The Role of Probiotics and Other Nutrients in Neurodegenerative
Letter for Doctors and Patients Aug/Sept
When I saw the theme for this
edition, I was some what taken aback. The reason is that this
is rather a topic close to my
heart as a good friend what just diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy.
In fact, I'm having dinner with him later tonight to discuss
various natural options he has available.
In my recent book, The
Probiotic Solution (Dragon Door Publications)1, I discuss
the role that probiotics can play in helping to restore
eukaryotic (Human) cellular function. I will come back to that
in a minute but let's first discuss what is 'peripheral
neuropathy. First, Neuropathy is defined classically as "an
abnormal and usually degenerative state of the nervous system
or nerves; also: a systemic condition that stems from a neuropathy." The
later definition is annoying but is commonly found in dictionaries.
I think it is annoying because the use the same word to define
what the word is. That has never had sense to me, personally.
With neuropathy define; we need
to explore what peripheral is. The number one definition is
equally annoying as it is, "1:
of, relating to, involving, or forming a periphery or surface
part." If we go and find what 'periphery' means
we find the definition of, "the external boundary or surface
of a body." Now that makes sense!
So what do we have here? Peripheral
neuropathy is, to boil it down, a degeneration of neurons in
distal (far from the center)
places of the body. In my friend's case, it is his legs.
This is common with this diagnosis.
If that is peripheral, what is the center? That becomes a bit
more complicated. Typically, it is considered to be the brain
and spinal cord, for neurons. This is where the bulk is thought
to be. However, there is certainly more to this.
We are now coming to understand
that the 'gut' (gastrointestinal
tract) is loaded with enough neurons as to be dubbed, 'The
Second Brain." So what? Why is that important?
We now know that every single
neurotransmitter in the 'brain' is
also produced in the human gut. The cool thing about nature,
and evolution, is it wastes nothing. I was at a DAN! Think-tank
a couple of years ago and heard of Dr. Michael Gershin's
book, The Second Brain (Harper
Collins, New York, 1998). This fascinated me, because I have
a strong background in gut-based immune competence
of the body. He basically lays out the case that the gut and
the Brain are intimately connected, though we are not sure how.
There are many things that are
cytotoxic to cells. For instance, we know that Prostaglandins
(of which there are numerous ones)
are such compounds. These are formed by the degradation of arachidonic
acid by cyclo-oxygenases –1 and –2 (cox1 and cox2,
respectively). There has been much ado about how bad inhibiting
cox1 on enzyme is on mucosal membranes and its possible contribution
to ulcers and cancer. This paper is not really about but rather
to let you know that those active enzymes, both of them, are
in part responsible for the degradation of cells.
What all can be done and what role can probiotics play in this?
All nerve cells have a cell membrane. That membrane is composed
of phospholipids, which are fat molecules with phosphates attached
to them. All cells have phospholipids, especially the bilayer
of human cells. If a cell does not have them, or enough of the,
then the integrity of the cellular membrane will be weakened.
Eventually, if this goes on for protracted periods, the cell
will die. The translation, if we are talking about neurons, is
that the neuropathy will result.
The use of probiotics has several
important implications in treating and even preventing peripheral
neuropathy. For instance,
taking phosphatidyl serine (PS) can restore the weakened cell
membrane that's thought to lead to disease. PS can be produced
in the body and also introduced by ingesting things such as eggs
and other supplements. Doing so will ensure that every living
thing in the body-the bacteria as well as the human cells- will
contain membranes composed mainly of phospholipids, interspersed
with sundry protein and glycoproteins.
Taking PS has both prophylactic
(that is, preventive) and therapeutic purposes. Any cell that's starting along the road toward
death (and remember, all cells eventually die) will be much more
stable and much happier if you give it a supply of PS. With this
boost, the cell will be better ale to fend off the ill effects
of accumulated toxins. Remember the prostaglandins? Hopefully,
a picture is starting to form for you. Taking something like
Alzheimer's Disease as an example, it has been shown that
at least 300 mgs / day of PS will have significant results.
Where do the probiotics come in? If one starts ingesting a bunch
of bacteria (in the multiple billions / gram), many of them will
die. This is actually good because the cell wall components of
these bacteria, most of which are phospholipids, will become
available for absorption by the body.
Can the degenerative process
be stopped or at least slowed? Yes! at least to some degree.
Again, supplementing with PS is
a good idea. Also, we can use high-dose probiotics (my favorite
for a number of situations). As a brief aside, there may be other
natural ingredients that can slow the body's production
of cytotoxic compounds. For instance, overproduction of Nitric
oxide (NO) has been implicated in various pathological processes,
including septic shock, tissue damage after inflammation, and
rheumatoid arthritis.2 Inhibitors of NO synthase, natural ones,
would be very interesting to look at as possible targets for
reduction of inhibition of the inflammatory cascade, which in
my humble opinion, is at the root of most of our degenerative
Along those same lines, knocking out cox1 and cox2 is not a
bad idea either. I think it is important to stress that while
a full-blown assault on these enzymes is not a great idea, low
level, chronic inhibition may prove fruitful. In fact, recently
it was shown that a modified PG can actually inhibit the formation
of prostaglandins in the first place. That is exciting!3
Mitochondrial dysfunction is
also thought to be at play here. The mitochondria are the powerhouses
of the cell, supplying it
with energy. When the mitochondria don't function properly,
there's an increase in the accumulation of free radicals
and also influence in the calcium (a very important second messenger
that affects DNA expression) levels. All of this is significant
in terms of neurodegradation. Some common supplements that can
assist with this are things that quench the reactive oxygen species
(ROS) and other free radicals. My favorites are enzyme CoQ10
and green tea. The inflammatory response is so good at its job
that it is actually capable of over doing it and tearing apart/destroying
healthy cells. This can largely be prevented by the constant
consumption of large amounts of antioxidants. Personally, I must
drink a gallon or two of green tea a day. I am that convinced
of how important it is to a long and healthy life.
A free radical is a molecule
that has an uneven number of electrons; as such, it has an
open (or half) bond that is highly reactive.
The production of free radicals is a normal part of the body's
living process; in fact, they are produced all the time. But
usually, mechanisms are in place to control free radicals and
eliminate them once produced. When free radicals are allowed
to accumulate, they go after healthy cells and cellular components.
They are like little lightning, zapping other cells and producing
even more free radicals.
Having too much calcium in the body is not always a good thing,
despite what the large pharmaceutical companies (one in particular)
are claiming on TV ads. Why? Calcium is intimately involved in
a process called signal transduction. Basically, this involves
taking a signal from out side a cell to inside and affecting
the DNA. When this happens to nerve cells, it affects the voltage
gradient required for the passage of electrical impulses. Calcium
is a charged molecule, and changing the amount of calcium inside
or outside a cell can change the level of current the cell is
Probiotics can help stabilize
the level of calcium. If a large amount of calcium is ingested,
for instance, then the probiotics
will be able to consume much of it. And what the probiotics don't
consume, they will push out of the body along with the normal
waste material. Also, calcium is usually bound, so if there is
too little, the probiotics will help liberate the calcium front
a bound state.
Isoflavones (naturally occurring,
weakly estrogenic compounds that are derived from soy, usually)
have been shown to be important
for neurodegenerative diseases, in a sort of roundabout way.
There is a protein called tau that's regulated by estrogen
and estrogen-like compounds, such as isoflavones found in plants
and, in particular, in soy. There are two types of isoflavones' those
with and without a sugar (glycone and aglycone, respectively).
Isoflavones are big and bulky when the sugar is attached; in
order for them to be absorbed, the sugar has to be removed. This
is done by and enzyme called glycosidase (literally "sugar
cleaver"), which cuts the sugar from the isoflavone molecule
and allows for absorption. This must happen before the body can
use the isoflavone.
Products such as Fermasoy have
been fermented with probiotics to create a protein powder that's
high in aglycone isoflavone. Consuming these products not only
provides high-quality protein
but also a relatively high level of the absorbable isoflavone.
Not all probiotics can create the sugarless isoflavones at the
same level though. Certain ones have been tested and selected
for their various abilities. The MAKTech process of strain validation
and certification is designed to optimize just this sort of parameter.
Given the 'baby boom' generation is fast approaching
thee age which neurodegeneration is going to start appear more
and more often, it's vital that we lean more about this
process. Doing so is of particular importance when we consider
that many of the people who run our governments are at or near
this age. Personally, that is somewhat frightening.
Until a cure for conditions such as peripheral neuropathy is
found, taking probiotics may serve well as a valuable tool in
at least slowing the progression of the disease. And in terms
of improving the quality of life for people with neurodegenerative
diseases, as well as those around the, this would have an enormous
and far-reaching impact.
1. Brudnak, Mark A. The
Probiotic Solution Dragon Door Publications, MN.
2. Di Giacomo C, Sorrenti V, Salerno L, Cardile V, Guerrera
F, Siracusa MA, Avitabile M, Vanella A. Related Articles, Links
Abstract Novel inhibitors of neuronal nitric oxide synthase.
Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2003 May;228(5):486-90.
3. Zhuang H, Pin S, Li X, Dore S. Related Articles, Links Abstract
Regulation of heme oxygenase expression by cyclopentenone prostaglandins.
Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2003 May;228(5):499-505.
Please feel free to contact
Mark A. Brudnak PhD, ND
957 Lake Shore Road
Grafton, WI 53024
(Wisconsin is in the Central