Your brain needs to be protected from itself.
That’s because your brain is a workaholic, always chugging along overtime, relaying messages from neuron to neuron. Those messages are whirling around you brain right now as you read this article.
And to keep those messages moving requires a prodigious amount of cellular energy. The brain makes up about two percent of your body’s weight, but consumes around 20% of your energy.
If things get sloppy, the production and consumption of energy throws off a flood of waste products – free radicals – that can tear cell membranes apart. Cellular energy production releases pollution end-products just like a fossil-fuel-burning power plant.
That’s why your brain cells need a shield against free radicals.1 Otherwise your memory would be as full of holes as Swiss cheese – the oxidative damage caused by uncontrolled free radicals in the brain.
We’ve sounded the warning about this before, and now recent research from Australia and Slovakia confirms it. The new findings are eye-openers. . .
A nutrient called carnosine helps rein in the oxidative mess. Carnosine is a potent antioxidant that combines two amino acids. Along with fighting oxidation, it also keeps other harmful chemicals from interfering with your neurons, and it performs a similar function in muscle tissue.
Although your body can make its own carnosine, studies show your muscles, brain and other parts of the body can get a healthy advantage from carnosine supplements and foods – primarily meats – rich in this natural substance.
Ancient Chinese had a Hunch
While carnosine as a natural chemical was first identified in 1900 by a Russian scientist, the ancient Chinese indirectly knew about it a thousand years ago. That’s when they discovered that the meat of a bird called the black bone silky fowl was useful as a health tonic. The bird — covered with white plumage that sits over black skin, black meat and even black bones — is a rich source of carnosine.
The meat of this bird – which the Chinese have long consumed to fight aging, boost immunity and improve endurance – contains twice the carnosine of anything you’ll find in the poultry sold at the supermarket or fast food joints like KFC.2
How does carnosine protect us? Each of your cells has its own tiny organs called organelles. Recently, some of the modern research into carnosine has focused on how this nutrient protects a certain type of organelle — mitochondria – found in neurons, muscle tissue and other cells. Mitochondria both produce energy and release the free radicals that are the byproducts of energy production.
Now a study in Asia shows that after a stroke, carnosine can help defend the mitochondria in neurons from destruction. It limits autophagy – “self-eating” — a process that would otherwise allow mitochondria to be broken apart and eliminated.3
Supports Immune Function, Too
And carnosine does more than clean up the mitochondrial waste products. Research in Israel demonstrates it can also keep microglia – immune cells that roam the brain – from adding to destructive oxidative stress and inflammation.4
Studies now show that microglia are complicated immune cells. While they usually protect brain cells and keep them functional, they can also be harmful when they are switched into inflammation mode.
But according to a study that involved researchers from Italy and the University of Kansas, carnosine can play a central part in keeping microglia on their best behavior – defending brain cells from harm rather than ramping up inflammatory processes that can kill them.5
The end result of carnosine’s protection: better brain function. A test at the University of South Florida indicates that taking carnosine along with vitamin D3, blueberry extract, green tea and other nutrients may help boost memory as we get older.
The study, performed on people without obvious memory problems, found that two months of the supplements improves folks’ ability to process new information fast. The Florida researchers also report that the supplements improve the health of neurons in aging brains.6
Other carnosine benefits include:
- Reducing the health risk of air pollution – Tests at the University of Louisville find that while air pollution can interfere with the stem cells in bone marrow and impair heart function, carnosine may prevent these types of harm.7
- Improving the movement issues linked to Parkinson’s disease – A study at the University of Cincinnati indicates that taking carnosine intranasally (through your nose) may slow down the deterioration of muscle control that takes place during Parkinson’s.8
- Preventing and treating diabetic retinopathy – A study in China demonstrates that carnosine stops destruction in the eye caused by diabetes. Left unchecked, retinopathy can destroy vision.9
I’ve written about carnosine before, but in preparing this article I’m still surprised by all of this nutrient’s crucial functions in the brain and body. Why doesn’t it get more attention from the press? Beats me.
But consider this – there are some researchers in England who think carnosine might also be developed into a supplement or treatment that could battle the flu!10 If the research works out, it’s a benefit that could prove to be a lifesaver for many people.