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New Hope for those with Brain Challenges

MC900438727The 21st century has become quite a dry spell for the development of new treatment methods for most brain challenges. In the 1990’s, new insight and understanding about the brain exploded and expectations were running high that these new insights would lead to a flurry of next-gen medications. In contrast, today, most pharmaceutical companies have a near-non-existent psychiatry and neurology pipeline. Many have exited the field entirely.

One reason for this may be the reliance on the Monoamine pathways which have been the focus of psych meds for decades. That ship has sailed, folks.

Steven Hyman, former Director,  National Institute for Mental Health, stated, “drug discovery is at a near standstill for treating psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, and common forms of autism.”

So what’s left? The aforementioned insights into brain issues have yielded some interesting possibilities. Multiple pathways have been shown to have effects on the brain and its state:

  • Inflammation
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Proteins that stimulate Neuronal growth
  • Cell death (apoptosis)
  • Mitochondrial dysfunction (energy producing factories in the cells)

Professor Michael Berk, Chair in Psychiatry at Deakin University, Geelong, Australia presented new findings at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology Congress. He points to an incontrovertible evidence base that most major psychiatric disorders share inflammation and oxidative stress as part of their disease physiology. In addition, associated pathways including reduction in proteins that stimulate neuronal growth (neurotrophins), and increased cell death (apoptosis), as well as energy generation in organelles called mitochondria are intimately involved. Berk states: “This understanding provides an entirely new set of treatment targets.”

Berk’s work and its presentation focused on a substance called NAC, or N-Acetyl Cysteine. This amino acid appears to address some of the root issues of bipolar, unipolar, schizophrenia, depression, and autism by exerting these effects:

  • Boosting Glutathione (a powerful antioxidant), thereby lowering oxidative stress
  • Enhancing levels of nerve growth proteins, growing more neurons
  • Reducing apoptosis pathways
  • Reducing mitochondrial dysfunction

“These molecular effects of NAC have been investigated in a series of clinical trials, which show that NAC reduces the core symptoms of schizophrenia including negative symptoms such as improved apathy, social interaction and motivation. It also appears to reduce depression in people with bipolar disorder and at this meeting, new data on its role in unipolar major depression was presented. Furthermore, there is intriguing evidence that it reduces cravings in a number of addictions including cocaine, cannabis and cigarette smoking. “Apart from nausea, it appears to be relatively free of problematic side effects,” said Professor Berk.” (quote from the press release)

Please do not assume from this discussion that NAC is the answer to all problems and run out and buy a case (or ten). This article is not a substitute for medical attention: it is merely to inform of what current work is being done in the field of brain chemistry. See a qualified health professional before considering NAC or any other nutritional intervention.

For example, high doses of NAC can skew several blood tests, should not be taken with carbamazepine or nitroglycerine, and can (rarely) cause an allergic reaction. And as mentioned in the above quote, in large doses it can also cause nausea.

How grateful we can be that there are still curious, open scientific minds out there who are actively looking outside the box for treatments for tough brain issues. The more we understand the why and how of things, the more effectively we can discern the what. It’s a great time to be alive.


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What’s That Smell?!


MC900387179We all love things that smell good: roses, a freshly cut lemon or orange, a bouquet of lilies, the clean fragrance of the air after a rain. Natural fragrances, as they occur in the world untouched by man, add greatly to our quality of life, and enrich our sense of connection to our environment.

However, we are inundated with, even steeped in, unnatural fragrances rife with man-made chemicals and solvents. Laundry detergents, fabric softeners, every conceivable type of grooming product, household cleaning products, retail stores, candles…..the list goes on almost infinitely. Many might be surprised to learn that the word “fragrance” on a label can represent the presence of 600 different chemicals.

But are all these miscellaneous chemicals harmless?


  • Toluene, a known neurotoxin, can produce headaches, nausea, and narcosis (stupor). Yet, the EPA finds Toluene in every single fragrance sample it collects.
  • Musk Ambrette can cause central and peripheral nervous system damage.
  • Linalool has been shown to produce respiratory disturbances, depression, reduced motor activity, and ataxic gait (loss of coordination while walking).
  • Methyl Ethyl Ketone can cause numbness in the extremities, congestion in the liver and kidneys, emphysema, and narcosis.
  • Propylene Glycol is considered an immunotoxic chemical.
  • Solvents do just what their name implies: they dissolve things. One way these affect mammals is that they carry substances that would normally be excluded by our cell’s protective mechanisms right past those gatekeepers and into the vulnerable inner workings of the cell where our mitochondrial (the part of the cell that makes our energy) DNA can be attacked and damaged.

Common solvents include Acetone, Benzene, the aforementioned Toluene, and Isopropyl Alcohol.

  • TIP: if you read labels on cosmetics and grooming products, any word that contains the letters “prop” anywhere within it will be a solvent.

The average consumer uses more than 18 different scented products daily. To do so adds tremendously to the toxic burden of the body.

As we work towards our best health, considering our total “toxic load” would certainly be worthwhile. And with so many exposures being outside our ability to control on this planet, it is important to take advantage of changing those exposures we can.

“The fragrance and cosmetic Industry is the least regulated Industry. There is no pre-clearing of chemicals with any agency”. Dr John Bailey, FDA