For decades mainstream medicine told us that dying neurons are the problem with an aging brain. But the difference between an old brain and a sharp, young brain isn’t just neurons…
You see, mental function depends on two kinds of brain cells. Neurons are just half the story. In fact, when scientists studied Albert Einstein’s brain they found he had a wealth of “other” brain cells that accounted for his genius.
I’m talking about “glia,” or “glial” brain cells.
Scientists have known about glial cells for a long time. But they thought they were just support for the neurons that did the real work of “thinking.”
Research now shows that glial cells do a lot more. These brain cells stimulate and fine tune the actions of your neurons. This gives you a faster, more accurate brain. You get less fogginess and better concentration.
For example, if you were missing a kind of glial cell called oligodendrocytes, messages would travel through your brain 30 timers slower!
Other glial cells clear out toxic waste from your brain every night.1 While you sleep, neurons shrink by as much as 60%. The glia clear the area around the shrunken neurons and open up channels. It’s like a cleaning crew moving the furniture out of the way before mopping up.
Cerebrospinal fluid around the outside of the brain then has room to flow through these channels. It washes your brain out. It rinses out toxic proteins responsible for Alzheimer’s.
And a brand new study shows glia can be used to predict your age. The research published in Cell Reports may help us understand glia’s role in late-in-life brain disease.2
The researchers looked at postmortem brain samples. The samples came from 480 people whose ages ranged from 16 to 106. Results showed that the state of someone’s glia is so consistent through the years that it can be used to predict someone’s age.
They also compared three young and three old brains. They found that the number of oligodendrocytes decreases with age. And the changes were greatest in the areas of the brain most affected by Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. But neurons did not show such dramatic changes.
In other words, holding on to healthy glial cells may be the answer to sharp thinking at every age.
How can you enhance and recharge your glial cells?
Research into brain activity shows that flavonoids have a special role in protecting your glial cells. Flavonoids are antioxidants that naturally occur in plants. They get rid of free radicals that play the biggest role in memory decline and slow thinking.
3 flavonoids that protect and revitalize glial cells
1. Apigen. This potent flavonoid kills off deadly brain cancer cells. At the same time they protect healthy cells. Animal studies show apigenin protects against symptoms of Alzheimer’s. It also improves learning and memory abilities. And it maintains the integrity of brain cells, boosts brain blood flow, reduces free radical damage, and improves brain chemical transmission.3
The best sources of apigenin are parsley, tomatoes, celery, artichokes, peppermint, and the herb basil.
2. Luteolin. In a Chinese study, luteolin almost completely protected glial cells from free radical damage and inflammation.4 It also improves memory and helps ease depression.
The best way to get luteolin is through your diet. Here are my top picks for foods and herbs rich in luteolin. Aim to get at least one serving at each meal.
|Celery||Fresh thyme||Artichokes||Rutabagas||Olive oil|
3. Morin. This little-known flavonoid can shield your neurons. It also protects those important glial cells I mentioned earlier called oligodendrocytes. A study in the journal Glia found that free-radical damage from inflammation was much higher in glial cells not protected with morin.5
The most bioavailable source of morin is the delicious Chinese White Mulberry (which is actually very dark purple). You can find Chinese White Mulberry tea on the Internet. Or look for the dried fruit.
To Your Good Health,
Al Sears, MD, CNS
1. Jeffrey J. Iliff et al, “A Paravascular Pathway Facilitates CSF Flow Through the Brain Parenchyma and the Clearance of Interstitial Solutes, Including Amyloid β.” Sci Transl Med 2012:Vol. 4, Issue 147, p. 147ra11.
2. Soreq et al. “Major shifts in glial regional identity are a transcriptional hallmark of human brain aging.” Cell Reports, January 2017 DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2016.12.011.
3. Liu R, Zhang T, Yang H, Lan X, Ying J, Du G. “The flavonoid apigenin protects brain neurovascular coupling against amyloid-β- induced toxicity in mice.” J Alzheimers Dis. 2011;24(1):85-100.
4. Zhu LH, Bi W, Qi RB, Wang HD, Lu DX. “Luteolin inhibits microglial inflammation and improves neuron survival against inflammation.” Int J Neurosci. 2011 Jun;121(6):329-36.
5. Ibarretxe G, Sánchez-Gómez MV, Campos-Esparza MR, et al. “Differential oxidative stress in oligodendrocytes and neurons after excitotoxic insults and protection by natural polyphenols.” Glia. 2006 ;53(2):201-11.