Medical research is revealing that there are certain characteristic metabolic changes that are involved in most degenerative, age-related disorders, and the nervous system is certainly no exception to this pattern. The two major destructive processes are:
Oxidative Stress refers to damage caused by electrons/free radicals to cell membranes and other cellular components. The nervous system is particularly sensitive to oxidative stress for a number of reasons. First of all, the brain is an organ that requires a lot of energy and this energy is manufactured by the rich supply of mitochondria in brain cells. This process can unfortunately also generate free radicals. In addition, the nervous system is all about communication between cells and this relies on healthy, well-functioning membranes which are particularly susceptible to oxidative stress.
Inflammation is another fundamental process that is being found in association with a vast number of medical conditions ranging from heart disease, to cancer to osteoporosis. Here again, the nervous system is particularly susceptible and signs of inflammation have been found in Alzheimer’s, Autism, and other neurologic conditions.
Inflammation can come from many sources including a bad diet, chronic infections, environmental toxins, allergies and intestinal problems. Even obesity and insulin resistance can generate inflammation. Anything that stimulates the immune system can produce inflammation, and, in fact there is constant communication between the immune system and the nervous system. (Most of the ‘systems’ in our body are actually interrelated and terms such as ‘psychoneuroimmunology’ or ‘the neuro-endocrine-immune system’ are being used to reflect this growing awareness).
So one can begin to see the complexity of dealing with a process such as cognitive decline that is mediated by oxidative stress and inflammation, which are in turn due to a long list of possible ‘triggers’.