Virtually all neurodegenerative disorders are the result of low-grade brain inflammation triggered by activation of the brain’s main immune cells — called microglia. These cells are normally in what is called a “resting” state. But actually, they are quite active, mainly making repairs and removing debris that has collected in the brain as cells die off. It’s a continuous cleanup operation.
When activated, these microglia release an assortment of inflammatory factors (cytokines, chemokines, and interferons) as well as glutamate (the excitatory amino acid) into the fluid space outside brain cells. Combined with inflammation, this causes a very destructive process I have termed immunoexcitotoxicity.
Immunoexcitotoxicity occurs with all neurodegenerative diseases, as well as in strokes, trauma, autoimmune diseases, and infections of the central nervous system. It is an ongoing process that lasts for a very long period and accelerates destruction. Sometimes the immune reaction in the brain and spinal cord is much more intense and rapidly occurring, with greater destruction over a short period of time — as we see with some autoimmune diseases as well as encephalitis.
A number of studies have shown that the omega-3 compound DHA significantly reduces the destructive effects of neurodegenerative diseases. The most popular forms of DHA are the ethyl ester DHA and triglyceride DHA.
Newer studies found that triglyceride DHA was far more effective for lowering inflammatory cytokines and reducing nervous system damage. After Alzheimer’s, the second most common neurodegenerative disease is Parkinson’s. One of the primary destructive factors in Parkinson’s disease is a loss of mitochondrial energy production. Along with reducing brain inflammation, omega-3 oils increase mitochondrial energy production.
DHA has also been shown to reduce some of the complications of the Parkinson’s drug L-DOPA (levodopa), including dyskinesia (abnormality or impairment of voluntary movement). Omega-3 oils have also been shown to reduce the damage to cells in the brain’s substantia nigra, the site of most Parkinson’s destruction.
An additional benefit of supplementing with omega-3 oils is reducing depression and cognitive decline, both of which are common problems seen in Parkinson’s patients.
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