Tag Archives: free radicals

Parkinson’s Prevention: The roles of antioxidants, iron, and pesticides

I remember telling my first patient with Parkinson’s disease that she needed to move because she lived in a subdivision that was built on an old landfill. Not only was she suffering, but she also reported that an unusual number of her neighbors had cancer or other very serious diseases that may be linked to toxins. It is thought that in Parkinson’s disease the destruction of brain cells occurs partially due to oxidative damage, which is increased by toxic chemicals. The subsequent reduced ability to produce dopamine in the brain leads to the motor deficits of Parkinson’s including resting tremors, rigidity, slow movements, and shuffling gait.

While there are natural treatments that can slow and/or improve the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, we are much better off focusing on prevention. New studies are pointing to some easy steps to help reduce the chance of getting this neurodegenerative illness. The link between exposure to pesticides and the development of Parkinson’s disease was confirmed by a 2013 meta-analysis looking at over 100 studies. It showed that the risk of Parkinson’s was increased by contact with pesticides, herbicides, and solvents. Farming in general and living in rural areas were also considered to be risks. As a small scale organic farmer as well as a naturopathic doctor, these issues particularly strike home. I recommend an emphasis on organic foods in the diet to avoid traces of pesticide residue on the food and to cut down on the number of farm workers who have to handle pesticides and herbicides.

Another common thread in Parkinson’s disease is elevated iron in the brain. Iron can contribute to oxidative damage by catalyzing the conversion of hydrogen peroxide to dangerous hydroxyl free radicals. Pesticides and other neurotoxic substances have been shown to cause increased production of hydrogen peroxide. The resulting reactive oxygen species can damage the genes, cell membranes, and mitochondria thereby reducing the ability of brain cells to function.

These findings tie together much of what we know concerning the development of Parkinson’s disease: oxidative damage, iron overload in the brain, and pesticide exposure. It also points to useful preventative strategies. Cultures that consume vegan or quasi vegan diets have lower rates of Parkinson’s disease. While this could be due to lower intake of saturated fats or higher antioxidant consumption, I suggest that this link is partially because of lower iron intake. Part of the neuroprotective effect of coffee could be related to its ability to bind iron. This would also explain why the consumption of black tea, which reduces iron absorption, is inversely associated with Parkinson’s disease risk.

Finally, just as antioxidants are an indispensable part of the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, they can also be vital for its prevention since many of the implicated pesticides and other toxic compounds are oxidative stressors. Studies have shown that patients with Parkinson’s disease have reduced antioxidant capacity, demonstrated by lower glutathione levels. Glutathione is an important antioxidant that helps neutralize toxins and heavy metals. N-acetyl cysteine and alpha lipoic acid are excellent supplement choices to help build up glutathione levels. Turmeric is known for its neuroprotective effects, and its active constituent curcumin was shown to help restore glutathione levels in a study using mice. At the same time, I encourage appropriate intake of iron to minimize buildup over time with its subsequent contribution to oxidative stress.

Even though these interventions were particularly studied for Parkinson’s disease, these basic concepts hold true for prevention of other neurological issues. Toxin burdens and decreased antioxidant status are important considerations for prevention of other neurological conditions, including some dementias like Alzheimer’s disease.  Though genetics can play a role in susceptibility to particular conditions, we can choose dietary and lifestyle choices that reduce the likelihood of these manifestations. In addition, we can also work to create a healthier planet so that there are fewer toxic chemicals in all of our lives.

Pepper Smile

And check out my blog from last year on how happy bell peppers like this one can help prevent Parkinson’s disease.

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Detoxification Support Part 2: Sweating

After the holiday festivities, doing a full body cleanse can be a great way to get a new start on your health. Detoxification can also help with weight loss, thyroid issues, fatigue, joint pain, skin problems and many other chronic conditions especially if they aren’t improving with the normal interventions. Last week, I introduced this topic by discussing dietary ideas to help with detoxification.

Another essential aspect of a detoxification plan is sweating. Nearly every known toxin, including toxic metals, can be eliminated in our sweat without normally harming the skin. At this time of the year, many of us are sweating less and this can allow more toxins to build up. During the end of my time in Seattle, I was too busy to have time to exercise and the climate was too cool to cause me to sweat. When I moved to Arkansas in the middle of the summer, my sweat stank for several weeks like it never had before. These were toxins that my body hadn’t eliminated while in Seattle.

One of the best ways to detoxify by sweating is exercise. Exercise heats the body up and increases the burning of fat where many toxins are stored. Exercise also improves circulation so that the blood brings mobilized toxins closer to the skin to be excreted in the sweat.

Additionally, we can use saunas, hot baths, or in the summertime, spending time outdoors to trigger sweating. Aerobic exercise is recommended before sweating in a sauna or hot bath for all of the benefits I listed above. The heat from the sauna can then increase the normal metabolic breakdown of fat started by exercise. Always shower after sweating to wash excreted toxins off the skin since they can be reabsorbed. Another way to enhance your ability to sweat is to enjoy a diaphoretic herb that can help stimulate sweating. Hot ginger or chamomile teas are pleasant ways to do this. Also make sure you are getting adequate water and fiber to keep toxins moving out of the body afterwards.

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Though sweating is usually safe for nearly anyone, there are a few cautions. It is very important to stay hydrated and maintain proper electrolytes just like we do during the heat of summer. Coconut water is a great option for both of these. Don’t become overheated or dehydrated. Finally, occasionally sweating can irritate rashes even though they may benefit long term from the detoxification process.

New Insights into Natural Diabetes Prevention

I recently cut fruit juice out of my husband’s diet. I told him I wasn’t going to buy it anymore for him because of a recent study that correlated the consumption of 3 servings of fruit juice per week with a 10% increased risk of diabetes. Even before reading this study, I hadn’t been a fan of juice because it contains the sugar of the fruit without the fiber that slows the absorption of sugar. On the flip side, consuming 3 servings of fruit per week can help reduce the risk of diabetes by 3%. Certain fruits like blueberries, grapes, and apples had an increased protective effect, due to antioxidant compounds located in the skin of these fruits.

So why are antioxidants helpful at preventing diabetes? Excessive consumption of carbohydrates and calories in general causes an overabundance of energy on a cellular level. Unless we are active enough to be burning this excess energy, it actually contributes to the production of free radicals that damage our cells. To protect themselves from this excess energy and subsequent damage, our cells reduce the number of insulin receptors on their surfaces. The result of this is insulin resistance, a prediabetic condition where the body makes extra insulin to try to get cells to remove excessive sugar from the blood stream, but the cells ignore this message.  This protective measure of the cells saves the cells from damage and possible destruction, but long term, insulin resistance can contribute to the development of not just diabetes, but also high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and kidney disease.

The solution is not to force the cells to take up the excess sugar from the blood stream, but to reduce the consumption of excess sugar, carbohydrates, and overall calories. Viewing insulin resistance as a defensive mechanism of cells helps us see why these dietary changes are so vital to preventing diabetes. Additionally, exercise increases the energy needs of cells and allows them to metabolize sugar without excessive damage from free radicals.

Finally, looking at insulin resistance in this way helps us understand why a number of antioxidants have been found to be useful in diabetes and insulin resistance. For instance, alpha lipoic acid is a powerful antioxidant that helps fight insulin resistance as well as having the potential to help diabetic neuropathy. Intake of minerals like zinc, copper, and manganese are commonly helpful to diabetics and prediabetics because they help the body make superoxide dismutase enzymes to neutralize free radicals. Understanding these mechanisms can help us make and stick to healthier dietary choices, especially at this time of the year when there are so many sugary temptations.

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Vitamin C: Powerful Protector

For colds, most people reach for vitamin C to help them get back on their feet sooner. They might chose it because they can tell it helps them feel better, or they might have heard about one of the numerous studies supporting its use. Most studies show that vitamin C reduces the severity of cold symptoms. Even one famous “negative “ study showed that vitamin C reduced the severity of cold symptoms by 20%. This was only considered a negative outcome because these results were not deemed significant. Other studies show that vitamin C accelerates recovery, especially if taken early in the illness. One study using 3000-6000 mg daily showed an 85% reduction in cold and flu symptoms compared to the control. I notice that especially toward the end of a cold, taking vitamin C has a marked effect on my energy levels, helping me get back to work.

Vitamin C can be beneficial for other respiratory issues. In epidemiological studies, increased vitamin C intake is correlated to lower rates of asthma. Supplementation with vitamin C also has been shown to reduce exercise-induced airway reactions such as narrowing of the airways. Additionally, vitamin C may be helpful for asthma that is related to pollution. These benefits are partially due to vitamin C’s anti-histamine effects, which are augmented by the presence of bioflavonoids, compounds that occur in foods alongside vitamin C that potentiate its activity.

Vitamin C’s well-known antioxidant capabilities provide part of its protect of the respiratory tract. When we are exposed to pollutants and toxins, free radicals cause cellular damage, which in turn contributes to inflammation that can exacerbate conditions like allergies and asthma. It is probably these antioxidant actions that help me feel more energetic at the end of a cold. When the immune system is working hard it creates free radicals as part of the process, and these free radicals can contribute to fatigue. By helping remove these free radicals, vitamin C can help you feel normal again. Likewise, vitamin C can protect vital molecules in the body, such as proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, and DNA from damage by free radicals that can be generated during normal metabolism as well as through exposure to toxins. This preserves crucial cellular functions and can help prevent cancer. Finally, vitamin C can regenerate the antioxidant capacity of vitamin E, which is in turn one of the most important fat soluble antioxidant that supports heart health by preventing the oxidation of cholesterol. Again, bioflavonoids also can work as powerful antioxidants supporting the activity of vitamin C so I always look for these when I buy vitamin C.

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Alpha Lipoic Acid: Amazing Antioxidant for the Nervous System

Among antioxidants, alpha lipoic acid is unique because it is both fat and water soluble. This means it can work in more areas of the body than other antioxidants that either dissolve in water like Vitamin C or are absorbed into fat like Vitamin E. Alpha lipoic acid has another important role through increasing the recycling of other antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E, glutathione, and coenzyme Q10. We need antioxidants to protect our cells from damaging molecules known as free radicals. When antioxidants neutralize free radicals, they have to be recharged before they can act again. By acting as an antioxidant and recycling other antioxidants, alpha lipoic acid can help keep our bodies functioning properly and help prevent degenerative diseases, especially those affecting the nerves.

Alpha lipoic acid has gained a reputation for protecting the nervous system by preventing damage to the nerves from free radicals and other reactive oxygen molecules. It also seems to support healthy microcirculation around the nerves so that nerves, including those in the brain, can be properly nourished. There is some evidence that alpha lipoic acid may even help with regeneration of nervous tissues in certain cases by supporting sufficient energy production in the cells. Alpha lipoic acid has been studied most extensively for peripheral neuropathy due to diabetes, where the elevated blood sugar and reduced circulation causes nerve damage with diminished or abnormal sensation in the hands and feet. Diabetics may also benefit from alpha lipoic acid because it appears to help increase the body’s response to insulin. Alpha lipoic acid is also used to help protect the optic nerve in glaucoma. Alpha lipoic acid was also been shown to reduce migraine frequency and severity in a small study. This benefit may be due to alpha lipoic acid’s ability to improve blood vessel function rather than its neuroprotective actions.

Natural Support for Aging Brains

I have always been known as a sharp person, and as I intend to practice medicine until I am quite old, I need to make sure I maintain my keen mind. There are many different challenges that can lead to memory impairment as we age. Circulation to the brain can be decreased by atherosclerosis, leading to lower available oxygen. The energy centers of our cells, mitochondria, can stop functioning at peak efficiency. This leads to a decline in energy levels in the brain, and these dysfunctional mitochondria release larger amounts of free radicals that can damage the brain cells. Free radicals are a contributing factor in many neurodegenerative conditions including Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

Periwinkle

These potential challenges to proper brain function provide us with clue for where we should look for support, as we grow older and wiser. Vinpocetine is notable for addressing many of these issues. Vinpocetine is derived from an extract of Vinca, better known as periwinkle. It can help increase blood flow to the brain and reduce the levels of damaging free radicals. This is why it is gaining a reputation for protecting brain cells. Vinpocetine may also increase the efficiency of dysfunctional mitochondria in the brain so they can produce more energy. The production of neurotransmitter related to memory may also be enhanced by vinpocetine. Placebo controlled studies on elderly patients with age-related mental decline further supports vinpocetine’s potential. The patients taking vinpocetine outperformed those taking placebo on several different tests of mental function.