The Importance of Maintaining the Myelin Sheath

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

myelin

Myelin sheath

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

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 fir 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.

Table 1 illustrates the composition of the myelin in a human as compared to a bovine and rat:

Table 1  Composition of CNS Myelin and Brain

  Myelin White matter  
Substancea  Human Bovine Rat Human Bovine Gray matter 

(human)

Protein 30.0 24.7 29.5 39.0 39.5 55.3
Lipid 70.0 75.3 70.5 54.9 55.0 32.7
Cholesterol 27.7 28.1 27.3 27.5 23.6 22.0
Cerebroside 22.7 24.0 23.7 19.8 22.5 5.4
Sulfatide 3.8 3.6 7.1 5.4 5.0 1.7
Total galactolipid 27.5 29.3 31.5 26.4 28.6 7.3
Ethanolamine phosphatides 15.6 17.4 16.7 14.9 13.6 22.7
Lecithin 11.2 10.9 11.3 12.8 12.9 26.7
Sphingomyelin 7.9 7.1 3.2 7.7 6.7 6.9
Phosphatidylserine 4.8 6.5 7.0 7.9 11.4 8.7
Phosphatidylinositol 0.6 0.8 1.2 0.9 0.9 2.7
Plasmalogensb 12.3 14.1 14.1 11.2 12.2 8.8
Total phospholipid 43.1 43.0 44.0 45.9 46.3 69.5

a Protein and lipid figures in percent dry weight; all others in percent total lipid weight.
b  Plasmalogens are primarily ethanolamine phosphatides.

Source: 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; Copyright © 1999, American Society for Neurochemistry

There are a number of natural substances that have been researched and studied for their ability to enhance the function of the myelin sheath:

How Myelin Sheaths speed up the Action Potential

Neurons, Axons, Myelin Sheath and Demyelinisation

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