Imagine a reality where your memories slip through your fingers like grains of sand. Where simple tasks become Herculean challenges. And where the core of who you are seems to crumble before your eyes.
This is the frightening and frustrating reality for many living with what’s known as neurodegenerative diseases. And while we may not yet have a cure for these life-altering conditions, researchers may have uncovered something that just might give us an edge in the battle against neurodegenerative diseases – small but mighty molecules known as plasmalogens.
In this blog post, we’ll explore what neurodegenerative conditions are, what causes these devastating disorders, how plasmalogens might just be the secret to fighting back against neurodegeneration, and most importantly – some proactive steps you can take to protect and preserve your brain health. Let’s dive in.
What Are Neurodegenerative Disorders?
Neurodegenerative disorders are a group of conditions characterized by the gradual and progressive degeneration or death of your nerve cells (neurons). Every thought you think, emotion you feel, and action you take is generated by electrical impulses that travel throughout the nerve cells in your body. So as these nerve cells slowly lose function and eventually die, cognitive, motor, and/or sensory functions gradually decline over time.1
Now let’s zoom in on some of the most common types of neurodegenerative conditions.
What Are the Most Common Neurodegenerative Diseases?
Some commonly diagnosed neurodegenerative conditions and their accompanying symptoms include:2,3,4
- Alzheimer's disease: This is the most common cause of dementia and is characterized by the accumulation of abnormal protein deposits in the brain leading to memory loss, cognitive decline, and changes in behavior.
- Parkinson's disease: Parkinson’s disease involves the loss of dopamine-producing neurons in the brain – leading to motor symptoms like tremors, rigidity, and bradykinesia (slowness of movement).
- Huntington's disease: Huntington’s is a genetic disorder that leads to the degeneration of specific brain regions, resulting in involuntary movements, cognitive decline, and emotional disturbances.
- Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS): ALS also sometimes referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease affects motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord that can lead to muscle weakness, atrophy, and eventually paralysis.
- Multiple sclerosis (MS): MS is an autoimmune condition in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the protective covering of nerve fibers in the central nervous system – leading to a wide range of neurological symptoms ranging from chronic pain to vision problems and from loss of coordination to paralysis.
- Frontotemporal dementia: This condition affects the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain and can lead to changes in personality, behavior, and language difficulties.
- Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP): PSP is characterized by the deterioration of neurons in specific brain areas, resulting in problems with balance, eye movement, and cognitive functions.
With such serious and frightening effects, you’re probably wondering what on earth can cause your nerve cells to begin degenerating in the first place.
What Causes Neurodegenerative Conditions?
The answer to this question is – it’s complicated. You see, oftentimes, neurodegeneration can’t necessarily be traced back to a single underlying factor. Rather, the underlying causes of neurodegenerative diseases are typically complex and multifactorial and speculated to include things like:5,6,7
- Genetic factors and family history: Specific mutations in your genetic code can increase your risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases. Having a family history of a particular neurodegenerative disease can also increase your risk due to shared genetic susceptibility.
- Protein misfolding and aggregation: Many neurodegenerative diseases involve the misfolding and subsequent accumulation of abnormal proteins in the brain – like beta-amyloid plaques and tau tangles in Alzheimer's disease, alpha-synuclein aggregates in Parkinson's disease, and huntingtin protein in Huntington's disease.
- Neuroinflammation and immune system dysregulation: Ongoing inflammation in the brain known as neuroinflammation can cause microglial cells (the brain's immune cells) to become overactivated and release inflammatory molecules that contribute to neurodegeneration. In some cases, this chronic inflammation can eventually cause your immune system to begin mistakenly attacking your body's own neurons – triggering an autoimmune reaction.
- Oxidative stress: Ongoing inflammation can also lead to an influx of reactive oxygen species (ROS) – highly reactive molecules, which can damage cellular components and lead to neuron damage.
- Mitochondrial dysfunction: Mitochondria are your cell's energy-producing organelles. Dysfunction in these structures can lead to energy deficits, cellular stress, and neuronal death.
- Environmental factors and underlying infections: Exposure to environmental toxins and other chemicals can create imbalances that can increase the risk of certain neurodegenerative diseases. Certain underlying infections have also been linked to an increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases by affecting the central nervous system.
- Aging: The risk of neurodegenerative diseases increases with age. This is because the cellular processes that protect against damage and repair neurons may become less efficient over time.
- Vascular factors: Reduced blood flow to the brain can result in damage to neurons, contributing to cognitive decline.
- Nutritional and metabolic factors: A diet lacking essential nutrients (especially nutrients like antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids) can impact brain health and increase the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases. Conditions that impact nutrient absorption and metabolism (like diabetes and obesity) are also associated with a higher risk of neurodegenerative diseases.
Likely, a combination of factors come together to create the perfect storm that eventually leads to the gradual deterioration of neuronal cells seen in neurodegenerative conditions. So, if there is not necessarily a single underlying factor that contributes to neurodegeneration, is there a way to treat these perplexing disorders?
Can Neurodegenerative Diseases Be Treated?
Conventional medicine typically approaches the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases through a lens of symptom management – focusing on things like medications, physical and occupational therapy, and other supportive care measures. While these approaches may indeed help manage some symptoms, they don’t do much to address the root cause of these devastating disorders.
But addressing neurodegenerative conditions through the lens of functional medicine allows us to get at the “upstream” issues causing these “downstream” symptoms. So let’s zoom in on the Functional Medicine approach to treating neurodegenerative diseases.
The Functional Medicine Approach to Treating Neurodegenerative Diseases
Functional Medicine, also often referred to as root-cause medicine, approaches neurodegenerative disease treatment by addressing the underlying imbalances leading to neurodegeneration in the first place. An experienced Integrative and Functional Medicine Doctor would custom tailor treatment plans to address each individual's unique circumstances, but treatment would likely encompass many of the following strategies:
Strategic Diet and Supplementation
The food and nutrients you consume are either healing or harmful. So one of the core pillars in addressing neurodegenerative diseases is focusing on strategic diet and supplementation. It’s crucial to prioritize nutrient dense foods and focus on consuming a healthy, balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and sources of omega-3 fatty acids, like fish and flaxseeds. And it’s equally as important to limit processed foods, excessive sugar, artificial sweeteners, and refined fats (like seed oils and trans fats).
While a healthy diet is foundational, adding in a calculated cocktail of specific brain-supporting supplements can really help combat the progression of neurodegeneration. Some of the most potent brain-boosting supplements include:
- Antioxidants: Antioxidants are crucial for neutralizing reactive oxygen species and counterbalancing any damage incited by these molecules. Some of the best antioxidant-boosting supplements include Brain Boost, ResveraMax and Glutathione Essentials.
- Turmeric: Turmeric is another compound that has powerful antioxidant properties – helping to soothe inflammation, support a balanced immune response, and promote optimal cognitive function. While you can get this super nutrient from food, the best way to tap into the power of turmeric is through a concentrated supplement like Super Turmeric.
- Magnesium: Your brain relies on magnesium to help regulate neuronal function, downregulate neuroinflammation, and support synaptic plasticity – all of which are essential for maintaining brain health and preventing neurodegeneration. But it’s crucial to ensure you’re taking the right form of magnesium, as magnesium L-threonate (like that found in Brain Mag) is the only form of magnesium that can effectively cross your blood-brain barrier.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Your brain relies on copious amounts of these essential fatty acids to function properly. I recommend either Omega Essentials or OmegaPro PRM ( a potent combo of omega-3’s and pro-resolving mediators to pump the brakes on inflammation).
- Vitamin D: A deficiency in vitamin D has been found to accelerate the aging of your brain and potentially contribute to the development of neurodegeneration. So in addition to spending some time in natural sunlight, it can be immensely helpful to add in a vitamin D supplement.
- N-acetyl cysteine (NAC): N-acetyl cysteine is a heavy hitter when it comes to combating neurodegeneration thanks to its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and exert some impressive effects including fighting oxidative stress, promoting neurogenesis, and increasing glutathione levels.
Your diet and supplements are quite literally the building blocks of your brain – making this a pivotal piece of the puzzle when it comes to addressing neurodegenerative disorders.
Some lifestyle modifications that can have a major impact when it comes to slowing and even reversing the progression of neurodegeneration include:
- Engaging in regular exercise: Regularly engaging in physical activity – whether it’s hitting the gym, going for a run, or simply dancing around your living room – can improve blood flow to your brain and promote the growth of new neurons.
- Stimulating your brain: Your brain needs stimulation and challenges to stay strong and continue forming new neural connections. Keep your brain active through activities like reading, puzzles, crosswords, learning a new language, or pursuing hobbies that challenge your mind and get you into a flow state.
- Logging adequate sleep: Sleep allows your brain to consolidate memories, repair and regenerate neurons, and clear away waste products – all contributing to optimal cognitive function. If you have trouble sleeping, be sure to incorporate some of my sleep hacks. Or if you need a little extra nudge to drift off, I recommend checking out Dream Powder and Sleep Essentials to support a healthy sleep cycle.
- Managing stress: Stress can put a damper on every aspect of your health – especially brain health. Try practicing stress-reduction techniques such as meditation, mindfulness, yoga, or deep breathing to keep chronic stress levels at a minimum.
- Connecting with others: As humans, we are wired for connection, love, and community. So be sure to maintain social connections and engage in regular social activities to stimulate cognitive functions and emotional well-being.
- Limiting exposure to toxins: Environmental toxins, heavy metals, and pesticides can have neurotoxic effects. So doing things like filtering your air, purifying your water, reducing exposure to EMFs, and making low-tox swaps can go a long way in protecting your brain health.
A combination of diet, supplements, and lifestyle tweaks under the guidance of an experienced Integrative and Functional Medicine Doctor can have a monumental impact on neurodegenerative conditions.
And new research indicates that there might just be another all-natural tool we can add to our tool belt when it comes to fighting back against neurodegenerative diseases – a little compound known as plasmalogens.
What Are Plasmalogens?
Plasmalogens belong to a family of compounds known as phospholipids. Phospholipids are a class of lipids or fats that are essential structural components of cellular membranes. These tiny compounds are the primary building blocks of the lipid bilayer that forms the foundation of the cell membranes in every single cell in your body.
And what sets plasmalogens apart from other phospholipids is their unique chemical structure. You see, plasmalogens have a vinyl ether bond at the sn-1 position of the glycerol backbone instead of the usual ester bond. In simpler terms, plasmalogens are special because they have a little “twist” in their structure. While most phospholipids have two straight tails, plasmalogens have one tail that's bent like a “kink.”
It’s this small twist that allows these molecules to have a profoundly positive impact on your brain – especially when it comes to protecting cells from damage and combatting neurodegenerative conditions.8
Plasmalogens and Neurodegeneration: What Do Plasmalogens Do In the Brain?
While plasmalogens aren’t a cure for neurodegenerative diseases, recent research is finding that they may have some exciting implications when it comes to improving the quality of life for those living with these life-altering conditions. Some studies have found that taking plasmalogen supplements can improve cognition, improve the ability to carry out day-to-day activities, and even reduce the depressive symptoms seen in neurodegenerative conditions.9
These benefits can likely be traced back to plasmalogen's impressive impacts on the brain, which include:9,10,11
- Neuronal membrane structure: Plasmalogens help maintain the structural integrity of neuronal membranes by providing stability and fluidity to cell membranes. This is important for the proper functioning of neurons and their ability to transmit signals.
- Antioxidant activity and neuroprotection: Plasmalogens have antioxidant properties, which means they can neutralize and counteract the damage induced by reactive oxygen species. This antioxidant activity can help protect brain cells from oxidative damage, help preserve brain function, and slow the progression of certain degenerative conditions.
- Neurotransmission: Plasmalogens are involved in the regulation of synaptic transmission (the process by which neurons communicate with each other) which is critical for normal brain activity and cognitive functions.
- Inflammation regulation: Plasmalogens have been implicated in modulating the brain's inflammatory response – helping to pump the brakes on the inflammatory process.
- Myelin formation: Plasmalogens are involved in the formation and maintenance of myelin, the protective sheath that surrounds nerve fibers and shields them from damage.
While more time and research are needed to truly reveal the role that plasmalogens might play in fighting back against neurodegenerative conditions, these findings are promising and bring us one step closer to truly understanding these complex conditions. And with such promising results, you’re probably curious how you go about getting more of these miraculous molecules in your life.
What Is the Best Plasmalogen Supplement?
It’s possible to obtain some plasmalogens through your diet – primarily through consuming things like seafood (like shark liver, krill, mussels, and scallops) and other meat (like pork, beef, and chicken). But the truth is, because these forms of plasmalogen are not highly bioavailable (readily utilized by your body) and would require you to consume enormous amounts of raw material, it’s rather impractical to increase your plasmalogen levels through diet alone.12
Instead, the best way to dramatically boost your plasmalogen levels is through a high-quality plasmalogen supplement. And when it comes to plasmalogen supplements, you can’t go wrong with the Prodrome Sciences line of supplements. Their supplements are made in the USA, adhere to strict Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) quality standards, and are clinically proven to correct deficiencies in these key molecules.
Prodrome is the world's only high-dose plasmalogen supplement. And because I believe in their research and supplements so strongly, I’ve partnered with Prodrome to bring my patients and readers an exclusive discount. Just follow this link and use the code JCARNAHAN25 to get 25% off any of Prodrome Science’s cutting-edge plasmalogen supplements.
Ready to Take the Reins When It Comes to Preserving and Protecting Your Health?
The potential held by plasmalogens when it comes to fighting back against neurodegeneration is certainly full of promise. While these mighty molecules may indeed be a powerful tool in defending our brain health, at the end of the day, they are exactly that – a tool. And truly preserving, protecting, and up-leveling your health requires a toolbelt full of tools.
That’s why I’m dedicated to arming you with an arsenal of science-backed and easy-to-understand tools and resources through my blog and YouTube Channel. Because the more knowledge, understanding, and strategies you have, the more empowered you are to create the vibrant health and longevity you deserve.
But we all know that true well-being doesn’t end at physical health – it also requires tapping into your mind, heart, and soul as well. That’s why I penned my newly released book Unexpected: Finding Resilience Through Functional Medicine, Science, and Faith. In it, I dive deep into the strategies that have helped me radically transform my life for the better – physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally, and more. My hope is that this book can help you do the same.
Now it’s time to hear from you. Were you surprised to learn just how powerful plasmalogens might be in defending against neurodegeneration? What are your favorite brain-boosting tips? Leave your questions and thoughts in the comments below!
- Neurodegenerative Diseases: What They Are & Types (clevelandclinic.org)
- Neurodegenerative Diseases | MedlinePlus
- A Review of the Common Neurodegenerative Disorders: Current Therapeutic Approaches and the Potential Role of Nanotherapeutics – PMC (nih.gov)
- Neurodegenerative Diseases (nih.gov)
- Frontiers | Neurodegenerative Diseases – Is Metabolic Deficiency the Root Cause? (frontiersin.org)
- Neurodegenerative Disorder – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics
- Neurodegenerative Diseases | MedlinePlus
- Plasmalogen – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics
- imcj21_6 (imjournal.com)
- Plasmalogens and Alzheimer’s disease: a review | Lipids in Health and Disease | Full Text (biomedcentral.com)
- Frontiers | Plasmalogens and Chronic Inflammatory Diseases (frontiersin.org)
- Plasmalogen Replacement Therapy – PMC (nih.gov)
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The product mentioned in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is not intended to replace any recommendations or relationship with your physician. Please review references sited at end of article for scientific support of any claims made.