Brain Health and Function

Paul L. Reller L.Ac. / Last Updated: August 03, 2017

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Detoxification of the brain tissues and cells

A number of aspects of neurotoxicity are of great concern in medicine and research today. Heavy metal toxins from the environment, organophosphate pesticides and herbicides, iron overload toxicity, acetaldehyde toxicity, excitotoxicity, and the endogenous neurotoxicity created by accumulations of protein peptides and plaques are areas of great concern in relation to diseases of the brain. Neurotoxicity from chemotherapy agents in cancer therapy, and other neurotoxic pharmaceuticals is also a growing concern. Of course, acute neurotoxicity has been the traditional concern in standard medicine, but the less dramatic chronic slowly developing neurotoxicities are also a slowly growing concern, as more and more of the population suffers from disesases and dysfunctions of the central nervous system. With increased realization of neurotoxicity and its effects has come much research concerning clearing of neurotoxicity, and herbal and nutrient medicines are the front line in this type of therapy, potentiated by the remarkable ability of acupuncture stimulation to affect brain activity and enhance cellular detoxification. The oxidative stress from the body attempting to clear neurotoxicity is considered the primary potential cause for a large percentage of chronic neurological disorders and dysfunctions, and a holistic protocol of circulating, clearing, stimulating and providing antioxidant herbs and nutrient chemicals helps the brain to avoid this disease causing oxidative stress.

Neurotoxicity may occur from dysfunction within the brain and/or from toxins entering the brain through the blood brain barrier. Sometimes both of these sources of neurotoxicity are occurring, exacerbating the problem. Different types of neurotoxicity may occur in the same individual and the effects may be accumulative in many cases. Preventing neurotoxicity is a smart move, and taking safe and effective measures early may easily resolve problems before they manifest. One example is aldehyde toxicity. Aldehydes are organic compounds that are very simple molecules, similar to a carbohydrate or a ketone, but usually with a radical attached. This radical is called the aldehyde group. The name aldehyde comes from the term dehydrogenated alcohol. Acetaldehydes are of main concern, occurring widely in nature but also produced on a large scale industrially. Acetaldehydes are produced by systemic candida infection, with consumption of alcohol, by smoking cigarettes, by breathing, eating or drinking environmental industrial toxins, and also by the pyruvate metabolism within the brain. Oxidative reactions produce acetaldehyde endogenously, and excess reactive oxygen species, or oxidative stress, may contribute to this toxicity. A deficiency of certain protein enzymes may also create acetaldehyde neurotoxicity, and part of the population may have a genetic tendency to underexpress certain of these enzymes. For instance, persons with a genetic propensity for a deficient expression of the enzyme responsible for conversion of acetaldehyde to acetic acid are shown to be at greater risk for Alzheimer's disease. Acetaldehyde was classified as a Group 1 human carcinogen in 2009 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as well. We see from this example that both endogenous dysfunctions in the brain and exogenous causes, such as environmental chemicals and candidiasis, may work together to create acetaldehyde neurotoxicity. Each of these sources may be less than dramatic, but when put together they create a toxicity that the body has difficulty clearing.

Signs and symptoms of neurotoxicity

A wide range of signs and symptoms of neurotoxicity makes diagnostic screening difficult, and most cases are unfortunately diagnosed late in a course of disease. By being aware of the potential signs and symptoms of neurotoxicity, though, the patient and physician may take preventive steps and clear this health problem before it causes serious disease and dysfunction. The signs of the more dramatic acute neutotoxicity, seen with such chemotherapy drugs as vincristine, include constipation with decreased bowel motility, peripheral neuropathies (numbness and tingling in the extremities), muscle weakness, decrease in deep tendon reflexes, hoarseness, ocular palsies (problems tracking with the eyes, or focusing), loss of tone of the urinary bladder (frequent or urgent urination), and postural hypotension (dizziness when changing from a lying to a standing posture).

More general symptoms related to neurotoxicity include anxiety, depression, short term memory loss, impaired mental or cognitive functioning, headache, behavioral problems, sexual dysfunction, impaired vision, and limb weakness or numbness. Signs of neurotoxicity are seen in both physical exam with a neurologist, and with current testing, utilizing MRI study, PET scan, and MEG (magnetoencephalogram). These tests are collecting information on brain function and conduction that are still controversial, but with each year and subsequent test data accumulated are showing clearer and clearer pictures of the effects of neurotoxicity. This type of data is now analyzed with laboratory analysis of common neurotoxins in circulation, antibody responses, cytokine measures, and even metabolites of neurotoxins and oxidative metabolism.

Illnesses studied and associated with neurotoxicity

A wide array of chronic illnesses have been scientifically linked to neurotoxicity. These illnesses may not all be caused in part by neurotoxicity, but potentially this problem may play a significant role in the development of most of these pathologies. Anxiety disorders, attention deficit disorders, chronic fatique syndromes, dementias, chemical sensitivity syndromes, hyperactivity, insomnia, memory dysfunction, multiple chemical sensitivity, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinsons disease, panic disorder, multiple sclerosis, personality disorders, depressive disorders, psychosis, schizophrenia, mania, bipolar disorders, sleep apnea, sleep disorders, tremor disorders, movement disorders, paresia and paralysis have all been scientifically linked to neurotoxicity.

Excitotoxicity

An important area of neurotoxicity that is still overlooked today is excitotoxicity, and attention to what is in your food may play a large role in reducing this cause of neurological dysfunction. Excitotoxicity is the pathological process by which nerve cells, both neurons and support glia, are damaged by chemical overstimulation. The most widely studied of these concerns chemicals related to the amino acid glutamate, and monosodium glutamate, or MSG, was the reason why researchers first focused on this type of toxicity. Specific glutamate-related excitotoxins, such as NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartic acid), a synthetic chemical amino acid (metabolite of aspartate) that does not naturally occur in our bodies, create specialized NMDA receptors that glutamate may stimulate. Some drugs act as NMDA receptor antagonists, explaining differing effects in individuals, including ketamine (anesthetic and hallucinogenic), dextromethorphan (cough suppressant now used as a recreational drug), PCP, and Amantadine (antiviral and antiParkinsonism drug now used to treat SSRI-induced sexual dysfunction). Kynurenic acid, a natural metabolite of the amino acid L-tryptophan, is endogenously produced in the brain and counters NMDA neurotoxicity, as an anti-excitotoxin.

Glutamate excitotoxicity cannot be induced by normal supplementation of L-Glutamine in the diet or with pills. Glutamate is considered the major excitatory neurotransmitter in the CNS, but the concentration of glutamate is normally well regulated. With ill health of the brain, brainstem and spinal cord, though, or with the expression of pathological glutamate receptors, and with the circulation of glutamate related excitotoxins, a high concentration of glutamate molecules may occur at the synaptic clefts of neurons, and depending on the type of molecule, may not be easily cleared. Chronic pain signals may create this unnatural accumulation of glutamate outside of the cells and synaptic clefts of neurons with overload toxicity. If the concentration remains high at the synaptic clefts and receptors, the neuron may be induced into an early apoptosis, or programmed cell death. This is seen with ischemic stroke, for example, and measures taken to decrease glutamate exicitotoxicity immediately following a stroke may prevent much injury to the brain. The opening of excess calcium channels by overstimulation of glutamate and NMDA receptors is also a pathological proces by which excitotoxicity may injure the brain cells or cause dysfunction other than induced apoptosis. NMDA receptors also may excessively activate nitric oxide synthesis, resulting in vasodilation and other inflammatory effects. Increased nitric oxide, though, acts as a feedback control to reduce NMDA excitotoxicity, explaining how inositol hexacotinate (a niacin) may reduce excitotoxicity by stimulating nitric oxide.

Chronic pain may be increased in intensity by excitotoxicity related to excessive glutamate stimulation of NMDA receptors, creating hyperalgesia, or the inexplicable sensation of pain without sufficient mechanical cause. Pain signals travel along fast and slow nerve pathways, with acute pain signals generally exciting the fast, or less myelinated, axons, and chronic pain travelling along heavily myelinated C fibers that stimulate the frontal cortex and midbrain, creating an easy association to pain with memories and emotions. One way that this chronic pain is hyperexcited is through NMDA receptors in both the spinal cord and brain. Prolonged firing of these C fibers in chronic pain syndromes causes excess release of glutamate that stimulates NMDA receptors in the spinal cord and heightens pain. Excitotoxicity may play an important role in patients with hyperalgesia, or inexplicably higher levels of pain in chronic pain syndromes. Patients with chronic pain syndromes are thus also more at risk for excitotoxicity induced by food chemicals and environmental toxins as well.

An array of food additives are called excitotoxins, such as hydrolyzed vegetable protein, aspartame, and MSG, and are also the subject of much research into neurodegenerative pathology and central nervous system (CNS) dysfunctions that may lead to neurodegenerative states. A growing body of sound research has linked these food additives to a wide array of neurological problems, including Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, Huntington's disease, ALS, learning disorders (ADD), developmental disorders, neuropsychiatric disorders, dementia, and even obesity, migraines, seizure disorders, certain endocrine disorders, and CNS problems in chronic aftereffects of Lyme's Disease. These food additives are now present in almost all processed foods. Since scientists discovered health risks associated with MSG additives in the 1970s (MSG is a natural glutamate compound that enhances neurochemical systems related to attraction and enjoyment of food), the food industry did not heed public health warnings, but instead developed a vast array of glutamate compounds, called excitotoxins, that increase our desire to buy their products. Today, MSG-like excitotoxins are disguised as "natural flavorings", soy protein extract, textured protein, yeast extract, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, and artificial sweeteners such as aspartame (read below to gain a better understanding of aspartame). These altered glutamate molecules accumulate in the brain and cause neural dysfunction over time, as the amino acid glutamate is a key basic building block of many important regulatory chemicals in our brain, as well as itself being a neurotransmitter. Since glutamate is tightly controlled in the brain, and is normally kept at very small concentrations in extracellular fluid, these altered glutamate compounds begin to overload neural firing as they accumulate. The main drug used to treat Parkinson's disorders is L-Dopa, or synthetic dopamine, which itself is a weak excitotoxin that has now been proven to actually accelerate Parkinson's neurodegeneration with chronic use. At first, L-Dopa may relieve symptoms, but in time these symptoms will worsen in an accelerated fashion. The public needs to start expressing outrage that our food industry treats food chemistry with such a cavalier attitude, and demand that the commercial food industry hire public health experts to guide what they put into our food. Surely, we could have processed foods that improve our health rather than destroy it.

Acetaldehyde toxicity

As stated above, acetaldehydes are organic chemical compounds that are both created as industrial chemicals and produced endogenously in the body. The array of sources of acetaldehydes in an individual may present a challenge to the natural clearing of acetaldehyde toxicity. The best example of acetaldehyde toxicity may be the alcohol hangover, which is caused by an acute overload of acetaldehydes. These symptoms, felt in a milder and chronic form, may represent chronic acetaldehyde toxicity. Systemic candidiasis may be a significant contibutor to this toxicity, as the fungal, or hyphal, form of candida yeast is what enters the blood stream with overgrowth and poor health of the small intestinal lining, and this organism creates acetaldehydes with its metabolic effects. Symptoms of lassitude, fatique, unclear mental processes, and cognitive declines, may vary in intensity with acetaldehyde toxicity and the variance in environmental aldehydes taken in via the food, water and air, varying habits with drinking alcohol, smoking or consumption of various foods that contribute to increased endogenous aldehyde production. Symptoms may also vary depending on the efficiency of the immune and detoxification system in the body at any one time. Long term injury from acetaldehyde toxicity is now well documented. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has stated that sufficient evidence exists for carcinogenicity of acetaldehyde in experimental animals. Studies have also found that acetaldehyde toxicity is damaging to DNA and may cause abnormal muscle development as it binds to proteins.

Clearing of acetaldehyde toxicity should be accomplished with an individualized step-by-step process. Avoidance of environmental acetaldehydes and reducing alcohol consumption and cigarette use to a minimum should be included in the protocol. Assessing for potential candidiasis should be accomplished, and if needed, correction of the gastric function and clearing and restoration of the health of the small intestine should be accomplished. After this, restoring of the microbial balance in the intestine with professional probiotic formulas should be undertaken. Short courses of clearing herbs may punctuate this regimen to insure that a health biotic colonization is achieved. Finally, clearing of acetaldehyde cofactors with herbal and nutrient medicine should be undertaken, as well as improvement in immune function and general health. Finally, restoration of the brain function and health should be accomplished with a holistic protocol to clear the damage caused by the acetaldehyde toxicity. This process may taken a few months. A knowledgeable Licensed Acupuncturist and herbalist will be able to monitor and assess the patient as the therapy progresses, and adjust the protocol according to the individual needs.

Heavy metal, or "toxic metal", neurotoxicity

The term heavy metal in chemistry refers to a group of elements the exhibit metallic properties, namely a large ionic charge, and that have some degree of density or atomic weight. Some so-called heavy metals are beneficial to humans, such as iron, copper, zinc, cobalt, molybdenum and manganese, but are highly regulated in the body and toxic with excess accumulation. Other heavy metals have no known benefit and often cause serious problems with accumulation, such as mercury, lead, plutonium, cadmium, arsenic, etc. We are most concerned about these that can be labeled toxic metals. Neurotoxic chemicals of most concern are mercury, lead, manganese and arsenic. An enormous amount of toxic heavy metal pollution in the form of carbon compounds that our bodies easily assimilate is found in the environment in the form of airborne pollution from dirty coal fired power plants, smelters, and other industries that burn fossil fuels or melt metals. Heavy metals, even toxic ones, are normally found in the environment, though, and enter our bodies, where we have evolved processed to eliminate them safely. Problems arise when these toxic metals occur in unnatural concentrations in the environment in carbon-based, or organic molecules, and enter the air we breath, the water we drink, and the plants and animals that we eat. For those of us that lack the ability to clear toxic metals efficiently, or that are aging and accumulate uncleared toxic metals, neurological disease and dysfunction is one the greatest concerns.

Standard medicine includes mercury, lead, manganese, aluminum, iron, cadmium and beryllium as sources of "heavy metal poisoning". Mercury and lead are by far the most common culprits, though, concerning known causes of neurological dysfunction and disease. Numerous reports by the EPA and now the President's Cancer Council outline the enormous health costs of these two chemicals, and you may refer to a separate article on this website for more complete information and documentation on this subject. These metal molecules in their inert forms are not harmful and easily excreted from the body, but in their organic forms, joined with carbon based molecules, are assimilated into our system and carried to the central nervous system. These are the toxic metal molecules that we have to decrease in the environment and remove from our bodies.

Chelation and excretion are the means that our bodies use to naturally clear heavy metal toxic accumulation from the body. Chelation is the formation of bonds between organic compounds and single central metal atoms. Chelating charged metal ions is the easiest type of chelation, as these charge ions attract more easily. The best chelating agents are those with a high affinity for toxic metal ions. Many biochemicals have the potential to dissolve positively charged metal cations, and proteins, polysaccharides and polynucleic acids are excellent ligands for many metal ion, forming complex organic molecules that carry these metal atoms. In plants, histidine, malate and phytochelatin are typical chelators of metals. Tetracycline antibiotics are chelators of positively charged calcium and magnesium, unfortunately, which explains many of their side effects. In chelation therapy, calcium-sodium EDTA and DMSA are the only ones approved in the U.S. for removal of lead. Today, in other countries, a number of chelating agents are approved, and chelation clinics are becoming more popular. Chelation also removes Vitamins C and E, and it is recommended that natural forms of these nutrients be taken along the chelating formulas.

The most common chelating medicinals in use today are EDTA, chlorella, and alpha-lipoic acid, all of which are very safe, compared to harsher chelating chemicals that have significant side effects and are restricted to monitored use, but are more effective. EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid) was discovered and widely used after World War II when it was revealed how many of our military workers had been seriously contaminated with lead poisoning, and EDTA was found to be very effective in chelating lead. EDTA exists in a number of usable forms, with the deprotonated 4 negative form works best in very basic, or high pH, and the protonated H6 2+ form works best in acidic conditions. EDTA is also fairly effective at chelating mercury, and in medicinal use is combined with various inert beneficial metals to increase its effectiveness. It is also thought to reduce atheroscelosis by acting as an antioxidant to clear arterial membrane epithelium, and also acts as an anticoagulant to reduce thrombi. Currently, a major clinical study is being conducted to assess the efficacy on treating coronary arteries, and is believed to be close to FDA approval. In the laboratory, EDTA is used to scavenge metal ions and deactivate metal-dependent enzymes, and to separate metal ions in laboratory analysis. EDTA is also useful as a calcium binding agent and decalcifier in laboratory work, and an inhibitor of metallopeptidases, all of which make EDTA a potentially potent medicinal protocol, if we could get patients to use it.

Oral ChelatoRx is a prescribed dietary supplement that combines calcium disodium EDTA with EDTA conjugated with calcium and sodium, magnesium, potassium, aged garlic, chlorella, malic acid, gugulipid and serrapeptase enzyme, making this a safe and effective product in therapy. The only drawback is that 7 large pills need to be taken on an empty stomach twice per day. The advantages to completing this type of therapy are considerable, though, if there is suspicion that heavy metal toxicity is a potential problem. Malic acid is included to chelate aluminum, and must be accompanied by magnesium to be effective for this purpose. Gugulipid, a chemical in myrrh, and serrapeptase, a potent proteolytic enzyme, will help to clear tissues of lipid and peptide accumulation so that the chelators may be more effective.

Some chelating ability has been found with nutrient medicinals as well. R-lipoic acid, N-acetyl cysteine, and methylselenocysteine are three that are beneficial in treatment of brain function and health, and may serve as mild chelating agents as well. The herbal chemical baicalein has been shown to be a strong iron chelator, and is found in the Chinese herb Scutellaria baicalensis (Huang qin). Other Chinese herbs are purported to have chelating effects, and research is ongoing to confirm this. Milk thistle, dried barleygrass powder, apple pectin, spirulina, CoQ10-H2, kelp, kombu seaweed, zinc monomethionine, and coral calcium formulas are also found to have chelating effects. Activated charcoal is a supplement that is found to effectively chelate heavy metal toxins from the intestinal tract and liver.

What environmental toxins are we clearing?

Accumulations of environmental chemicals from cleaning products, flame retardants, plastics etc., air and water pollutants, and chemicals from the food are the major toxins in our bodies. Of special importance is the accumulations in our tissues, especially in the organ tissues and central nervous system, of small particle heavy metals, such as lead and mercury, that enter our bodies from the air or via the food chain and water supply. We must thank the Obama administration in 2010 for finally enacting effective EPA regulations that curtail the enormous tonnage of airborne lead and mercury toxins in the major industries creating this toxicity, coal-fired power plants, smelters, chloralkili producers, and concrete manufacture. Other heavy metal toxicities are also of concern, not the least of which is iron accumulation. This issue is more thoroughly addressed in my article on lead and mercury on this website. In some individuals, the toxins that are most damaging are composed of the chemicals resulting from breakdown of various pharmaceutical drugs. This is dependent on the types of medications and the number of medications being broken down, or catabolized, in the body. Examples of this toxicity are cited below in additional information links. 

The amount of toxic pesticides, chemical fertilizing agents, and other farm chemicals is growing as corporations take over more and more of our nation's farms and destroy more and more of the natural barriers to erosion and runoff into our water supply. As the rate of topsoil depletion accelerates, the need for more chemicals to maintain high crop yields increases. This toxicity also empties into our oceans and accumulates in our seafood. Mining and drilling, especially as we go deeper into the earth, with natural gas fracturing methods, and shale oil drilling, also creates massive amounts of water toxicity due to the need to use water to create pressure to break up rock and force oil and gas to the surface. Much of this "fracking" wastewater contains radioactive and heavy metal contaminants from deep in the earth, and this is dumped into our water supply. Natural toxins are also created by the body's metabolism, the most damaging and ubiquitous being the oxidant free radicals, and excesses of protein fragments, but normal healthy bodily function and diet are effective in eliminating natural toxic accumulations, unless the body is overly stressed by ill health or obesity. In addition, acetaldehyde toxicity is an area of focus in recent years, and is related to alcoholism and chronic candidiasis as well as environmental aldehydes.

A wide variety of chemical pollutants are studied in relation to brain toxicity and dysfunction, though. One concern is pesticides. In 2012, two separate teams of researchers, one British and one French, released data linking neonicotinoid pesticides, now very common, to neurological dysfunction that has caused a dramatic drop in the popultion of pollenating bees. An article in the New York Times Science section of March 30, 2012, entitled 2 Studies Point to Pesticides as a Culprit in Bees" Decline, outlines study at the University of Stirling, in Scotland, and the National Institute for Agricultural Research, in France, which conclude that these common pesticides, especially oganophosphates, produced dysfunction in the bees's central nervous system that induced significant inability to find their hives. The World Health Organization lists these pesticides as a class 2 or 3 toxin, and states that they block a specific neural pathway, related to the postsynaptic nicotinic acetylcholine receptor. Those with some knowledge of Alzheimer's disease will note that the acetylcholine metabolism is central to the disease, and that acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, which increase the bioavailability of acetylcholine, are widely used to treat the disease. Studies have indicated that these neonicitinoid pesticides, now the most widely used pesticides worldwide, induce adverse effects on the developing brain (Kimura-Kuroda et al 2012). This class of chemicals is exempt from environmental review, having passed registration after 1984. Finally, in 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency opened a review docket for these chemical pesticides, but delayed the review process to 2012, due to industry complaints over a "level playing field".

Studies have shown that common environmental toxins, or pollutant chemicals, accumulate in the body tissues. Even a healthy person with a good diet, in an urban area, accumulates a large amount of toxic chemicals in the tissues over time. The older we are, the more difficult this detox becomes. Since true detox of our tissues is a complicated process, repeated, or habitual, detoxification help is the only real way to clear the body of toxins. Promotion of liver and intestinal health, as well as the avoidance of as many chemicals as possible is also essential, and should become a lifelong process. This involves a diet of organic foods, unpolluted water, and breathing of unpolluted air whenever possible, as well as avoidance of household chemicals such as chemical cleaning products. When this entire regimen is adopted, maximum detox is achieved. Since elimination by the GI tract is one way of detoxifying, fasting may also be a valuable aid, if you can tolerate fasting. What is most important, once again, is a healthy functioning GI and liver system. You may want to correct your digestive problems, and improve liver health with a course of treatment before adopting a detox regimen. This will insure better results. Herbal therapies may also provide stronger intestinal detoxification. Herbs with a high content of tannic acids can precipitate toxic substances in the intestinal lumen, converting them to insoluble substances, so that a high fiber diet or fast can eliminate them. Wu bei zi is an herb used in China for this purpose. Safe and effective herbal and nutrient chelating formulas may be utilized under guidance periodically. Acupuncture works in a symbiotic fashion to help the body detoxify and eliminate more efficiently.

The subject of detoxification is not as simple as many advertisers would lead you to believe. A simple change in diet with a mild herbal formula that aids the intestinal tract helps, but is only mildly effective. Once again, the medical advice presented on medical websites such as this one is more complicated than we would wish for, but provide you with a more complete picture. The idea that the human physiology is simple, and correcting problems with our health can be achieved with the magic pill or simple routine, is a fairy tale, though, that we all buy into in a consumer society. It's easier to advertise simple solutions, and so this is what we repeatedly hear. Reality is more complicated, but can be simplified by putting the process into the hands of a professional and following the professional advice.

How our bodies naturally detoxify

Glutathione S transferase is a family of enzymes of the liver that is used by cells to detoxify and clear toxins and drugs from the body. The P450 and glucuronosyl transferase are emphasized in drug clearing metabolism, but the glutathione enzyme activity has a greater relationship to clearing toxins and cancer causing compounds. Sandalwood essential oil (most safely taken as alcohol extract or double boil water extraction), St. John's Wort and other herbs are found to be potent in increasing this enzymatic activity, as well as the combination of nutrient supplements already mentioned. St. John's Wort (Di er cao), contains a high level of quercetin and quercitrin as well, potent antioxidants, as do many Chinese herbs used to clear and protect the liver. Milk thistle has been well studied and found to benefit liver function and speed enzymatic detox, as have schisandra berries (wu wei zi), turmeric (jiang huang), and alpha lipoic acid (R-lipoic acid is the more active form). Schisandra chinensis berries have been proven to significantly increase the liver glutathione level and glutathione reductase enzyme activity. A percentage of the population lacks the 2D6 gene and has difficulty in liver detox metabolism, and these people are especially in need of herbal and nutrient aids. Studies also confirm that a percentage of the population lacks other significant genetic coding for liver detoxifying enzymes, P450, glutathione S-transferase, and N-acetyl transferase, increasing their risk for leukemia and stomach cancers significantly. The benefits of these detoxifying regimens in preventative medicine appear great in recent scientific study (see citations below).

Formulas in TCM utilize a number of herbs to work synergistically to improve liver function. I utilize such formulas as Ecliptex, Shu Gan +, Adv Chole Clear, and others, which are prescribed based on the individual's overall health diagnosis. The NIH is currently entering phase three of clinical trials of the simplest liver formula, Xiao Chai Hu Tang, called Sho-Saiko-to in the Japanese clinical trials of liver clearance of Hepatitis C. To check out the study parameters presented by the NIH, click here: http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT00633230.

Activated charcoal is very effective to attract toxins from the intestinal tract. Flax, fennel and fenugreek seeds have long been used in traditional medicine to cleanse the intestinal tract. The best way is to mix the seeds, take a heaping tablespoon each day, soak in warm water, and then chew thoroughly and swallow. This tastes weird because of the mucilage, but will be very effective if taken for a week or so daily.

Some combinations of herbs and nutrient medicines provide intelligent formulas to achieve detoxificating goals. Acetaldehyde toxicity is common in the population, via chronic candidiasis, air pollution, excess alcohol consumption, etc. and the product AL Cofactors by Vitamin Research includes key nutrients to help the body clear this toxicity and promote increased glutathione metabolism (N-acetyl cysteine, calcium pantothenate, betaine, R-lipoic acid, inositol hexacotinate, P5P, Vitamin B1, B2, zinc monomethionine). Such products as this provide an economical treatment product to help achieve goals. It must be noted, though, that taking even such a well formulated product does not achieve complete detoxification and clearance, and each patient is an individual, with different detox needs. This is why a professional that is knowledgeable is able to help you achieve these goals in an objective manner that is thorough and comprehensive.

To reiterate, detoxification and removal of stored heavy metals (chelation) are processes that each healthy body engages in daily. The patient may want to increase the rate of detoxification and chelation, and a variety of strategies, ranging from very gentle, to very strong, are available. Very potent chelation and detoxification needs to be supervised in a clinic, while gentle protocols can be utilized at home, or with therapy from a professional herbalist and Complementary Medicine physician utilizing nutrient medicine. Products on the grocery or drugstore shelf may not be dependable, or may be too gentle. A TCM physician with knowledge of this therapy may utilize three strategies. One, herbs and supplements that are proven to aid the liver in its natural detoxification processes, and the glutathione system in its cellular detox can be prescribed; two, intestinal clearing may be aided by herbal formulas, activated charcoal, and various specific herbs and nutrients, individually prescribed on a case-by-case protocol; and three, chelation of heavy metal and toxin accumulation in tissues can be stimulated with a variety of herbal and nutrient products. You may read more about chelation of heavy metals, and heavy metal environmental toxins on another article on this website, and you may read more about the glutathione metabolism as well.

Addiction and Brain Function

Research into the mechanisms of addiction have revealed much about the brain. The concept of addiction has been a useful crutch for society for some time, explaining why humans engage in unhealthy activities even when they ruin their life and health. We blame the addictive substances in most cases, creating a supposed war on drugs, blaming cigarettes for every health problem imaginable, creating Prohibition of alcohol, and putting the blame for obesity on unhealthy foods. There are ways to increase desire and trigger the brain to have an increased appetite for chemicals, and this realm of food chemistry is now proven to be extensive, more so than the average consumer would like to imagine. There are also ways to trigger patterns of behavior, and the industries of advertising, politics, and even religion have invested much energy into the science of triggering behavioral responses. The individual should know, though, that brain function and response can be consciously controlled and improved, and what may seem like a hopeless addiction and uncontrolled behavior and thought pattern can be corrected with a holistic approach, improving brain health and function, and exerting patterns of conscious behavioral and cognitive actions and thoughts that are proven to benefit brain function and health. All types of addiction and compulsive behavior may be stopped with a comprehensive strategy involving improvement of brain health and function, exertion of real cognitive and behavioral changes, and willpower.

To understand the subject of addiction, we must ask, What is it? Addiction is defined as a persistent and compulsive dependence on a behavior or substance. It has also been defined as an habitual psychological and physiological dependence on a substance or practice that is beyond voluntary control. Judging whether these criteria are met is the problem. Is the addiction beyond voluntary control, and is there an actual physiological aspect to the addiction? Addiction has become one of the most costly public health problems in the United States in regards to substance abuse, with estimates of economic costs exceeding $414 billion per year, and health care costs related to illegal and legal drug addiction exceeding $114 billion per year. This enormous sum does not even include the cost to the economy, and the healthcare costs related to food addictions. The most common addictive substances, alcohol, tobacco, and narcotics are consumed by a majority or near majority of the population by the teenage years, and a Harvard study found that an estimated 15.4 million Americans suffered from a gambling addiction, with more than one-half of these individuals in their teens. Our programs to discourage use of addictive substances, and addictive behaviors, has not worked. Much study has been, and is being, conducted to better understand the actual physiological and psychological mechanisms involved in this behavior and lack of cognitive control.

Persistence in addictive behavior is shown to alter brain function, and even structure, over a long period of time, and these changes do not resolve easily once the addictive behavior and cognitive habits cease. Blaming the addictions on the substances that people are addicted to has been an oversimplification, and often results in the individual addict not taking responsibility to change their behavioral and cognitive patterns, and especially, not to make an effort to repair and improve brain function and physiology. The research into the specific mechanisms and cells or tissues responsible for addiction have, of course, led to complicated understanding, not a simple explanation. Modern medicine continues to search for a simple explanation in order to justify a specific allopathic drug to reverse addiction. The actual needs obviously involve a more complex and holistic approach. Patients may take control of their health problem by understanding the physiology of addiction and taking both physical steps, as well as cognitive and behavioral modifications.

One area of focus is the anterior cingulate cortex of the frontal lobe of the brain. The frontal lobe of the brain encompasses about a third of the brain cerebrum, the most superior and anterior of the regions of the central nervous system, and is often referred to as the forebrain, perhaps the last section of the central nervous system to develop in evolution. The cerebrum is divided into right and left cerebral hemispheres, and largely controls all voluntary, or conscious, actions in the body. The cerebrum is composed of the cerebral cortex, the basal ganglia (nuclei), and the limbic system (seat of emotion and emotionally linked memory). Cognitive and volitive systems of the cerebrum project neural fibers to the thalamus and midbrain. These neural networks facilitate complex behaviors, such as social interactions, thought, judgement, learning, working memory, and speech, or language. Much of our sensory information is processed in the cerebrum. Short-term, or working, memory involves interaction between various areas of the cortex, especially the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and the hippocampus. Destruction of the hippocampus is associate with a loss of ability to form new memories.

The frontal lobe of the cerebrum contains most of the highly dopamine-sensitive neurons in the cerebral cortex. The dopamine system is associated with reward, motivation, planning, attention, and short-term memory tasks. The so-called executive functions of the frontal lobes involve the ability to recognize future consequences resulting from current actions, to choose between good and bad, or to decide between better and best, worse and worst, to override and suppress unacceptable social responses, and to determine similarities and differences between objects, actions and events. The frontal lobes also are associated with long-term memories that are more emotionally based, and allows us to judge emotions and modify them to adapt to social function. The medical procedure called a frontal lobotomy was used to treat psychiatric illness, and damaging the pathways between the frontal lobe and the limbic system reduced emotional distress and bad behavior, but also blunted the patient's emotions, volition (ability to make a conscious decision or choice), and personality.

The frontal lobe of the cerebrum is divided into sections called gyri, denoting the areas divided by tissue divisions, or sulci (folds). The cingulate cortex is a part of the brain that is more medial, or under the outer cerebral lobes, and surrounds the corpus callosum and midbrain control centers, such as the thalamus, hypothalamus, and neocortex. This cingular cortex is usually considered part of the limbic system, or emotional seat, of the brain. The corpus callosum (literally the "tough body") connects the right and left cerebral hemispheres to coordinate complex cognitive and behavior actions. The focus on the anterior cingulate cortex of the frontal lobe in addiction reveals some interesting aspects of addiction and brain function. Some of the problems acquired in addiction may thus be corrected with conscious control, change of cognitive and behavioral habits, and use of the right therapeutic treatments, such as herbal and nutrient chemicals, and acupuncture.

The two hemispheres of the brain have been found to be specialized to process information differently, and the coordination of these right and left brain processes creates a sense of judgement by which one bases behavior and identity. Your left brain organizes data in a linear fashion, and forms broad perceptions of the past and future on which to base behavior, and judge one's actions. Preconceived ideas of what is going on may originate in the left brain. Your right brain, on the other hand, is more about the present moment, seeing one's actions and perceiving the situations as a consequence of what is happening in the present. When one side of the brain is dominant over the other, cognitive and behavioral changes occur. For instance, with addiction, the person may look at their present actions and believe that they are preordained to act in a habitual compulsive manner because they are hopelessly addicted. This would be a left brain dominance. The right brain may look at the choices in the present and see that engaging in the addictive behavior is not what they want, and so not do it. The habits of the addiction, and other unhealthy aspects of their brain function, such as the imbalances caused by depression and anxiety, may tilt the function of the brain more to a left side dominance. The feelings that the present choices are determined are then strong.

Activities that generate a large production of dopamine, creating a false sense of reward, motivation and focus, such as the taking of amphetamines, or addictive sexual practices, may also alter the anterior cingulate cortex of the frontal lobe. When this habitual excess of dopamine is generated, the dopamine receptor expression is altered on the neurons, and more dopamine is needed to stimulate the effects of dopamine. To correct these aspects of the addiction, gradual changes in conscious cognitive processes, as well as behaviors, and consumption, are needed to change the way that this area of the brain works. Utilizing aids to healthy brain function may greatly help this process, which obviously needs to be a thoughtful proactive process to achieve success. Instant reward is probably not realistic, but gradual reeducation of the way the brain works, along with healthy stimulation and repair of damage, is the way to truly overcome addiction and correct the function and the tissues of the brain.

While society sees addicts as individuals that want to get high more than they want to be productive and healthy, the truth is that most people with an addiction are not submitting to an unhealthy compulsive behavior to get high, but just to feel normal. The use of alcohol and drugs to stimulate a rush of dopamine, the use of sex or risk taking to stimulate a rush of dopamine or adrenaline, the eating of sugars, salt or other foods to relieve sensations of stress and fatigue, the use prescription drugs to decrease pain or anxiety, are all means that many people use to maintain a sense of normal daily function. Often, these activities that are habitual change the function and event the tissues in the brain. Understanding the mechanisms of addiction and taking a proactive and individualized approach to correcting them, along with healthy therapeutic protocols to restore healths brain function and tissues, creates a better outcome.