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Vitamins may help stem cells in the brain survive inflammatory damage

Although it sounds like a school for bulb-shaped behemoths, the hippocampus is, in fact, a key brain region where new experiences are cemented into memory. It's also one of only two areas in the human brain (the other being the olfactory bulb) where new nerve cells are known to be formed even in adults. That's a job that calls for healthy, functioning stem cells, which indeed are found in both places.

Inflammation has been tied to defective new brain-cell formation in the hippocampus. Impaired formation of new brain cells has, in turn, been linked to problems ranging from chronic neurodegenerative disorders in older people to cognitive impairment in children who receive brain irradiation.

Now, a just-published study spearheaded by Stanford brain researchers Theo Palmer, PhD, and Rona Giffard, MD, PhD, has shown that, in mice at least, oral administration of either of two vitamins - thiamine and alpha-lipoic acid - substantially protected stem cells in the hippocampus from the inflammatory damage inflicted by irradiation.

A bit too early to say right now, but it's certainly possible these two substances may someday be shown to have a role in staving off damage to the brain induced acutely by radiation or chronically by the inflammatory insults to which we're all increasingly exposed as we grow older. And another nice thing: Both vitamins are quite harmless and cheaply available as over-the-counter or mail-order supplements.

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