One of the problems with studying natural medicine is that the whole scientific research model is set up to examine single drugs: give half of the test subjects the drug, give half a dummy pill (placebo), and compare the results to see if it’s effective. That’s fine for pharmaceuticals, with their emphasis on reductionism — targeting very specific receptors or mechanisms within cells to bring about a change in the system (usually just reducing symptoms). Naturopathic medicine has always had a more holistic focus, however: employing a variety of therapies together to support the innate healing capacity of the human organism. This includes using herbs and nutrients in combination. When single nutrients have been studied like drugs, we have seen failures to produce benefit, such as vitamin C for immune health, or vitamin E or fish oil for cardiovascular disease prevention.
In recent years, a group of Canadian researchers at McMaster University has bucked this trend by studying a combination of herbs and nutrients for brain health. This combination includes common ingredients such as B vitamins, ginkgo biloba, flaxseed oil, and green tea. The latest research on this combo in a mouse study found that when it was fed to mice with massive brain cell (neuron) loss (equivalent to advance Alzheimer’s disease in humans), it prevented, and even reversed the death of neurons.
Read that again — it reversed the brain cell loss associated with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and others.
No pharmaceutical drug has ever been shown to have this effect. A major part of the problem with treating neurodegenerative diseases is something called the blood-brain barrier (BBB): a cellular “wall” that acts like the velvet rope at the nightclub of our brain, preventing most large molecules from crossing from the bloodstream into the brain. Combinations of smaller molecules and specific fats found in the natural supplement may be able to cross the BBB. They’re on the celebrity A-list for the club.
There is one major caveat to keep in mind with this study: effects found in mice don’t always translate to the same benefits in humans. However, given the potential upside with very low risk, this is a worthwhile strategy to try if there is existing brain disease, or high risk of conditions such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.
Here is the complete list of ingredients in the McMaster group’s supplement:
|Vitamin B1||Insulin sensitivity, anti-inflammatory||Flax seed oil||Omega fatty acids for membrane support|
|Vitamin B3||Insulin sensitivity, anti-inflammatory||Folic acid||Antioxidant, maintains glutathione levels, endothelial support|
|Vitamin B6||Insulin sensitivity, anti-inflammatory, scavenges||Garlic||Antioxidant in lipid membrane, scavenges , H2O2|
|Vitamin B12||Insulin sensitivity, anti-inflammatory||Ginger||Antioxidant in cytosol, scavenges OH−, , ONOO−|
|Vitamin C||Antioxidant in cytosol, scavenges , H2O2||Ginkgo biloba||Antioxidant in cytosol, scavenges NO−|
|Vitamin D||Antioxidant in lipid membrane||Ginseng||Antioxidant in cytosol and nucleus, scavenges OH−, , ONOO−|
|Vitamin E||Antioxidant in lipid membrane, scavenges , H2O2||Green tea extract||Antioxidant in cytosol, scavenges H2O2, OH−|
|Acetyl L-carnitine||Mitochondrial support, antioxidant in mitochondria, insulin sensitivity||L-glutathione||Enzymatic antioxidant support, antioxidant in cytosol|
|Alpha lipoic acid||Mitochondrial support, antioxidant in mitochondria, insulin sensitivity||Magnesium||Insulin sensitivity, cellular support|
|ASA||Anti-inflammatory, scavenges NO−||Melatonin||Antioxidant in cytosol and nucleus, scavenges OH−, H2O2, O−, NO, ONOO−|
|Beta carotene||Antioxidant in lipid membrane, scavenges , H2O2||N-acetyl cysteine||Mitochondrial support, antioxidant in mitochondria|
|Bioflavonoids||Antioxidant in cytosol and nucleus, scavenge OH−, , metal chelator||Potassium||Insulin sensitivity, cellular support|
|Chromium||Insulin sensitivity, scavenges H2O2||Rutin||Antioxidant in lipid membrane, scavenge OH−, , metal chelator|
|Cod liver oil||Omega fatty acids for membrane support||Selenium||Scavenges H2O2, enzymatic antioxidant support, insulin sensitivity|
|CoEnzyme Q10||Mitochondrial support, antioxidant in mitochondria||Zinc (chelated)||Neural support (zinc + antioxidants), insulin sensitivity|
|Dehydroepiandrosterone||Antioxidant, endocrine support|
- Table from: Lemon JA et al. Radiation-induced apoptosis in mouse lymphocytes is modified by a complex dietary supplement: the effect of genotype and gender. Mutagenesis (2008) 23 (6): 465-472. doi: 10.1093/mutage/gen038. First published online: July 21, 2008.
- Article reference: Lemon JA et al. A multi-ingredient dietary supplement abolishes large-scale brain cell loss, improves sensory function, and prevents neuronal atrophy in aging mice. Environmental and Molecular Mutagenesis. Published online May 20, 2016 doi:10.1002/em.22019