Enhancing and Protecting the Components of the Neurons with Nutraceuticals, Foods and Herbs

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Components of a Neuron

A neuron, also known as a nerve cell, is an electrically excitable cell that processes and transmits information through electrical and chemical signals. These signals between neurons occur via specialized connections called synapses.

Neurons are major components of the :

  • brain and spinal cord of the central nervous system (CNS)
  • autonomic ganglia of the peripheral nervous system

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Figure 1.  Diagram of a neuron  (Source)

There are a number of components of a neuron that each provide a unique process in the function of the neuron.  These anatomical and physiological components of the neuron include:

  • Neurons (Whole)
  • Nerve Impulses
  • Axons
  • Myelin Sheaths
  • Presynaptic Terminal
  • Presynaptic Membrane
  • Synaptic Vesicles
  • Dendrite
  • Synaptic Cleft

The purpose of this article is to review each component of the neuron and identify the nutraceuticals, foods and herbs that may enhance and protect the function of each individual component of the neuron.

Neurons (Whole)

Neurons are very small. 

In fact, about 30,000 to 50,000 would fit on the tip of a pin.  A tiny slice of brain tissue the size of a grain of sand contains about 100,000 neurons.  They are packed so tightly that a pebble-sized chunk of tissue from the human brain contains about two miles of neuron material.  The entire brain contains about 100 billion neurons. 

Neurons are the only cells in the body that communicate directly with one another by sending messages back and forth in the form of electrochemical signals or impulses. 

The general method of communication between neurons is the same in all humans.  However, each individual is unique based on how neurons are organized in networks or patterns in the human brain.

Neurons resemble the structure of a tree, with the axon resembling the roots of the tree and the dendrites resembling the branches and twigs of the tree.  However, the neuron is not stiff like a tree.  Instead, a live neuron is very elastic and amorphous.

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Figure 2.  Structure of a neuron (Source) 

Neurons communicate via their axons and dendrites through an electrochemical messaging system.  The axon sends electrochemical information to other neurons and the dendrites receive the messages from other nerve cells. 

Even though there are over 100 billion neurons in the human brain, the amazing fact is that neurons never touch each other.  The space between neurons is called the synaptic cleft and is approximately one-millionth of a centimeter in width. 

The initiation of the neurons communication with other neurons is in the cell membrane.  The neurons cell membrane is the continuous boundary that surrounds the neuron.  The cell membrane is very thin, about 8 nanometers, or 100,000th of a meter.

The Table below lists the Nutraceuticals, Food and Herbs that May Enhance the Function of Neurons

Nutraceuticals, Foods, Herbs that Enhance the Function of the Neurons

CategoryNutraceuticals/Foods/Herbs
Amino Acids
Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR)
Pyroglutatmate
SAMe
Theanine
Foods
Bee Propolis
Herbs
Ginko Biloba
Ashwangandha
Bacopa Monneir
Gota Kola
Korean Ginseng
Horse Chestnut
Magnolia
Rehmannia
Sanchi Ginseng
Hormones
DHEA
Melatonin
Lipids
DHA
EPA
Ginsenoside Rb1
Ginsenoside Rg1
Phosphatidylserine
Minerals
Calcium
Lithium
Phospherous
Magnesium
Neurotransmitters
GABA
Nootropics
Deprenyl
Hydergine
Piracetam
Vinpocetine
Centrophenoxine
Organic Acids
Malic Acid
Polyphenols
Coenzyme Q10
Pcynogenol
Vitamins
Alpha-GPC
Vitamin E
Vitamin A
Vitamin B1
Vitamin B12

Nerve Impulses

Nerve Impulses are the electrical activity in the membrane of a neuron that and is the means by which information is transmitted within the nervous system. 

Nerve impulses originate in dendrites, are integrated into the soma (cell body of neurons), and are transmitted down the axon to the synapse.

Action potentials in neurons are also known as “nerve impulses” or “spikes”, and the temporal sequence of action potentials generated by a neuron is called its “spike train”.

Nearly all cell membranes in animals, plants and fungi maintain an electric potential difference (voltage)—the membrane potential. A typical voltage across an animal cell membrane is –65 mV—approximately one-fifteenth of a volt. Because the cell membrane is very thin, voltages of this magnitude give rise to very strong electric forces across the cell membrane.

The electrical properties of an animal cell are determined by the structure of the membrane that surrounds it. A cell membrane consists of a layer of lipid molecules with larger protein molecules embedded in it. The lipid layer is highly resistant to movement of electrically charged ions, so it functions mainly as an insulator.

The Table below lists the Nutraceuticals, Food and Herbs that May Improve the Transmission of Nerve Impulses

Nutraceuticals, Food and Herbs that May Improve the Transmission of Nerve Impulses

CategoryNutraceuticals/Foods/Herbs
Amino Acids
Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR)
Herbs
Ginko Biloba
Lipids
DHA
Phosphatidylserine
Spingomyelin
Minerals
Calcium
Sodium
Potassium
Zinc
Calcium AEP
Magnesium
Nootropics
Hydergine
Vitamins
Choline
Vitamin B6
Vitamin B1
Inositol

Axons

An axon is a long, slender projection of a neuron that conducts electrical impulses away from the neuron’s cell body. Axons are also known as nerve fibers. The function of the axon is to transmit information to different neurons, muscles and glands.

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Figure 3.  Axon  (Source)

An axon is one of two types of protoplasmic protrusions that extrude from the cell body of a neuron, the other type being dendrites. Axons are distinguished from dendrites by several features, including shape (dendrites often taper while axons usually maintain a constant radius), length (dendrites are restricted to a small region around the cell body while axons can be much longer), and function (dendrites usually receive signals while axons usually transmit them).

The Table below lists the Nutraceuticals, Food and Herbs that May Enhance the Function of the Axon

Nutraceuticals, Food and Herbs that May Enhance the Function of the Axon

CategoryNutraceuticals/Foods/Herbs
Amino Acids
Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR)
Arginine
SAMe
Hormones
Estradiol
Lipids
DHA
Gangliosides
Nucleic Compounds
Inosine
Uridine
Peptides
Proline Rich Peptides
Polyphenols
Nobiletin
Vitamins
Folic Acid
Vitamin D
Vitamin A
Vitamin B12
Herbs
Boswellia serrata
Ashwangandha
Codonopsis
Gota Kola
Korean Ginseng

Myelin Sheath

Acetylcholine is the building block of myelin, which acts to insulate the axon and neuron, thus providing moisture and lubricants to the nervous system.

The myelin insulation of the neuron and axon provides conductivity to the nervous system.

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Figure 4.  Myelin sheath  (Source)

Myelination provides:

  • neurons circuits to fire more rapidly
  • neurons to recover faster after signals have been sent
  • neurons greater processing capacity

When myelin increases in thickness, the neurons fire at a faster rate and thus you think faster.  The more the neuronal connections are used (through learning), the myelin insulation increases and becomes thicker and heavier.

Cognitive decline and memory loss occurs when the myelin decay and the neurotransmitters get disrupted as their pathways lose their lubrication.  This is when the brain starts to short-circuit due to the lack of optimal myelin and acetylcholine.

The lipid makeup of the myelin sheath is important and cholesterol is an essential constituent.  The primary lipid of myelin is a glycolipid called galactocerebroside. The intertwining hydrocarbon chains of sphingomyelin serve to strengthen the myelin sheath.

Composition of CNS Myelin and Brain

  Myelin White matter    
Substance Human Bovine Rat Human Bovine Gray matter (human) Whole brain (rat)
Protein 30.0 24.7 29.5 39.0 39.5 55.3 56.9
Lipid 70.0 75.3 70.5 54.9 55.0 32.7 37.0
Cholesterol 27.7 28.1 27.3 27.5 23.6 22.0 23.0
Cerebroside 22.7 24.0 23.7 19.8 22.5 5.4 14.6
Sulfatide 3.8 3.6 7.1 5.4 5.0 1.7 4.8
Total galactolipid 27.5 29.3 31.5 26.4 28.6 7.3 21.3
Ethanolamine phosphatides 15.6 17.4 16.7 14.9 13.6 22.7 19.8
Lecithin 11.2 10.9 11.3 12.8 12.9 26.7 22.0
Sphingomyelin 7.9 7.1 3.2 7.7 6.7 6.9 3.8
Phosphatidylserine 4.8 6.5 7.0 7.9 11.4 8.7 7.2
Phosphatidylinositol 0.6 0.8 1.2 0.9 0.9 2.7 2.4
Plasmalogensb 12.3 14.1 14.1 11.2 12.2 8.8 11.6
Total phospholipid 43.1 43.0 44.0 45.9 46.3 69.5 57.6

A  Protein and lipid figures in percent dry weight; all others in percent total lipid weight.

B  Plasmalogens are primarily ethanolamine phosphatides.

From: Characteristic Composition of Myelin, Basic Neurochemistry: Molecular, Cellular and Medical Aspects. 6th edition. Siegel GJ, Agranoff BW, Albers RW, et al., editors. Philadelphia: Lippincott-Raven; 1999.

The Table below lists the Nutraceuticals, Food and Herbs that May Enhance the Function of Myelin Sheaths

Nutraceuticals, Food and Herbs that May Enhance the Function of Myelin Sheaths

CategoryNutraceuticals/Foods/Herbs
Amino Acids
Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR)
Taurine
Animal Organ Extracts
Mylein Sheath Extract
Fungi
Lions Mane
Herbs
Ashwagandha
Celastrus paniculatus seeds
Hormones
Progesterone
Pregnenolone
Lipids
Phosphatidylcholine
Phosphatidylserine
Sphingomylein
EPA
Cholesterol
Minerals
Iodine
Lithium
Nucleic Compounds
Uridine
Vitamins
Inositol
Vitmin B6
Vitamin B12

Presynaptic Terminal

Presynaptic Terminals are the end-point or distal terminations of axons which are specialized for the release of neurotransmitters.  They are also called chemical synapses which are biological junctions through which neurons’ signals can be exchanged to each other and to non-neuronal cells such as those in muscles or glands.

There are an astonishing large number of synapses and the human brain is estimated to contain from 1014 to 5 × 1014 (100–500 trillion) synapses.  1 

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Figure 5.  Presynaptic Terminal  (Source)

The Table below lists the Nutraceuticals, Food and Herbs that May Enhance the Function of Presynaptic Terminals

Nutraceuticals, Food and Herbs that May Enhance the Function of Presynaptic Terminals

CategoryNutraceuticals/Foods/Herbs
Amino Acids
N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC)
Vitamins
Vitamin B12

Presynaptic Membrane

The presynaptic membrane is that part of the plasma membrane of an axon terminal that faces the plasma membrane of the neuron or muscle fiber with which the axon terminal establishes a synaptic junction. 

It is the excitable membrane located at the end-point of the presynaptic terminal of the axons. 

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Figure 6.  Presynaptic Membrane  (Source)

Presynaptic Membranes contain very high levels of Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA).  Presynaptic Membranes contain more DHA than almost every other type of tissue of the neuron.

The Table below lists the Nutraceuticals, Food and Herbs that May Enhance the Function of the Presynaptic Membrane

Nutraceuticals, Food and Herbs that May Enhance the Function of the Presynaptic Membrane

CategoryNutraceuticals/Foods/Herbs
Lipids
DHA

Synaptic Vesicles

In a neuron, synaptic vesicles store various neurotransmitters that are released at the synapse. The release is regulated by a voltage-dependent calcium channel. Vesicles are essential for propagating nerve impulses between neurons and are constantly recreated by the cell.

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Figure 7.  Synaptic Vesicles  (Source)

Synaptic vesicles are relatively simple because only a limited number of proteins fit into a sphere of 40 nm diameter. Purified vesicles have a protein:phospholipid ratio of 1:3 with a lipid composition of:

  • 40% phosphatidylcholine
  • 32% phosphatidylethanolamine
  • 12% phosphatidylserine
  • 5% phosphatidylinositol
  • 10% cholesterol

The Table below lists the Nutraceuticals, Food and Herbs that May Enhance the Function of Synaptic Vesicles

Nutraceuticals, Food and Herbs that May Enhance the Function of Synaptic Vesicles

CategoryNutraceuticals/Foods/Herbs
Lipids
Alpha-Linolenic Acid
Vitamins
Vitamin B1
Foods
Perilla Oil

Dendrite

Dendrites are the branched projections of a neuron that act to propagate the electrochemical stimulation received from other neural cells to the cell body, or soma, of the neuron from which the dendrites project.

Electrical stimulation is transmitted onto dendrites by upstream neurons (usually their axons) via synapses which are located at various points throughout the dendritic tree.

Image result for dendrites

Figure 8.  Dendrites  (Source)

Dendrites are one of two types of protoplasmic protrusions that extrude from the cell body of a neuron, the other type being an axon.

Axons can be distinguished from dendrites by several features including shape, length, and function. Dendrites often taper off in shape and are shorter, while axons tend to maintain a constant radius and be relatively long.

Typically, axons transmit electrochemical signals and dendrites receive the electrochemical signals.

The Table below lists the Nutraceuticals, Food and Herbs that May Enhance the Function of Dendrites

Nutraceuticals, Food and Herbs that May Enhance the Function of Dendrites

CategoryNutraceuticals/Foods/Herbs
Alkaloids
Huperzine A
Amino Acids
Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR)
Proline
Hormones
Estrogen
Lipids
DHA
Phosphatidylserine
Organic Acids
Malic Acid
Nootropics
Hydergine
Herbs
Ashwagnadha
Gota Kola

Synaptic Cleft

The synaptic cleft, which is a component of the chemical synapse, is the minute space (approximately 20 nanometers wide) that exists between the presynaptic membrane of axons and the postsynaptic membrane of receiving (normally) dendrites. 

When nerve impulses reach a synapse they cause the release of a neurotransmitter which diffuses across the synaptic cleft and triggers a further impulse in the postsynaptic membrane of the dendrite of the next neuron.

The small volume of the cleft allows neurotransmitter concentration to be raised and lowered rapidly.  2 

Image result for synaptic cleft

Figure 9.  Synaptic Cleft  (Source)

The Table below lists the Nutraceuticals, Food and Herbs that May Prevent Deterioration of the Synaptic Cleft

Nutraceuticals, Food and Herbs that May Prevent Deterioration of the Synaptic Cleft

CategoryNutraceuticals/Foods/Herbs
Lipids
Phosphatidylserine
Minerals
Selenium
Nootropics
Centrophenoxine

Consolidation and Summary Table

The Table below is a consolidation and summary of the Nutraceuticals, Food and Herbs that enhance and protect the nine (9) components of neurons.

Legend:

NEU-Neuron; NIP-Nerve Impluses; AXN-Axons; MYL-Myelin Sheath; PST-Presynaptic Terminal; PSM-Presynaptic Membrane; SNV-Synaptic Vesicles; DEN- Dendrite; SYN-Synaptic Cleft

Consolidation and Summary Table - Components of the Neurons

CategoryNutraceuticals/Foods/HerbsNeuNIpAxnMylPsTPsMSnVDenSyn#
Alkaloids
Huperzine AX1
Amino Acids
Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR)XXXXX5
NACX1
PyroglutamateX1
SAMeXX2
TaurineX1
TheanineX1
ArginineX1
ProlineX1
Animal O E
Mylein Sheath ExtractX1
Foods
Perilla OilX1
Herbs
Ginko BilobaXX2
American GinsengX1
AswagandhaXXX3
Bacopa MonneriX1
Gota KolaXXX3
Korean GinsengXX2
Magnolia (Honokiol)X1
CodonopsisX1
Lions ManeX1
Hormones
EstrogensX1
EstradiolX1
ProgesteroneX1
MelatoninX1
DHEAX1
Lipids
DHAXXXXX5
EPAXX2
GangliosidesXX3
PhosphatidylserineXXXXX5
Ginsenoside Rb1X1
Ginsenoside Rg1X1
OctacosanolX1
PhosphatidylcholineX1
CholesterolX1
Alpha-Lineloic AcidX1
Minerals
CalciumXX2
LithiumXX2
PhosphrousX1
MagnesiumXX2
SodiumX1
PotassiumX1
SeleniumX1
Calcium AEPX1
Nootropics
DeprenylX1
HydergineXXX3
PiracetamX1
CentrophenoxineXX2
VinpocetineX1
Nucelic Cmd
InosineX1
UridineX1
Neurotrns
GABAX1
Organic Ad
Malic AcidX1
Polyphenols
NobiletinX1
Coenzyme Q10X1
Vitamins
InositolXX2
CholineX1
Alpha-GPCX1
Vitamin EX1
Vitamin AXX2
Vitamin B1XXX3
Vitamin B12XXXX4
Vitamin B6XX2
Folic AcidX1
Vitamin DX1
Vitamin DX1

Top Nine Substances for Neurons

Based on the Consolidations and Summary Table, the Chart below lists the top nine (9) nutraceuticals, foods and herbs for the enhancement and protection of neurons. 

It is of no surprise that the top three substances that enhance and protect the five (5) components of neurons include:

  • Phosphatidylserine
  • DHA
  • Acetyl-l-Carnitine

Chart:  Top 9 Substances for Neurons