Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Brain Health at the Mitochondria Level


What are Mitochondria?

Mitochondria are structures within our cells that could be referred to as the “power plants” since the mitochondria are largely responsible for production of ATP which are energy molecules.

It has been fairly well established in the scientific community that oxidative damage as we age will cause problems with mitochondrial function ultimately leading to various diseases. Perhaps the best studied disease regarding mitochondrial dysfunction would be that of Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder in the United States affecting more than one million people in this country. There is almost never a day in my busy neurological practice that I do not see at least one Parkinson patient. There are some days that I actually may five or six patients. It is well proven that once we reach midlife, brain cells start dying. By the time we are in our 70’s – 80’s we have lost a great amount of brain cells that control movement, memory, cognitive function, etc.

Dr. Flint Beal from Columbia/Cornell University in New York is probably the world’s expert in use of various nutritional agents for neurodegenerative disorders. A few months ago, an article was published in the prestigious Annals of Neurology by Dr. Beal titled, “Bioenergetic Approaches for Neuroprotection in Parkinson’s Disease.”

Dr. Beal indicates that there is substantial evidence that mitochondria are a major source of free radical production within the cell and that there are several agents available that can actually improve and modulate cellular energy metabolism by their antioxidant effects. Dr. Beal lists several nutrients that have been found in either animal or human studies to be effective in mitochondrial disorders. Among the group included are coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), ginkgo biloba, nicotinamide, riboflavin, acetyl-L-carnitine and alpha lipoic acid.

Ubiquinone, otherwise known as CoQ10, has probably been the best studied nutrient for not only neurodegenerative disorders, but also cardiovascular conditions. For example, in a study out of India published a few months ago, approximately 140 patients who had suffered myocardial infarction were randomized to receive either 120 mg a day of CoQ10 versus just B vitamins.

After one year of therapy, there was a statistically significant decrease in both non-fatal heart attacks and cardiac deaths in the group treated with co-enzyme Q10. CoQ10 is an important co-factor in the electron transport chain found within the mitochondria which is involved in the production of ATP.

Supplementation with CoQ10 appears to reduce generation of free radicals and improve ATP production. In fact, Co-Q10 was shown in a small clinical trial to slow down the progression of Parkinson’s disease in a study published late last year. The higher the dose is of the CoQ10 (400 to 1200 mg daily), the better the results.


Ginkgo biloba is a plant extract that appears to exert its neuroprotective effect by preserving mitochondrial function through its antioxidant effect. Acetyl-L carnitine is a powerful nutrient that helps to facilitate the entry and exit of essential fatty acids from the mitochondria. These fatty acids are necessary for proper cell metabolism. Acetyl-L carnitine appears to have excellent absorption within the brain. A companion nutrient to acetyl-L carnitine is that of alpha lipoic acid. It has both water and fat soluble properties and is considered to be the “universal antioxidant.” Alpha lipoic acid is involved in the Kreb cycle, again essential for production of ATP.

Supplementation with alpha lipoic acid in old rats improved ambulatory activity, lowered oxidative damage, thereby improving mitochondrial function. I had previously reported months ago about a study combining acetyl-L-carnitine and alpha lipoic acid. When these nutrients were fed to aged rats, they showed significant improvement in cognitive tasks and actually had regeneration of brain cells. There are no FDA approved drugs or surgeries that can accomplish this. In fact, medical school has historically taught doctors this is impossible. We now know differently.


Look for a supplement that contains 200 mg of natural trans form CoQ10 (pharmaceutical grade) from Japan along with 100 mg of alpha lipoic acid, 130 mg of acetyl-L-carnitine along with selenium, vitamin E and B vitamins.

These nutrients have been shown in clinical and experimental studies as noted above to improve cellular energy production potentially protecting both the heart and the brain. Just two capsules per day provide you excellent levels that clinical studies indicate will provide benefit. You may take up to six capsules per day for maximum benefits.

Also look for acetyl-L-carnitine, CoQ10 and alpha lipoic acid in combination or as single agents. You should be able to find a selection of pharmaceutical grade, natural, trans form CoQ10 from Japan and standardized ginkgo biloba at tremendous savings.

Many multivitamins contain some or all of these important nutrients in various doses. The reason most multivitamins are missing or have pitifully low levels of these most valuable nutrients is the fact they are up to 1,800 times more expensive when compared to other nutrients. Ask yourself, what is your brain (memory, movement and cognitive abilities) and cardiovascular health worth?

References & Further Reading:

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