Research is investigating ways to stop cognitive decline by finding metabolic agents to increase cellular ATP (Adenosine triphosphate) levels. ATP is the molecule that carries and transfers or stores energy within all living cells. ATP energy is made from food substances that are broken down and released.
If ATP levels were increased, it may improve the functioning of the mitochondria and maintain ATP within cells (Owen L et al, 2011). This would help to reduce problems with the neurons ability to do their work. One of the goals in brain research is to identify potential “cognition enhancing agents,” which would help to improve and preserve cognitive performance during the aging process.
Cognition includes the mental state of thinking, knowing, understanding, reasoning, memory, judging and problem-solving.
What may help to increase ATP levels and promote normal functioning mitochondria in the brain?
Eating a plant based diet, which is low in fat has a beneficial effect on cellular mitochondria, whereas a high fat diet significantly reduces the mass of the mitochondria (Sparks LM et al, 2005).
It is known that exercise benefits cognitive function (Ding Q et al, 2006). It plays a major role in cellular mitochondria. Exercise in the form of endurance work has been shown to increase mitochondrial mass. This causes an increase in glucose uptake by the muscles to produce greater ATP energy (Holloszy JO, 2011). It is known that continuous aerobic exercise generates greater muscle mitochondrial mass (Musci RV et al, 2019). Animal research has shown that exercise increases brain mitochondrial biogenesis, which has great implications for cognitive function during aging (Steiner J et al, 2011).
Agents to help the mitochondria and promote cognitive function
There are compounds that have been shown to be metabolically useful for cognitive function. A few of the cognitive agents, which have demonstrated neuroprotective properties is L-carnitine and acetyl L-carnitine in animal studies.
L-carnitine has demonstrated to prevent neuron damage in the hippocampus of the brain by preventing low blood sugar levels. This helps to preserve mitochondria function (Ghirardi O et al, 2005).
The hippocampus is a brain structure found in the temporal lobe, which plays a major part in learning and memory.
Most of the research with L-carnitine or acetyl-L-carnitine has demonstrated positive effects in the elderly populations with mental decline. Acetyl L carnitine crosses the blood brain barrier and there is an increase in cerebral spinal fluid after it is administered. There was a meta-analysis performed looking at the effects of acetyl L carnitine in individuals with mild cognitive problems and the results showed beneficial effects (Montgomery S et al, 2003).
Ginkgo biloba has been used and studied for years showing that it helps age-related
cognition. It has demonstrated benefits within the mitochondria. ATP is manufactured in the mitochondria, from the metabolism of O2 and glucose to make cellular energy. When the mitochondria is not functioning properly it releases reactive oxygen species and induces peroxidative reactions causing mitochondrial damage and reduced ATP production. Problems with mitochondrial function causes impairment of neurons and tissue loss associated with aging.
Ginkgo biloba leaves have antioxidant properties that may improve the oxidative stress-related neurological side effects (Aydin D et al, 2016). Ginkgo demonstrated in laboratory research to improve the potential of mitochondrial membranes and reverse the reduction of ATP production (Eckert et al, 2005). Other comparable research showed that Ginkgo had a protective effect in the brain mitochondria against oxidative damage.
As with any supplement, if one has a medical condition and/or are taking medication, they should consult with their health care practitioner prior to taking them.
In summary, researchers are looking for ways to stop cognitive decline and find metabolic agents to increase cellular ATP levels. ATP is the molecule that carries and transfers or stores energy within all living cells. If ATP levels are increased, it may improve the functioning of the mitochondria and maintain ATP within cells. It may overall help to improve cognitive function during the aging process. A plant based diet, exercise and a few promising agents may help to keep the mitochondrial ATP levels maintained.
This article is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Individuals with health concerns or on medication should check with their health care practitioner before trying any new type of eating plan.