11.04.2016 Naturopathy

Neuroprotective Therapy

Naturopath Lyn Craven discusses a positive new approach to slowing down and reducing the impact of degenerative disease

This subject is extremely in-depth and complex, however I will endeavor to illustrate the importance of neuroprotective therapy for long term health. When we are considering the ongoing health of the central nervous system (CNS) we would be working with neuroprotective therapy to counteract degenerative disease such as strokes, Parkinson’s, MS, Alzheimer’s, dementia and glaucoma to name a few. Neuroprotective therapy also helps with brain trauma/injury and spinal injury.

The aim of this therapy is to slow down degeneration and support existing injuries.

No matter the medical diagnosed disorder the underlying mechanisms of CNS health issues are very similar. The therapy assists in slowing down secondary degeneration and further neuron loss. Common mechanisms include increased levels in oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction, excitotoxicity, inflammatory changes, iron accumulation, and protein aggregation. Of these mechanisms, neuroprotective treatments often target oxidative stress and excitotoxicity, both closely associated with CNS disorders. Oxidative stress and excitotoxicity trigger neuron cell death and, when combined, have synergistic effects causing further degradation on their own. Limiting excitotoxicity and oxidative stress is important in neuroprotection.

Recently a new term “neurorescue” has been quoted to describe a distinct type of neuroprotection.

Neurorescue is based on the concept that a population of cells is dysfunctional but not irreversibly injured, and may be restored to normal function. This is a very positive approach since many medical doctors, in particular, state that anything that has degenerated and is dysfunctional cannot be restored. Neurorescue therapies may improve clinical manifestations of the disease and slow or stop disease progression.

The concept of neuroprotection obviously has great relevance here since many of these disorders progress relatively slowly with little disability associated with the early stages of disease. Therapies that slow down but do not entirely arrest disease progression would result in significant reduction in the burdens of Parkinson’s’ Alzheimer’s, dementia, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, among others. The challenge for some people is complete consistency and follow-through with a neurotherapy support program, which could comprise well over a dozen different remedies.

How does cell death occur?

Protein aggregation can occur due to a number of reasons and is a known source of neuron cell death where what are known as misfolded proteins aggregate (accumulate and clump together) both outside and within the cell. When protein aggregates damage cells it is through disruption of cell membranes. The word "protein" comes from the Greek proteios, which means "first" or "foremost," reflecting the importance of these molecules. The topic is complex but this is how cell death occurs when a malfunction manifests in these molecules.

Many diseases associated with protein aggregation increase in frequency with age.This is often why medical people refer to degenerative disorders due to old age, yet many factors are at play. Recent research suggests protein aggregation is a second line of cellular reaction to imbalanced protein homeostasis. Their expression is increased when cells are exposed to elevated temperatures or stress, which is prevalent in our modern day society.


Glutamate is a major excitatory transmitter in the brain and plays an important role in signal transduction in the nervous systems of all living organisms. It is a major mediator of excitatory signals in the mammalian CNS and involved in all aspects of normal brain function - cognition, memory and learning. So you might ask “why is it toxic”?

Glutamate mediates information and regulates brain development, which determines cellular survival, differentiation and elimination including formation and elimination of nerve contacts (synapses). Glutamate must be present in the right concentrations in the right places for the right time. So you can see the importance of delicate balance. Too much and too little glutamate is harmful! So, glutamate is essential but highly toxic at the same time!

Glutamate excitotoxicity is one of the most important mechanisms triggering cell death in CNS disorders.

Brain tissue contains about 5-15 mmol glutamate per kg, depending on the region, more than any other amino acid. Glutamate is one of the common 20 amino acids used to make proteins and is involved in metabolic functions like energy production, ammonia detoxification and protein synthesis. It is amazing that this compound having so many functions is present everywhere in high concentrations and is also a transmitter.

Now please don’t get confused with the amino acid L-glutamine because glutamate is converted to glutamine by cells lining the intestinal tract, which, in turn, is used by the villi (tiny hair like projectiles in intestinal lining) to maintain their health and integrity.

This conversion is also made by the liver and kidneys. In order for this conversion to take place, niacin (B3) is required.B3 is essential for conversion of the body's proteins, fats, and carbohydrates into usable energy.

You can see how anyone with digestive health problems may have issues not just around assimilation and absorption of nutrients but also conversion of glutamate to L-glutamine.

Glutamic acid is synthesized though a complicated conversion reaction involving three additional molecules. This complex reaction requires B6 (pyridoxine hydrochloride) in order to occur. For these reasons, vitamins B3 and B6 can be regarded as helper nutrients when it comes to glutamine sufficiency in the body. Never take L-glutamine on its own!

Many of the foods rich in glutamic acid -namely gluten grains, casein (from dairy), and soy – are three of the four foods that damage the villi and their ability to make this conversion. Corn is the fourth food, which is not very high in glutamic acid but an inducer of villous atrophy of the small intestine and is neurotoxic, the latter research links to autism.

Corn gluten meal is a “natural herbicide” (it kills other plants!) and a major generator of fat, which is formed to store toxins as well as excessive calories.So you may wish to eat other protein based plant foods instead of soy if you don’t eat animal protein. You can also see how these foods will affect brain/CNS function. The Japanese eat only very small amounts of marinated soy, not large portions and burgers like we do in the West.

MSG (monosodium glutamate), whose parent protein is glutamic acid, is used as a flavor enhancer due to a neuro-stimulating effect on taste buds. Once it reaches the brain, it induces migraines, seizures, and lowers the pain threshold (affecting people with fibromyalgia or other chronic pain syndromes). We don’t need it, so check all restaurants you visit, request food without MSG and check all pre-packed and canned foods – or better still don’t eat these “foods” most are what I call “dead foods” anyway.Fresh is best.

Avoid foods that damage the intestinal tract’s ability to convert glutamate to glutamine and vice versa, including gluten grains, dairy, soy and corn. We should then eat foods that are rich in glutamine – beef, fish, poultry, eggs, raw cabbage, beets, beans.

Please avoid self prescribing L-glutamine – see a naturopath/nutritionist first – you may not require it and the dosage needs to be correct. L-glutamine is often used to help with leaky gut syndrome and improving immunity, but in conjunction with other remedies.

L-glutamine is needed as a fuelling source for your body, especially your brain. L-glutamine also plays a critical role in maintaining a balance with neurotoxins in the retina of your eye. You would not stay on L-glutamine indefinitely.

Food additives

Avoid all “foods” that contain any type of additive or preservative as many are neurotoxic. Be wary of labels that indicate “spices” often this is simply masking MSG or other neurotoxic substances. If in doubt contact the supplier and speak with their technical department and ask forinformation to be sent to you. We all need to be pro-active and question manufacturers. These substances have no nutritional benefits. If a “food” requires so many flavours, additives and preservatives it is not worthy of consuming!

Lyn will continue discussing this topic next month.

Lyn Craven

Lyn Craven is a practitioner of Naturopathy, Bowen Therapy, Energy/Reiki therapist, meditation teacher and Corporate Health Consultant. She is also a health researcher/writer and has produced a meditation CD assisting people to manage anxiety and stress. She runs a private practice in Sydney and can be contacted on +61403 231 804