So many processes in your body work in opposition to each other. Think about a muscle used to move one finger: to move it in the opposite direction, you relax that muscle and activate an opposing muscle. When both muscles are equally relaxed, the finger is “in balance” in a neutral position. Try to keep the finger bent for an extended period of time, and the muscle tires, eventually unable to maintain the “out of balance” position. Consider the natural cycle of sleep: you need rest to counterbalance your daily activity — too much of either throws you out of balance.
When the body is imbalanced, it will attempt to correct it. But some imbalances can be too damaging for a quick fix, especially when the imbalance leads to cell death. Worse, the effects that lead to brain cell death may never be fully repaired. You want to particularly guard against these. Unfortunately, we may not even aware of some of the dangers, and even “healthy” practices can sometimes lead us astray.
Let’s look more closely at protecting the most delicate instrument in your body: your brain!
In many other newsletters we have explored the dangers of inflammation, which, like stress, is a proper reaction of the body to a bad environment that the body is attempting to fix. Unfortunately, inflammation causes collateral damage to healthy tissue. In fast growing, fast repairing tissue, this damage may be completely repairable if you bring the inflammation down. Brain cells do regenerate, but at an ever slowing rate as we age and too much damage can be more than you ever regain. We’ve explored how disease, leaky gut, certain foods, stress, and a generally unhealthy lifestyle all contribute to inflammation, and how inflammation can damage or kill brain cells.
Since there are many causes of inflammation, there are also many ways to reduce it. Beating inflammation is a continual effort requiring a healthy lifestyle.
Now let’s look at something we can control easily with diet.
Glutamate is a valuable nutrient, used by the body in many ways. Nerve cells in the brain need glutamate to function. Glutamate excites the nerve cells into action, and improve learning and memory for someone who has low levels of this neurotransmitter. However, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing: excess glutamate becomes a neurotoxin!
A study published in Nature Communications, conducted at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, outlines just how valuable enough glutamate is to brain function, and when it can become a neurotoxin. Learning and memory acquisition occur when glutamate is released near AMPA (?-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid) receptors, and without sufficient glutamate the required signaling might not occur. However, after stroke, brain injury, or in certain neurodegenerative diseases, glutamate can reach toxic levels.
Looking at how this happens shows how well and delicately balanced the body is. Glutamate works by binding to certain receptors (particularly NMDA, or N-methyl-D-aspartic receptors), and non-NMDA receptors on the nerve cells. When it binds with non-NMDA receptors, it allows positive ions into the cells. Ion pumps inside the cells regulate the voltage increase from the inflow of positive ions, preventing the internal voltage from rising too quickly — this process requires precious cell energy however. Glutamate also binds to NMDA receptors, but the inlet of the receptors to the cell is normally blocked by a single magnesium ion (Mg2+). When the cell voltage rises high enough, the Mg2+ ion is expelled from the receptor inlet, allowing calcium ions (Ca2+) to enter quickly. Ca2+ mediates the effects of excess glutamate to some extent, but it also reacts in the cell chemically, degrading proteins and releasing free radicals. This can harm the nerve cells and even kill them.
Glutamate acts as a excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain: it is vital for sending signals between nerve cells and also “excites” them to fire more often by causing positive ion flow into the cells. At a certain voltage threshold, the cell fires. Raising the voltage too quickly makes the cell hyperactive and it fires too often. The excessive entry of calcium ions damages these hyperactive cells and results in a “burn out” effect. In essence, they are overworked.
In cases of brain injury or neurodegenerative disease, nerve cells become more sensitive to glutamate. Less is needed to excite these cells to the point where they let Ca2+ ions flood in. The “balance point” changes, and restricted glutamate levels has been shown to slow brain damage. In an article published in Stanford University’s Huntington’s Outreach Project for Education (HOPES), this was explained: brain cells weakened by damage or disease have less energy to run the ion pumps in the cells which keep the cell voltage from rising too quickly. Glutamate binds to the NMDA receptor, the Mg2+ ion gets expelled and Ca2+ comes rushing in — the same condition that happens to over-excited cells from too much glutamate. Only this time, the ion pumps do not have the energy to compensate for otherwise normal levels of glutamate.
Too little glutamate, and the brain cannot process signals efficiently. Too much, however, leads to damage and burn-out. Glutamate needs to be available in the right amount, and cells have to produce sufficient energy to operate the ion pumps to keep the effects of glutamate in bounds.
Messing with the balance
A favorite “health” technique is to supplement our diet. Some of that makes sense: most of us don’t eat nutrient-dense food and are deficient in numerous vitamins and minerals. Glutamate “helps you think” and is popular in various brain and mind supplements. This is not recommended because the body is trying to balance itself: if you add neurotransmitters you usually have a short term gain and a long term loss. Since supplements are so concentrated in specific nutrients, it is easy to get too much of one or more of them. And some, such as glutamate, become toxic when the levels rise too high. A common supplement given for digestive disorders is glutamate — this is a problem because it raises the entire body’s glutamate levels and increase the chances of glutamate levels becoming abnormally high, causing neurotoxicity and damage.
Healthy plants are themselves in balance, and the nutrients that they provide are regulated by the metabolism in the plant, A properly chosen plant diet provides nutrients such as glutamate in reasonable quantities — one exception is soy, which is unusually high in glutamate. Processing means alteration of food in some ways which usually concentrates some nutrients and destroys others, throwing them out of balance.
Nature is a symphony of balance — it is exquisitely designed with checks and balances, which complement the balances within our bodies. In so many ways, our modern artificial society has taken us away from the balance within nature and substituted “scientific” alternatives, which fall short of achieving balance. Science has to work with a limited number of variables, because the complexity of experiments rises exponentially as more factors are added. As a result, we are still finding new phytonutrients, new balances and new combinations which are more healthful when provided by nature. We are more observers than masters of nature, and attempts to “improve on nature” often lead to unintended consequences. Live in harmony with God’s design, and avoid the excesses that can rob you of life!
Dr. Nemec’s Comments:
Glutatmate, like all neurotransmitters, must be kept in balance. This is critical, and your body does a great job of keeping the balance if you are helping it do so. How do I do this you ask? With 7 Basic Steps to Total Health: Breathing, Oxygen, Water, Food, Sleep, Exercise, Detoxification, Fasting, Prayer and Meditation. When you eat the wrong food which is inflammatory, that sets off an inflammatory cascade which ends up in the brain and can damage brain cells — we have done specialized food testing on our patients for over 35 years. Also water is critical: if you become dehydrated you can’t put normal inflammation fires out. Not enough pre-midnight sleep also stresses the brain and can cause unnatural rises in glutamate which can stimulate the brain cells to death. Exercise is critical to move fluids: blood, lymph and cerebral spinal fluid. Detoxification is natural to the body as it heals each day, but we interfere with this processes if we are not living these 7 Basic Steps. Fasting is just letting go of things that don’t benefit the whole (body, mind, and spirit). Most important of all is living a life of prayer and meditating on what is revealed in that prayer.
If you need guidance in your journey here are the ways:Outpatient Comprehensive Teaching and Treatment Program-has the most benefit of teaching, treatment, live classes and personalized coaching. This program has the most contact with Dr. Nemec with 3- 6 month programs that can be turned into a regular checking and support program for life. This is our core program that has helped so many restore their health and maintain that restoration for years.
- Inpatient Comprehensive Teaching and Treatment Program-is our four-week intensive inpatient program for those that are not in driving distance, usually over 4 hour drive. This is the program that is an intensive jumpstart with treatment, teaching, live classes and coaching designed for all our international patients along with those in the US that do not live in Illinois. This program is very effective especially when combined with our new membership program support.
- Stay at Home Program-is offered to continental US patients who cannot come to Total Health Institute but still want a more personal, customized plan to restore their health. This program also includes our Learn Membership Program.
- Membership Program is our newest program offered for those that want to work on their health at a high level and want access to the teaching at Total Health Institute along with the Forums: both Dr. Nemec’s posts and other members posting. And also, to have the chance to get personalized questions answered on the conference calls which are all archived in case you miss the call. The Membership Program has 3 levels to choose from: Learn, Overcome and Master. The difference is at the Overcome and Master levels you received one on one calls with Dr. Nemec personalizing your program for your areas of focus.