Neuroprotective Agents

Did you know that the brain more is fatty than any other organ and is made up of 60% fat? The protective sheath around neurons called myelin are also largely made of fat, so eating healthy fats is a great way to provide your body with fuel to protect and repair your brain and neurons. In protecting motor neurons I believe it is also important to avoid too much dietary consumption of glutamate, which research has shown to be a toxic factor in ALS patients. I do my best to reduce my dietary intake of glutamate and believe it is making a difference.

In general I prefer natural supplements to pharmaceutical drugs, and have listed a few natural glutamate blocking supplements here. Other supplements that I have used with promise in protecting the brain and motor neurons are listed here as well, and I hope some of these suggestions are helpful to you.

Vitamin B12:

Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin that is beneficial to the brain and central nervous system. It helps to maintain the health of nerve cells (including motor neurons) and assists in forming the the myelin sheath. In ALS, the methylcobalamin version of B12 in particular may have a protective effect against glutamate-induced excitotoxicity when injected at high daily doses according to several studies. In general those with neurodegenerative diseases are often deficient in vitamin B12, and deficiency of this vitamin has been known to cause ALS-like symptoms.

Vitamin B12 exists in several forms, and my body appreciates getting multiple types. The most available of these for the body to use are methylcobalamin and hydroxy B12, but I have found that adenosyl B12 is also beneficial. I typically avoid cyanocobalamin B12 which is one of the cheapest and most available versions of the supplement because it has a cyanide molecule attached, and I don’t like the idea of my body having to detox cyanide molecules in addition to everything else.

Vitamin B12 is poorly absorbed in the body, and many people with ALS choose to receive infusions or injections to ensure that their body has an opportunity to use it. The second best option is to take vitamin B12 drops or lozenges under the tongue, which allows for greater absorption. I don’t know what’s in the flavorings that they often add to these so I avoid them and simply take B-12 capsules. It is easy to find methylcobalamin B-12 supplements, but a little bit harder to find hydroxy and adenosyl vitamin B12, so I am linking the one that I use below.

Adenosyl/Hydroxy B12

Coconut Oil:

Coconut oil is one of the richest sources of saturated fat known to man with almost 90% of fatty its acids being saturated. These aren’t your average saturated fats however, but medium chain triglycerides (MCT‘s) which not only increase healthy HDL cholesterol in the body, but also help to convert the LDL “bad” cholesterol into good cholesterols. The body is able to utilize these MCT’s more efficiently than other fatty acids by using them as a quick source of energy or by turning them into ketones, which have been shown to have therapeutic effects on various brain disorders like epilepsy and Alzheimer’s. Aside from being good for the brain, coconut oil is also an effective natural anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral. In essence, this is really good stuff!

If you are going to try coconut oil (and I highly recommend you do) it is best to get organic, virgin coconut oil, not the refined stuff. I take a tablespoon or two buy mouth a day and my parents sometimes cook with it. You can also get the pure MCT oil that provides many of coconut oil’s benefits in liquid form, and I take a tablespoon of pure MCT oil in my smoothie every day as well. I can’t recommend coconut oil enough, and many people with ALS have claimed that they have also received benefit from its use.

Lithium Orotate:

Lithium orotate is a natural form of the element lithium that seems to have protective effect against neurodegenerative diseases. A few of these effects that may be beneficial in ALS are improved neurotrophic response, autophagy, and mitochondrial function. Lithium has also been shown to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain. Several studies have been done on lithium as a treatment for ALS, but most showed no significant benefit to lithium supplementation alone. One study that I found did indicate that lithium slowed progression of ALS however.

Regular hair tests that I conduct have revealed that I am extremely lithium deficient, and my levels have been consistently lower than those of other essential elements. As a result I started supplementing with lithium, and only after found research indicating it may be neuroprotective. I have been using the smallest dose of lithium orotate (5mg) for a year or two to keep my levels and balance and my body really likes it. I recommend you do some of your own research and see if it might be right for you.

Vinpocetine:

Vinpocetine is an extract from the periwinkle plant that is known for enhancing brain blood flow. It also enhances the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the brain, and has strong anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and neuroprotective properties. Vinpocetine has been shown to protect the brain and neurons against the glutamate-induced excitotoxicity which has been shown to be a factor in ALS. Excess release of calcium in motor neurons of those with ALS also contributes damage, and vinpocetine may be able to help with this as well.

Vinpocetine is not fully absorbed, but what is absorbed peaks in the blood rapidly and easily enters the brain where it can exert its functions. It is natural and very well-tolerated even at high doses, but be careful with its use if you are taking blood thinners like warfarin or aspirin as vinpocetine may also have a blood thinning effect. The starting recommended dosage is usually 5 mg until you know how your body responds, and I have found this to be a good dose for me. I have taken the supplement on and off over the course of the last year or two.

GABA:

Gamma-aminobutyric acid, also known as GABA, is a natural neurotransmitter in the body that helps send messages between the brain and the nervous system. Glutamate and GABA are like opposites and while glutamate stimulates the nervous system, GABA calms it down while reducing anxiety and overstimulation (which has been a big issue for me.) Research shows that GABA has the ability to decrease neuronal excitability caused by highly increased levels of glutamate, and has also discovered lower levels of GABA in the motor cortexes of ALS patients than in healthy people.

There is still some debate about how well GABA is able to cross the blood brain barrier, but given the relatively quick calming effect that I notice from its use it seems to me that it does. I recommend only a few hundred milligrams at a time, as my experience is that higher dosages may actually contribute to stimulation rather than calm it. All in all I have found GABA supplementation to have a calming effect and believe it is helping to counter the damage and overstimulation that glutamate causes.

Hi! My name is Ryan Farnsworth. I’m a writer and poet, inspirational speaker, and person living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS.) I was diagnosed with this neurodegenerative disease in 2015 and since that time I have been on quite the journey.

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