C is for brain

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and accounts for between 50 per cent and 70 per cent of all cases. It is a progressive, degenerative illness that attacks the brain. In 2009 the number of Australians with dementia was estimated to be245,000 (over one per cent of the population). With the ageing population the number of Alzheimer’s cases is set to increase sharply. By 2050, the total number will exceed 1,130,000 more than a fourfold increase since 2009. It seems though that vitamin C and betacarotene might be weapons in the fight against dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s Disease is a debilitating condition that features gradual memory loss, a decline in ability to perform routine tasks, disorientation, impaired judgement, loss of language and communication skills, changes in personality, and more. There are currently no treatments proven to halt Alzheimer’s Disease and researchers in the area believe that the disease process actually begins long before we are able to detect it so prevention is the best hope. That is why researchers decided to investigate whether antioxidants might offer some protection.

The theory goes that Alzheimer’s results from brain changes that occur as a result of amyloid plaques that accumulate in the brain. It is thought that these plaques and the changes that result from them might be due to oxidative stress so antioxidants might be of some help in preventing Alzheimer’s occurring.

To test this researchers examined 1,500 adults aged between 65 and 90 years of age. The subjects were asked questions about their lifestyle and had blood samples taken and their body mass index (BMI) measured. The results of people with Alzheimer’s Disease were then compared to those without Alzheimer’s.

There was no difference between the two groups in levels of the antioxidants co-enzyme Q10, lycopene, and vitamin E. However, vitamin C and betacarotene levels were much lower in the people with Alzheimer’s. Perhaps vitamin C and betacarotene selectively act against the oxidative drivers of the Alzheimer’s process?

More research needs to be done but it is certainly worthwhile to get stuck into foods rich in these nutrients like spinach, broccoli, oranges, capsicum, strawberries, papayas, and carrots. Not only will you have the basis for an excellent ratatouille and accompanying fruit salad but you will be generally better for it and perhaps be reducing your chances of developing Alzheimer’s into the bargain.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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C is for brain

Vitamin C became really popular in the 1960s when Nobel Prize winning chemist Linus Pauling advocated it as a cure for the common cold. These days you can’t allow yourself a discrete cough no more raucous than a duck clearing its throat without someone sagely advising that you take vitamin C, or at least suck an orange. In the popular psyche vitamin C is synonymous with colds and immunity but it does far more than that in your body. The wide importance of vitamin C is not news, but it is news that a new study has found that vitamin C might be important for your brain to function as it should.

Your brain, and every brain in fact, has special receptors called GABA (gamma butyric acid) receptors. It is necessary for these GABA receptors to be activated to put a brake on excitatory neurons.

Your retina is essentially made of neural tissue and blood vessels and the nerves go directly to the brain. So your retina is a kind of easily accessible outpost of brain cells that can be studied more easily than brain cells contained within the skull. In a new study researchers found that retinal cells are bathed in vitamin C inside and out but the GABA receptors on retinal cells stopped functioning when vitamin C was removed.

It is likely then that other brain cells function in the same way and that GABA receptors in the brain in general will stop working when their vitamin C bath dries up. We do know that when the body is deprived of vitamin C it stays in the brain longer than anywhere else. This is an indicator that it must be vital for brain function. The effect on GABA receptors may also be why one of the common symptoms of scurvy is depression.

The research may also have implications for diseases such as glaucoma and epilepsy. Both of these conditions are caused by dysfunctional nerve cells in the retina or brain that become over-excited partly because GABA receptors are not functioning properly.

People prone to glaucoma might benefit from vitamin C supplements and it just may be that brain related conditions might benefit as well. Given all of its other benefits, it might be worth trying this vitamin just to C what happens.

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The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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