Changing the Brain Game
We’ve been aflutter with conversations on neuroplasticity these days….
This month, the Institute for Functional Medicine’s (IFM) mothership landed in Los Angeles for our Annual International Conference (AIC), where we were inspired by presentations relating to The Dynamic Brain: Revealing the Potential of Neuroplasticity to Reverse Neurodegeneration.
For me personally, because they fall outside of my wheelhouse of practice, the biggest “ah ha” areas were around physical medicine approaches to reversing neurodegeneration: Think photobiomodulation using intranasal light therapy for Parkinson patients. Or a Feldenkrais-inspired therapy for stroke patients. Or “brain games” for dementia patients, and electrostimulation of the tongue-allowing direct access to the brain stem-showing pronounced benefit in a number of neuro conditions, including MS.
The physical medicine toolkit is broad and remarkable. The body of literature here is growing rapidly.
Chiropractic physicians with advanced training in functional neurology shined at this year’s AIC. The combination of physical medicine and functional neurology makes them an invaluable part of the FxMed collaborative team here.
My Monday morning take-homes from this conference were many: There are a number of tools I already use or can incorporate in my FxMed practice easily. I find electrostimulation for motor strength in MS to be invaluable (I haven’t tried “tongue shocks” however), and I use the Fisher Wallace neurostimulator for some centrally-mediated pain disorders, depression, anxiety, even restless leg syndrome. I’m investigating the intranasal light therapy. But what I’m most excited about is harnessing the expertise of others who’ve devoted their careers to these various physical medicine modalities by making them a part of my referral network.
Of course, ample time was spent on FxMed bedrock areas such as gut/brain axis, epigenetic/genetic influence, infection, toxin exposures, mitochondrial fitness, dietary patterns, nutrient deficiencies, food allergy/sensitivity, movement and relaxation, stress response and more.
Consider purchasing the conference proceedings if any of these ideas “light up” for you. J
On a similar track…..
Sue Bentsen, from our Functional Nutrition Residency Program, attended the IFM/Bredesen training earlier in the year and wrote a fabulous blog for our “regular” audience that’s meaty enough for clinicians — especially those newer to Bredesen’s work in reversing cognitive decline. Sue did a nice, well-referenced job summarizing his approach. You’ll see that it aligns tightly with functional medicine, so fear not: if you are a practicing FxMed clinician, leaning on the Matrix and other FM tools to guide you in a systems approach to patient care, you are already doing much of the work to prevent and/or reverse mild-to-moderate cognitive decline and other neurodegenerative issues.
While at the AIC, I had a fun Functional Forum conversation with James Maskell re: DNA methylation. If you subscribe to my blog, you’re likely aware that I’ve been pondering for some time how FxMed can best support healthy epigenetic expression.
The addition of methyl groups to the promotor regions of DNA generally inhibits gene expression (although methylation marks found elsewhere on genetic material may actually support genetic expression). Aberrant hypermethylation of certain gene promotor regions, combined with hypomethylation of other gene regions, are a part of the pathogenesis of many chronic diseases. The most widely studied is cancer, but a quick PubMed search will demonstrate that most—if not all– chronic conditions, including neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative diseases, present with aberrant genetic methylation patterns, although the extent to which these aberrant patterns are frontline contributors to various disease processes is still emerging.
Interestingly, we also demethylate the genome— both actively (via the ten-eleven translocase (TET) enzymes) and passively (during DNA replication). Sometimes referred to as “cleaning the genes”, active demethylation requires good mitochondrial fitness, as the Krebs intermediate alpha ketoglutarate is a TET cofactor. Demethylating agents are used in oncology today, primarily for hematologic malignancies, although expansion to include solid tumors is probably forthcoming.
There are a host of foods, mostly plants rich in flavonoids (think curcumin, EGCG, lycopene, rosemarinic acid, quercetin, resveratrol & sulforaphane), that are demonstrated to exert their disease-fighting benefit by reducing DNA methylation and histone deacetylase activity (and therefore may contribute to certain important genes- such as NRF2 or the GSTs or P53 to be reactivated). We refer to these foods as methylation adaptogens.
In addition to diet, research suggests that supporting methylation balance may be best accomplished as an upstream endeavor involving the adoption and maintenance of health habits such as sufficient sleep, reasonable exercise, mitochondrial and gastrointestinal fitness, and stress-reduction. And if we fall outside of our habits, as we’re bound to do, returning to alignment a step at a time is the way to go.
Check out our methylation page for more content.
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