Why is the nervous system important?
The nervous system coordinates the actions of the body, including movement, and the processing and distribution of sensory information. It detects all of the environmental changes that could impact the body and works with the messengers of the endocrine system to respond appropriately.
What is it made up of?
It is made up of the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS), within which the CNS consists of the brain and spinal cord while the PNS consists mostly of nerves, which connect the CNS to every other part of the body.
Nervous system supporting ingredients in Good Green Stuff
Vitamin A is especially important for the ocular sub-system (vision). Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable vision problems and blindness in children, along with severe impacts on immunity. (1) Additionally, vitamin A supplementation during pregnancy reduces the incidence of gestational night blindness. (3) A systematic review and analysis using a Chinese cohort have demonstrated that the incidence of actual and sub-clinical vitamin A deficiency increase with age and is more common in rural and under-developed areas. (4)
Vitamin B1 – Thiamin
Vitamin B1 deficiency results in damage to nerves, and while frank vitamin B1 deficiency is not common in developed nations, around 20% of people do not meet their B1 requirements from diet alone. (9) A sub-clinical deficiency may exist for a large proportion of the population and supplementing with thiamin (along with the other B-vitamins, magnesium, and other essential and secondary nutrients) is prudent to ensure optimal nerve health.
Vitamin B2 – Riboflavin
Riboflavin is a relatively under-recognised anti-oxidant that can help reduce oxidative stress to the body. (17) Riboflavin deficiency results in neurological abnormalities and demyelination (loss of the ‘sheath’ around nerves that aid transmission of signals). (21) Supplementation with riboflavin significantly reduces the frequency and duration of migraines. (18)(19)(19)
Vitamin B3 – Niacin
Vitamin B3 is an important co-factor for nervous system function and for energy production in the body. Niacin supplementation may help reduce migraine and tension-type headaches. (26)
Vitamin B12 plays an important role in the preservation of the myelin sheath around neurons and for the synthesis of neurotransmitters, and research has shown that vitamin B12 can significantly reduce pain and improve quality of life in patients with nerve pain that has resulted as a complication of the herpes zoster virus. (47)
While copper is typically sufficient in a standard diet, copper deficiency can present similarly to the neural effects (myeloneuropathy) seen in a B12 deficiency and this set of symptoms has been reversed with copper supplementation. (117)
Magnesium is a very important mineral for the human body. More than 300 enzymes require magnesium ions for their actions, including all enzymes using or synthesizing adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and those that use other nucleotides to synthesize DNA and RNA. The energy providing molecule of the body; ATP, is normally found as magnesium-ATP. Many people eating a modern ‘American-style’ diet do not consume enough magnesium and have low serum magnesium levels. Research from the US suggests that almost half of the population do not consume the required daily amount of magnesium from food. (122) Magnesium is known as an ‘anti-stress’ mineral and it works in concert with calcium to regulate nerve firing and reduces over-excitation of the nervous system, thus, supplementation might help to reduce anxiety. (129)
Potassium is an electrolyte and the major cation in the intracellular fluid. It plays an important role in maintaining homeostasis in conjunction with sodium and along with sodium, calcium, and magnesium, potassium is essential for normal cell and nerve function and nerve transmission.
Zinc is an essential mineral that is required for the functions of hundreds of enzymes and thousands of transcription factors in the body. It is the second most abundant trace metal in humans after iron and the only metal which appears in all enzyme classes. Because of the relative abundance of zinc and its use in so many enzyme reactions, zinc is essential to metabolism, RNA and DNA creation, cell signalling, immune function, and gene expression. Despite methodological limitations, the evidence trends towards zinc supplementation improving depression with or without pharmaceutical treatment. (160)
Lecithin contains phospholipids such as phosphatidylserine, phosphatidylcholine, and phosphatidylinositol (PI), substances that help form the cell-membrane and provide choline, a precursor of acetylcholine, a major neurotransmitter (a chemical ‘signal’ between cells). Lecithin supports the healthy development of all cells, especially cells of the brain and central nervous system and aids the production of acetylcholine. Studies have demonstrated fairly significant results from relatively small doses of lecithin (~500 mg). A complex of phosphatidic acid and phosphatidylserine from lecithin have also been shown to reduce both cortisol and survey responses to stress. (175)
Flavonoids are naturally occurring chemicals found in plants and fungi. Preliminary evidence suggests that bioflavonoids can help to improve cognition and memory, (187) as well as reduce vision loss, and improve effects of the eye disease glaucoma. (188)
Green tea is high in antioxidant catechins, such as epigallocatechin-3-gallate and epicatechin-3-gallate. (196) It is traditionally used in beverages for both relaxing and energising properties and for its overall health benefits. Green tea also has positive effects on mental function, reducing anxiety, and improving memory and attention. (213)
Korean ginseng has been used in traditional eastern medicine systems and for culinary use for over 2000 years. It is thought to be calming, stress-adaptive and anti-fatigue. Reviews of trial data show that Korean ginseng could improve neural performance. (225)
Cocoa has been cultivated and used as a food, beverage, and medicine for at least 3,000 years in the Americas, where it had been known as ‘the food of the Gods’. Cocoa is high in many plant phenols including antioxidant flavanols (including epicatechin), procyanidins, and many other flavonoids. There are many purported benefits to overall health from the traditional use of Cocoa and Cocoa-containing foods and drinks for cardiovascular, neurological, oral, endocrine, immune, respiratory and reproductive systems, and these are beginning to be shown in modern, scientific studies.(227, 228) The antioxidant, vasodilation, anticoagulant, and anti-inflammatory properties of cocoa are suggested as the reason why dark chocolate and cocoa might have mood-boosting and anti-depressant properties. (234)
Gotu kola or Asiatic pennywort is a culinary and medicinal herb that grows in wetlands of the Asian continent. The leaves are used extensively in South Asian cooking and it is also used medicinally as a general health tonic that could improve cognition. (248) Much of the current research is preliminary and has been focused on animal subjects. In these studies, Gotu kola has demonstrated antidepressant properties. (249, 250) In humans, Gotu kola might improve alertness while also reducing anger. (252)
Rhodiola rosea or golden root, is a culinary and medicinal herb that grows throughout Central Asian, North America and the mountainous regions of Europe. The leaves and shoots are often eaten raw, or cooked, and can be added to salads and other dishes. The plant has been used, especially in Scandinavia, Russia, and China as an anti-depressant and ‘adaptogenic’ herb, helping the body to deal more effectively with stress and is thought to improve physical and mental performance and resilience. Overall, studies have suggested benefits from Rhodiola for physical and mental performance and mental health (253) and Rhodiola extracts have also been suggested as a likely stress-protective treatment in psychiatry. (255)
Ashwagandha, known as Indian ginseng or winter cherry,is a medicinal herb from China, the Indian Sub-Continent and Southern Arabian Peninsula. It contains phytochemical compounds including various withanolides, alkaloids, and numerous sitoindosides. It has been traditionally used as an adaptogen that helps improve tolerance to stress, improve performance, and help immunity and resistance to infections. The active compounds in ashwagandha are suggested to have a range of mood, stress-protective and cognitive benefits. (256) In a review of placebo or treatment controlled studies on ashwagandha for anxiety, the herb resulted in significant improvements vs placebo for reductions in anxiety and stress. (257)
The herb Astragalus membranaceus has a long history of use as an adaptogen—to increase resilience and tolerance to stress.
Alpha-lipoic acid might benefit mental and neural health and ALA supplementation is associated with improvement in schizophrenia symptoms and reducing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. (272)
Resveratrol is a natural plant phenol extracted from red grapes (and also food in foods such as peanuts and cocoa). While the literature at this time is limited, preliminary reviews of studies show that resveratrol could improve parameters of memory and mood. (289)
CoQ10 shows promise as a neuroprotectant with supplementation possibly reducing the progression of Parkinson’s disease. (304) It has also been shown to reduce tumour necrosis factor-α, a key marker of inflammatory disorders, (305) and might reduce inflammation overall and other markers, c-reactive protein and interleukin-6. (306, 307)
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