For many years we thought brain function was only about neurons, synapses, and neurotransmitters. However, recent developments in neuroscience have shown us how the brain’s immune cells, which outnumber neurons 10 to 1, are vital to how well the brain functions. We have Albert Einstein’s brain to thank for that discovery — his brain had significantly more immune cells than the average person’s.
When Albert Einstein died in 1955, the pathologist who did the autopsy essentially stole Einstein’s brain to keep it for research.
Eventually, the family consented to the research. However, the only thing researchers found different about his brain is that he had a high number of brain immune cells called astrocytes. At the time, astrocytes were simply though to act as glue that held neurons in place.
However, newer research has radically changed our knowledge about astrocytes, making Einstein’s high level of astrocytes something to be excited about. We’ve discovered these specialized cells are critical to brain function in the following ways:
- Astrocytes have a dramatic impact on cognition, memory, and recall.
- Astrocytes help neurons function at their peak by facilitating communication between neurons, protecting neuron health, and cleaning up debris in the brain.
- Astrocytes help optimize brain growth factors, which enhance and maintain brain function.
What we formerly thought of as brain “glue” turned out to be a key player in Einstein’s amazing brain function. He not only had a high number of astrocytes, but also he was able to maintain them into his later years (the brain’s immune cells are more affected by aging than neurons).
Functional medicine gives us ways to protect brain immune cells
This new research shows brain health and function isn’t just about neurons — we need to take care of our astrocytes and brain immune cells as well. Thankfully, functional medicine offers many strategies in this area.
For instance, a primary factor in the health of astrocytes is the gut-brain axis, the two-way communication between the brain and the gut via the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is a large nerve that runs from the base of the brain into the body.
In recent years, the gut microbiome has also become a focal point of research. We now know gut bacteria communicate directly with our astrocytes via the gut-brain axis. They do this by releasing peptides and growth factors that travel up the vagus nerve to the brainstem, where they activate astrocytes throughout the brain.
When inflammation is triggered in the brain, astrocytes — whose job it is to maintain neuron homeostasis — must abandon that role to become soldiers that combat inflammatory insults to the brain.
Brain injury is another way astrocytes are forced into warfare. The consequences can be devastating — the inflammatory fire can smolder for years after the impact, leading to chronic inflammation and severe brain dysfunction years or even decades later.
In functional medicine we look at how diet, lifestyle, and environmental toxins impact the brain. Our new, expanded knowledge of astrocytes, immune function, and the gut-brain axis is increasing our understanding of how to restore balance to the brain and improve the lives of more patients.
I’m teaching a new course on how to identify and treat neuroinflammation — a common underlying cause of many common brain-based disorders and symptoms, such as fatigue, memory loss, brain fog, and reduced brain function.
If you’re seeing patients for depression but feel like you’re hitting a dead end when it comes to treatment, this course will help. If you’re a lay person who is science-savvy and self-educated on health, this course can also help you.
It’s based on over 20 years of experience working with patients, breakthrough scientific research, and clinical strategies.
By the end of the Neuroinflammation: Clinical Strategies course, you’ll have a clinical model you can immediately use to help your current patients. If you’re a lay person you’ll have a deeper understanding of chronic brain issues based on the newest research.
The Neuroinflammation class happens live north of San Diego May 18–19, 2019 … you can also attend via livestream. Purchasing the course gives you one full year of access to the course materials and videos.
The course will also be available for purchase after the live class.