Neurodegenerative disorders are abundant but treatments are far and few between. These disorders are highly associated with the detrimental effects of reactive oxygen species from oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is the imbalance of the creation and elimination of reactive oxygen species or free radicals that results in damage to cells, organs, and the body.
The central nervous system is especially vulnerable to oxidative stress secondary to its high oxygen consumption and weak antioxidant mechanisms. As a neurologist who treats neurodegenerative disorders on an almost daily basis, I have seen the need for more treatment options. I became interested in antioxidants as potential treatments for neurodegenerative disorders as I treated these disorders with traditional medications and unfortunately continued to see the devastating progression.
Free radicals and reactive oxygen species are naturally balanced within the body through enzymatic and non-enzymatic processes. Enzymatic antioxidant mechanisms include superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase.
Non-enzymatic antioxidants include vitamin C and glutathione. Vitamin C donates an electron to neutralize free radicals. Glutathione reacts with free radicals and dimerizes to become non-radical products, as well as maintaining critical proteins important in DNA repair and gene expression. Neurodegenerative disorders develop when there is an imbalance of the creation and elimination of reactive oxygen species within the body.
Neurodegenerative disorders include Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, etc. These are disorders that cause progressive central nervous system deterioration with associated misfolded proteins. They are progressive and unfortunately unrelenting.
We have treatments but not enough. We must think outside typical medications and find ways to minimize the symptoms and deterioration. Parkinson’s Disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that sees degeneration of the basal ganglia within the brain with alpha-synuclein proteins that affects motor control.
Alzheimer’s Disease is a neurodegenerative disorder where you develop neurofibrillary tangles and neural plaques (tau and beta-amyloid proteins) that results in central nervous system cell loss and brain atrophy. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects the motor neurons with TAR DNA binding proteins in the primary motor cortex, corticospinal tracts, brain stem, and spinal cord.
Oxidative stress generates and accumulates misfolded proteins that lead to excessive free radicals and subsequent neurotoxicity. As the damage of reactive oxygen species accumulates, the neurodegenerative disorders reveal themselves and symptoms develop.
Treatments targeting this mechanism of injury can be an important part of the multifaceted management. Obviously, there is no cure and no one treatment is the answer. However, logically, antioxidants provide a likely beneficial role. Given that neurons are highly differentiated, meaning they can no longer develop and proliferate into different cell types, neurons can not regenerate once destroyed or damaged. Therefore, preventing further neurodegeneration with antioxidants should be the treatment goal at this time, until a cure is developed. If we can rebalance the creation and elimination of reactive oxygen species, the neuronal degeneration presumably will be halted. Once we halt the progression by stabilizing the balance, we can hopefully treat neurodegenerative disorders further with stem cell therapy to create new neurons in the near future.