that control the brain’s plasticity and regrowth. In the studies, gastrodin was shown to mobilize and activate specific aspects of the brain’s regenerative activities.9,10
Instead of succumbing to progressive brain shrinkage with constriction of one’s thoughts, feelings, and memories, brain cells have built-in natural, self-healing systems. Gastrodin can turn on and activate these regenerative mechanisms. This may turn out to be one of the most powerful methods ever discovered for preventing loss of brain function at any age.
Brain Blood Flow
A major cause of brain aging and many of the problems that go along with it is a reduction in blood flow to the brain. The result is that the brain becomes starved for oxygen and fuel, producing a low-grade “suffocation.”17 This reduction in brain blood flow is progressive over the course of an individual’s lifespan.18 Reduced blood flow has been proven to be a direct cause of poor cognition and memory.17 Gastrodin has repeatedly shown that it beneficially increases brain blood flow both in laboratory animals and human patients.12,19,20
In rats with experimentally-induced massive strokes, a gastrodin-based traditional preparation greatly improved blood flow when given 30 minutes after the stroke. Even at a relatively low dose, brain blood flow was restored to normal with the gastrodin-based formula.19
Human studies are just as dramatic. In a study involving 202 patients, a gastrodin-based formula improved brain blood flow in 96% of the patients following stroke and other brain injuries.12 In another study of patients with impaired circulation to the rear portions of their brains (where balance, vision, and coordination are processed), 95% of patients given gastrodin plus betahistine (a prescription medication) showed improved blood flow, while only 70% of betahistine control patients showing improvement.20
Brain blood flow is also reduced by elevated blood sugar.21 The result is often memory impairment and an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Gastrodin, in a recent lab study, improved insulin sensitivity, ridding the blood of excess glucose and reducing body fat.22
Improved GABA Levels
While “burnout” is a popular phrase to illustrate extreme fatigue, it is a very real condition that occurs in your brain from too much stimulation . Given the multi-tasking pace of our lives, combined with the incessant information overload, most of us are suffering from an imbalance of our neurotransmitters.
Your brain is constantly working to maintain a balance between the cells that create electrical activity, and those that reduce or calm brain activity.
Brain cells modulate different neurotransmitters to excite or calm the brain. When the brain is resting or calm, it uses a neurotransmitter called GABA.23
Heightened brain stimulation, with its increased cellular activity, puts an enormous strain on brain tissue, whereas inhibition tends to promote rest, regeneration, and healing.
This delicate balance of neurotransmitters is of tremendous importance to healthy brain function. Too much excitatory input, or too little inhibitory input, disturbs the balance, overstresses the brain, and leads to a “burn out” of brain cells.
Scientists commonly find an extreme neurotransmitter imbalance in people with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, in seizures, in stroke and head trauma victims, in diabetics (especially those with painful diabetic neuropathy), in people undergoing surgical anesthesia, and even in “normal” aging.24-28
Gastrodin helps restore the vital balance of neurotransmitters. Studies show that gastrodin increases levels of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA by as much as 34%, which exerts a calming effect on the brain and counteracts the overactive brain activity.11,29,30
Pharmaceutical companies are spending huge sums on research and development of drugs to control neurotransmitter imbalance. However, their approach has been not to create balance but to simply suppress excitation. Their only drug offering, Namenda® (memantine), has had little impact on neurodegenerative diseases, and no effect on the heightened brain activity seen following low blood-flow conditions such as surgery and anesthesia.31-33
One of the greatest fears of getting older is the threat of memory loss. Not recognizing your loved ones or even remembering your name is a devastating condition. Studies show that gastrodin can help counteract many of the key processes that lead to memory loss.
When rats are subjected to toxic drugs that impair memory, they become confused and take longer to find their way through familiar mazes, or to rescue themselves from danger. The stress of dangerous situations also freezes up memory, just as it does in humans.
Gastrodin reverses those impairments, helping the bewildered animals consolidate and retrieve memories they’d already stored away.34 In rats exposed to aluminum, which is thought to be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, similar improvements in memory preservation were obtained even without a reduction in brain aluminum levels.35
Reducing the Cognitive Risks of Open Heart Surgery
Perhaps the most dramatic demonstration of gastrodin’s ability to prevent brain aging caused by circulatory deficit comes from a recent human study done under the extreme stress of open heart surgery. During this operation, the patients’ hearts are stopped while they are kept alive only by use of the heart-lung machine. In this procedure, blood flow to the brain is reduced as fat globules introduced by the surgical trauma causes cerebral capillary beds to occlude. Up to 55% of patients may suffer memory loss and cognitive impairments after bypass surgery that can last for weeks, months, or forever following surgery.36,37 Surgeons refer to these cognitive deficits resulting from open heart surgery as “pumphead syndrome.”37
The symptoms involved in pumphead syndrome resemble accelerated brain aging, complete with circulatory deficit, inflammatory changes, and increases in abnormal proteins such as those seen in neurodegenerative diseases.38 The only difference is that, instead of slowly occurring over many years, these cognitive changes occur within the single hour of open heart surgery.38,39
In a human clinical trial, intensive care specialists in China injected gastrodin or a saline control solution in 200 patients undergoing open-heart surgery.
Prior to surgery, all of the patients tested normal on memory and cognition. After the operation they found that 42% of patients had cognitive decline, which included substantial memory loss.14
The outcome in the gastrodin treated group of patients was very different. Only 9% had any change at all from baseline. Even three months after surgery, 31% of the patients who did not receive gastrodin continued to have memory difficulties. Yet only 6% of the gastrodin group had residual memory problems.14
This study showed that even under the extreme conditions of open heart surgery gastrodin prevented rapid brain aging produced by intensive brain stress, including catastrophic loss of memory. This is the most compelling evidence yet of the clinical impact of gastrodin’s multiple brain-protecting and brain-healing effects.
The World Health Organization estimates that neurological disease affects over a billion people worldwide and the trend is expected to continue. The WHO report states that, “The neurological burden is expected to become an even more serious and unmanageable threat to public health.”40
Yet despite this global escalating increase in neuro-degenerative diseases, mainstream medicine is not providing much help in treating or solving this condition. Even the drugs that are currently on the market treat only symptoms rather than curing the cause of these disorders.41 Unlike prescription medication, gastrodin has strong evidence for its effectiveness in shielding the brain from destruction during the long slide into cognitive decline and dementia.
In laboratory experiments that simulate Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, gastrodin protects the cells in the brain centers that are most vital for learning and memory.6,42-44 These are the areas that quickly degenerate under the threat of Alzheimer’s disease. With gastrodin, the result is a beneficial increase in cell survival and a decrease in cell death.
Also helpful in fighting the onset of Alzheimer’s, gastrodin switches on the enzymes that break down and clear away toxic Abeta proteins, which kill brain cells and steal memories in Alzheimer’s disease. Gastrodin’s housecleaning ability to eliminate toxic Abeta proteins may be one of the great prevention advances regarding Alzheimer’s disease.8
Gastrodin has been shown to reduce general brain inflammation, a major contributor to neurodegeneration.45 Animals supplemented with gastrodin have improved learning and memory compared with their peers receiving no therapy.8 In the laboratory, gastrodin was proven to shift brain biochemistry away from producing the toxic Abeta proteins associated with Alzheimers, and towards a healthier, normal protein.8