Brain Cells and Aging

Within the majority of the brain the type of brain cells that send nerve signals generally do not get replaced, however they also generally don’t lose function. Dementia – loss of memory and other cognitive skills – is not a normal part of healthy aging. Age related forgetfulness has to do with loss of the connections between brain cells but the brain cells remain functional – so continuing to take part in learning and social activities may help prevent dementia and forgetfulness by helping to maintain current connections between brain cells and add new connections formed during learning or socializing. 

And yet Alzheimer’s dementia now “afflicts 5% to 10% of the U.S. population over the age of 65 and as much as 45% of the population over 85.” (page 694, Neuroscience, 6th. edition, 1)

Research for medications for Alzheimer’s treatment have focused on reducing the levels of certain types of protein that collect in the damaged areas of the brain of a patient with the condition, however even if successful at reducing the amount of the protein the medications have not been found very helpful for restoring the patient’s cognitive health. (previous post) People with normal brain function also can have excess of the protein and it is also found in the brains of people with autism disorder – confusing, yes. Adequate quality sleep may help the brain waste removal system keep the levels of excess protein from building up to damaging amounts. (previous post on sleep and the glymphatic system)

Things that may increase risk include chronic stress and the excess cortisol and inflammatory oxidative stress chemicals production. Moderate exercise may help reduce stress and promote detoxification of inflammatory chemicals. Staying socially and mentally active also may be protective of brain function. Prevention is the best medicine for conditions that cause irreversible degenerative changes such as the damage in Alzheimer’s Disease. Learning about new foods and recipes and then making healthy meals to share with others can be a way to combine physical and mental activity and gain from nutrients that help detoxify inflammatory oxidative stress chemicals. (previous post, Foods for beneficial T-cells) – (Nrf2 promoting foods)

T cells are a type of blood cell with immune system functions. Beneficial T cells can help clear excess protein found in Alzheimer’s (2) while other types can increase inflammation and the types can transform based on the level of oxidative stress chemicals that are present so having antioxidants and other phytonutrients in daily meals can help signal the T-cells to take the beneficial forms instead of the inflammatory forms. (The non euphoria producing endogenous cannabinoid 2-AG (acts at the CB2 receptor, somewhat similar to CBD) may also help signal T cells towards the less inflammatory type, and reduce migration of them. page 96)

Nrf2 is a gene and protein that help promote the more beneficial types of T cells and help the immune system in other ways and also promote our own production of antioxidants for reducing the oxidative stress chemicals that are a natural waste product left from energy metabolism – when blood sugar is turned into a usable form of energy.

The long story is complicated, the short story remains,

  • include moderate exercise most days of the week,
  • have adequate sleep, 6-8 hours/night, ideally with complete darkness, blackout curtains and cover the light from an electric bedside alarm clock (put it in a nearby drawer or cover it with something),
  • get some natural sunshine or full spectrum light during the day if possible (may help with vitamin D, bioactive sulfate, and circadian rhythm metabolism within the body which includes production of melatonin,
  • stay mentally and socially active,
  • reduce stress when possible and/or practice relaxation techniques,
  • drink adequate water and regularly eat a good variety of colorful fresh produce, whole grains, nuts, beans, seeds, and include omega 3 fatty acid sources on a daily or weekly basis.
  • Clean air quality is also important. Formaldehyde (from secondhand smoke or even excessive use of decorative candles), and other air pollutants (released by plastics or new carpeting/flooring for example) can collect in poorly ventilated buildings. See this post for more information about formaldehyde sources and ways to reduce it: Formaldehyde: Health Risks, and Environmental and Dietary Sources.(
  • Adequate water, not getting dehydrated regularly, is important enough to repeat because dehydration allows toxins within the body, including formaldehyde, to collect, instead of being removed by the glymphatic/lymphatic and vascular system, and to then be excreted by the kidneys. Brain Formaldehyde is Related to Water Intake Behavior, Ting Li, et al, 2016, (PubMed) A discussion of how much water is typically needed for health each day, and how much protein to eat for basic needs without being too much for long term kidney health, is available in a previous post: Make Every Day Kidney Appreciation Day. (

More of the long story – the Cannabinoid Receptor Type 2 is also activated by a phytonutrient called beta-caryophyllene (BCP) which is found in many aromatic herbs and spices including: oregano, cinnamon,  clove , rosemary,  thyme, black pepper, (4), and copaiba oil. (5) Benefits may include reducing inflammation and pain, anti-anxiety, anti-cancer, (4), and protection of the brain by helping reduce increased activity after brain trauma which can lead to scar like tissue walling off the area of trauma instead healing.(5)

The problem in Alzheimer’s may not be the protein itself but instead the cells that over-actively making it in response to inflammatory signals so the solution would be not trying to remove excess protein but to stop the production of excess protein by signaling the overactive cells that all is well again, stop walling off the supposed injury. Formalin, a more dilute buffered form of formaldehyde was the toxin used to create inflammation in an animal based study of the potential benefits of beta-caryophyllene. A dose of 5 mg/Kg purified beta-caryophyllene essential oil given by mouth (rather than by an injection) was found to help reduce inflammatory pain from the formalin. (4) For a 75 kilogram adult that would be a capsule with 375 milligrams of the purified oil.

The herb rosemary is pine needle like plant that has been used as a pain killer in traditional folk medicine for arthritis pain and was thought of a s a memory aid. Studies more recently have found the essential oil beneficial for improving memory. (6)  **Use care when purchasing essential oils, some are intended only for external use either on the skin when diluted in a small amount of milder oil such as almond oil for massage or topical pain relief, or as an aromatic for scent (example, put a few drops on a cotton ball that is attached to a fan or on the outlet of a humidifier to circulate the aroma through a room).

/Disclosure: This information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes./

  1.  Neuroscience, 6th Edition, Editors D. Purves, G.J. Augustine, D. Fitzpatrick, W.C. Hall, A.S. LaMantia, R.D. Mooney, ML. Platt, L.E. White, (Sinauer Associates, Oxford University Press, 2018, New York) (Barnes&Noble)
  2. Anna Mietelska-Porowska and Urszula Wojda, “T Lymphocytes and Inflammatory Mediators in the Interplay between Brain and Blood in Alzheimer’s Disease: Potential Pools of New Biomarkers,” Journal of Immunology Research, vol. 2017, Article ID 4626540, 17 pages, 2017.
  3. edited by Karsten Sauer, Klaus Okkenhaug, Lipid Signaling in T Cell Development and Function, Frontiers Media SA, Nov 12, 2015 page 96
  4. A.-L.Klauke, I.Racz, B.Pradier, et al., The cannabinoid CB2 receptor-selective phytocannabinoid beta-caryophyllene exerts analgesic effects in mouse models of inflammatory and neuropathic pain. European Neuropsychopharmacology, Vol. 24, Issue 4, April 2014, Pages 608-620,
  5. Guimarães-Santos A, Santos DS, Santos IR, et al. Copaiba Oil-Resin Treatment Is Neuroprotective and Reduces Neutrophil Recruitment and Microglia Activation after Motor Cortex Excitotoxic Injury. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM. 2012;2012:918174. doi:10.1155/2012/918174.
  6. Rachel Hosie, Surge in Rosemary Sales as Aromatic Herb Found to Boost Memory, May 19, 2017,,

EMFs and Intracellular Calcium – Magnesium is nature’s calcium channel blocker

Electromagnetic fields, (EMFs) are the non-ionizing radiation that makes WiFi connections work and other devices like televisions and cellphones. The electronic details are beyond my field of experience and they are generally claimed to be harmless however research is being done on the health effects on people and other species. As more and more ‘hotspots’ become active and there is discussion of making entire regions WiFi spots the question of whether the radiation is truly harmless or not is important.

The research that has been performed suggests that the mode of action is on the ion channels in cell membranes called voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCCs). The EMF radiation seems to activate ion channels and allows the interior of the cell to fill with calcium which then can proceed to activate membrane breakdown and other actions within the cell. Oxidative stress can involve an excess of calcium within the interior of the cell which leads to other free radical chemicals – electrically active chemicals which antioxidant nutrients can help deactivate. See: (1)

Oxidation is a normal part of cell function as it is how glucose sugar energy is freed for use. Too many oxidative free radical chemicals also called, reactive oxygen species (ROS), can overpower the natural antioxidant chemical pathways and lead to increased cell damage and even cell death. (2, 3, 4)

Ion channels refer to chemicals that contain atoms that have a positive or negative charge which can be used to provide energy for chemical reactions. Ions in nature generally are found in pairs with a balance of positive and negative charges so the grouping is fairly stable. Calcium and magnesium both have ionic forms with a chemical charge of +2, which means they are missing two electrons. Sodium and potassium have ionic forms with a chemical charge of +1 – they are missing one electron each.

An ion is an atom or chemical that has more protons than electrons and carries a positive charge or has more electrons than protons and carries a negative charge, while a free radical specifically has at least one unpaired electron in its outer electron shell/valence which makes it very reactive but does not necessarily mean an electron is missing nor suggest a negative charge. Depending on their chemistry they may be able to receive or donate another electron and are very reactive, very active chemically, as the outer shell prefers to be stable chemically. The presence of an unpaired electron makes the free radical chemically encouraging other chemicals to give up or receive the unpaired electron even if the other chemical is more chemically stable. (7) The electrons in an atom are arranged around the inner ball of positively charged protons and neutrally charged neutrons in layers of electrons (valences) which prefer to be in groups of 2, 6 or 8 electrons, so a free radical with an outer layer with one electron might want to donate it while one with an outer shell with seven electrons might want to receive an extra electron.  Element valences are slightly different than what might be expected looking at the Table of Elements – here is a chart of the typical ion or free radical charges: (6)

Oxygen can carry an electrically negative charge of -2, meaning it can accept two additional electrons in its outer valence. And hydrogen can accept or donate an electron, +1 or -1, (6) which chemically can result in our most important molecule for life – water, H2O, formed from two atoms of hydrogen sharing their unpaired outer electron with one atom of oxygen which wants an additional two electrons. The slight preference for different electric charges gives the molecule of water a slight polarity, the oxygen part of the water molecule has a slight negative charge on average while the hydrogen parts of the molecule have slight positive charges. (8) A more thorough description of the chemical structure of the water molecule and its electrical charge distribution with illustrations is available here: (12).

Why is this important? Because our bodies are made up of at least 70% water and electromagnetic radiation does have effects on water (9) so a basic understanding of the chemistry can help understand the more complex issues of why having region wide areas of WiFi might affect health of humans and other animals, plants and possibly even microbial life. There is evidence that microbes can modify nearby DNA of other species via EMFs generated by the microbial DNA when both sets of DNA are in a watery dilution. (10, [1602 from ref 9]) This may increase infection or risk of cross contamination of infectious substances. We don’t know what we don’t know. The research may simply confirm the need to be concerned about Electromagnectic fields on DNA. The negative effect of EMF exposure to DNA and an increase in DNA breakdown/fragmentation was mentioned in the first link. See: (1)

Research that looked for epigenetic effects on DNA that might be associated with leukemia or other cancerous changes found that Extremely Low Frequency-Magnetic Fields which have been labeled potentially carcinogenic as some association with leukemia has been noted, did not consistently lead to epigenetic changes in the study. Changes that did occur were more likely to be found when the genetic material, called chromatin, was in a more open and active form rather than when it was in the condensed, non-replicating form. (13) Pregnancy would be a time when DNA is expected to be more active and infancy and childhood are also times when growth and replication of cells is expected. Concerns and a review of available research about the risk of EMF radiation for adults and childhood development is discussed in a Special Section of the journal Childhood Development: (14)

Calcium channel blocker medications have been found to help reduce the effects of EMF radiation for individuals who seem to be more sensitive to ill effects from the form of radiation than the average person. See: (1)

Magnesium is nature’s calcium channel blocker so there may be an underlying deficiency of magnesium in the the people who are more sensitive to EMFs. A number of conditions can make the intestines absorb less magnesium and more calcium than average and the kidneys can be better at holding onto calcium and more likely to excrete magnesium than average. The food and water supply is not as rich in magnesium as it was during earlier centuries of human development. Magnesium deficiency as a risk factor in sensitivity to EMFs is discussed in the first link and it introduces a protective factor that can be increased with more variety of vegetables and other phytochemical rich foods in the diet – nuclear factor erythroid-2-related factor 2 (Nrf2). See: (1)

Specific foods or phytochemicals mentioned to help increase Nrf2 include:

  • sulforaphane from cruciferous vegetables, (such as broccoli and cauliflower);
  • foods high in phenolic antioxidants, (This is a large group including bright yellow and red fruits and vegetables, and deep purple produce. The group includes the subgroup flavonoids which include anthocyanins, flavonols, and it also includes the less familiar subgroup chalcones which are found in the commonly used fruits apples, pears and strawberries. The group also includes aldehydes which are found in vanilla and cinnamon, phenolic acids which include salicyclic acid, and tannins which are found in tea, coffee and wine. Baking cocoa and cherries, beans and whole grains are also mentioned, the summary point would be eat more fruits and vegetables; see: (11))
  • the long-chained omega-3 fats DHA and EPA, (salmon, tuna, sardines, krill oil, ground flax meal, walnuts, hemp seed kernels);
  • carotenoids (especially lycopene), (such as carrots, winter squash, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, apricots, and lycopene is in tomato, watermelon, pink grapefruit, guava); 
  • sulfur compounds from allum vegetables, (such as onions, garlic, shallots, green onions); 
  • isothiocyanates from the cabbage group and
  • terpenoid-rich foods. (Terpenes are found in real lemon and lime oil, rosemary, oregano, basil and other aromatic green herbs).
  • The Mediterranean and the traditional Okinawan Diets are also mentioned as being Nrf2 promoting diets. See: (1)

A 2012 article that discusses the science known at the time and reviews cellphone cases designed to redirect EMF radiation away from the user available at the times suggests some health evidence exists but that the information is not conclusive yet but that no study has been longer than ten years. Children have less dense bone structure and may be accumulating more life time exposure so limiting use of cellphones around children or their use by children may be playing it safer until more research is available. (5) Turning off cellphones when not needed can save battery time and would be turning off the WiFi when it is not needed. You can always check for messages when you turn it back on again. Using a hard wired computer at home or at least turning off the laptop at night is recommended along with other tips in the first link. See: (1)


Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has a service for locating a nutrition counselor near you at the website (

  1. Joseph Mercola, The Harmful Effects of Electromagnetic Fields Explained,, Dec. 22, 2017, (1)
  2. Chapter 1: Cell Injury, Cell Death,
    and Adaptations, sample, not final copy, Elsevier, pdf (2)
  3. Khalid Rahman, Studies on free radicals, antixidants, and co-factors., Clin Interv Aging. 2007 Jun; 2(2): 219–236., (3)
  4. V. Lobo, A. Patil, A. Phatak, and N. Chandra, Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health, Pharmacogn Rev. 2010 Jul-Dec; 4(8): 118–126., (4)

  5. Joseph Hanlon, Radiation-reducing phone cases: saviours or snake oil?, Aug. 13, 2012, (5)

  6. Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. “Valences of the Elements – Chemistry Table.” ThoughtCo, Mar. 7, 2017, (6)
  7. UCSB Science Line, What is the difference between ion and radical?, 04/01/2015, (7)
  8. Biochemistry, Chemistry Tutorial, The Chemistry of Water,, (8)
  9. Martin Chaplin, Water Structure and Science: Magnetic and electric effects on water, 2001, last update by Martin Chaplin on Nov. 3, 2017, (9)
  10. [1602 from the above reference] L. Montagnier, J. Aïssa, S. Ferris, J.-L. Montagnier, C. Lavallée, Electromagnetic signals are produced by aqueous nanostructures derived from bacterial DNA sequences, Interdisciplinary Sciences: Computational Life Sciences, 1(2009) 81-90. L. Montagnier, J. Aissa, E. Del Giudice, C. Lavallee, A. Tedeschi and G. Vitiello, DNA waves and water, Journal of Physics.: Conference Series, 306 (2011) 012007, arXiv:1012.5166v1 (10)
  11. Maria de Lourdes Reis Giada, Chapter 4: Food Phenolic Compounds: Main Classes, Sources and Their Antioxidant Power, Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology » “Oxidative Stress and Chronic Degenerative Diseases – A Role for Antioxidants”, book edited by José A. Morales-González, ISBN 978-953-51-1123-8, Published: May 22, 2013 (11)
  12. Martin Chaplin, Water Structure and Science: Water Molecule Structure,  2000, last updated by Martin Chaplin Oct. 15, 2017,, (12)
  13. Melissa Manser, Mohamad R. Abdul Sater, Christoph D. Schmid, Faiza Noreen, Manuel Murbach, Niels Kuster, David Schuermann, and Primo Schär,

    ELF-MF exposure affects the robustness of epigenetic programming during granulopoiesis, Sci Rep. 2017; 7: 43345. (13)

  14. Cindy Sage, Ernesto Burgio, Electromagnetic Fields, Pulsed Radiofrequency Radiation, and
    Epigenetics: How Wireless Technologies May Affect Childhood DevelopmentContemporary Mobile Technology and Child
    and Adolescent Development, edited by Zheng Yan and Lennart Hardell, A Special Section of Child Development, 2017, Pages 1–8, (14)

Oxidative Stress and Aging; trace minerals and antioxidants

For a more detailed review of the current understanding of how oxidative stress and inflammation are involved in the aging process see this chapter from a longer book: Oxidative Stress and the Aging Brain: From Theory to Prevention, [1]

Mitochondria are the main energy producers in cells. They are involved in breaking down each molecule of glucose (one half of the larger molecule that is commonly known as sugar). During the process of breaking the chemical bonds found in the glucose molecule the free radicals that can cause oxidative damage are produced. When adequate antioxidants are available the free radicals are stabilized before they can cause damage. The body’s internally produced antioxidant enzymes also require the trace minerals copper, zinc and manganese. /Separate topic: An imbalance in copper and zinc can cause health problems./

“Free radicals are chemical species with a single unpaired electron. The unpaired electron is highly reactive as it seeks to pair with another free electron; this results in the production of another free radical. The newly produced free radical is unstable in most cases and, as a result, it can also react with another molecule to produce yet another free radical. Thus, a chain reaction of free radicals can occur, leading to more and more damaging reactions.” [1]

“Several antioxidant defense mechanisms have evolved to protect cell components from the attack of oxidative stress and associated oxidative damage. These mechanisms include antioxidant enzymes, such as SOD, superoxide reductases, catalase, glutathione peroxidases (Gpx), and many heat-shock proteins.” “SOD exists in two forms: Cu/ZnSOD is present primarily in the cytoplasm while MnSOD is present primarily in the mitochondria.” [1]

More information about manganese superoxide dismutase (MnSOD) and how mitochondria function is available here: MnSOD in Oxidative Stress Response-Potential Regulation viaMitochondrial Protein Influx [2]

Supplementing the diet with a manganese and other trace minerals may be helpful as manganese and other trace minerals may be chelated by glyphosate, the active ingredient of the herbicide RoundUp. Chelation is a chemical term for the tendency for one chemical to bind with another – take hold and make the other one less freely available in the environment. The process can be helpful in some situations as it can act as a carrier, a taxi cab so to speak, but at other times it is simply removing the other chemical from being available for other uses.

Plant scientists are aware of the problem and there are agricultural suggestions for reducing the negative effects of manganese chelation by glyphosate in the following article: What About Glyphosate-Induced Manganese Deficiency? The effects of glyphosate’s chelation of iron, copper and zinc is also included in addition to the discussion of manganese. [3] The summary of plant yield research found that improved crop yields were produced when manganese, copper and zinc were applied as a supplemental fertilizer a certain amount of time after the glyphosate containing herbicide was applied to the fields:

“The greatest soybean yield response on high organic soils
was with both Mn and Cu applied 8 to 12 days after the glyphosate.
The highest yields for corn were obtained by foliar-applying Zn 15
days after glyphosate was applied in northwestern Indiana,” [3]

So if plant health scientists recommend supplementing with manganese, copper and zinc for best plant health do human health scientists? Some do, but the topic is still considered alternative medicine rather than being a mainstream medical recommendation. [4] Risks of increased toxicity from trace metals that have negative health effects such as aluminum. [4]

Antioxidant rich foods or supplements that were discussed in the chapter on Oxidative Stress and Aging include vitamin E, which had positive results when used as a supplement in animal studies and mixed results in studies with humans, addition of whole foods such as nuts which are a good source of vitamin E and other nutrients had more consistent positive results in human clinical research studies; Green Tea and its active metabolite EGCG; blueberries, spinach and spirulina, a blue-green algae. [1]

  • Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.
  1. Carmelina Gemma, Jennifer Vila, Adam Bachstetter, and Paula C. Bickford, Chapter 15: Oxidative Stress and the Aging Brain: From Theory to Prevention, from Brain Aging: Models, Methods, and Mechanisms. Riddle DR, editor. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2007.
  2. Demet Candas and Jian Jian Li, MnSOD in Oxidative Stress Response-Potential Regulation viaMitochondrial Protein Influx, Antioxid Redox Signal. 2014 Apr 1; 20(10): 1599–1617.
  3. Don M. Huber, What About Glyphosate-Induced Manganese Deficiency?, Fluid Journal, Fall 2007,
  4. Anthony Samsel and Stephanie Seneff, Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases III: Manganese, neurological diseases, and associated pathologies, Surg Neurol Int. 2015; 6: 45.