Plasmalogens: An important link to neurological disorders.

When we think of neurologic disorders like Dementia , Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Diseased, Multiple Sclerosis, and Autism we are left with a lot of why questions and a lot of theories. Most neurologic disorders involve issues with neurodegeneration, neuroinflammation, and mitochondrial problems. And finding the root cause is subject to tremendous research and therapeutic trials. I was introduced not too long ago to plasmalogens as a biomarker. And to be honest I had only heard the term once by a famous lipidologist Dr. Mark Houston when he spoke on cardiovascular disease. So as a newby I wanted to find out why plasmalogens are seen to be a link and possible way to prevent and support these troubling conditions. So recently interviewed Dr. Dayan Goodenowe of Prodrome Sciences for my podcast and dove into this topic. I really feel this information needs to be shared. Below is some overview. And further below is a link to the podcast and a transcript of the episode.

What is a plasmalogen?

A plasmalogen is a phospholipid in the body with a ether bond in the sn-1 position to an alkenyl group. This is heavy science for sure but the picture below might help.

Phospholipids the are major constituents of the membranes of cells and intracellular organelles and vesicles. They give shape, fluidity, structure, and a communication medium to our organs, organelles, cell membranes, and vesicles.

Plasmalogens are largely thought to be to function as an antioxidant against reactive oxygen species. They also are thought to be involved with cell signaling. There has been associative data to suggest that low levels of plasmalogens are associated with Parkinson's Disease, Dementia, Alzheimer's Disease, and Multiple sclerosis. And even stronger evidence the the levels being lower are associated with cognitive decline. (see Su XQ, Wang J, Sinclair AJ. Plasmalogens and Alzheimer's disease: a review. Lipids Health Dis. 2019;18(1):100. Published 2019 Apr 16. doi:10.1186/s12944-019-1044-1)

They seem to be important in keeping our nervous tissue from being inflamed, degenerating, and dysfunctional. As far as memory is concerned they have a particular deep role in helping with acetylcholine transmission which is the link to cognition.

Plasmalogens are found in numerous human tissues, with particular enrichment in the nervous, immune, and cardiovascular system. Cells are made up of phospholipids. (that is what keeps cells fluid and able to maintain form and communication). Plasmalogens are found in the phospholipids and synaptic clefts of many tissues. In human heart tissue, nearly 30–40% of choline glycerophospholipids are plasmalogens. In the human heart 32% of the glycerophospholipids are plasmalogens. 20% of the brain is made up of plasmalogen. And 70% of the myelin sheath ethanolamine glycerophospholipids are plasmalogens.

Plasmalogens are made in peroxisomes in the liver. This part of the liver is responsible of using lipids/fats for various body needs. In fact this is where cholesterol and bile is made. Peroxisomes use lipids to synthesize plasmalogens. As we get older our liver function slows down and the production of plasmalogens declines. Hence we may be more susceptible to oxidative stress in the brain, liver, and immune system.

Sadly you cannot eat plasmalogens. If there are plasmalogens in your food (ie. a beef steak) they will not survive stomach acid. However, you can make plasmalogens with exercise.

There are blood tests available now that offer plasmalogen profiles. These can be done through Prodrome Sciences. These tests comprehensively scan for deficiencies in plasmalogens . They look for markers in :

Membrane Lipids

  • Ethanolamine Plasmalogens

  • Choline Plasmalogens

  • Phosphatidyl ethanolamines

  • Phosphatidyl cholines

  • Sphingomyelins

  • Cholesterol

Membrane Lipid breakdown products

  • Lysophosphatidyl cholines

  • Phosphorylcholine

  • Diacylglycerols

  • Ceramides

  • Free fatty acids (DHA, DPA, EPA, AA, LA, OA)

Lipid storage

  • Triacylglycerols

Anti-inflammatory lipids

  • Gastrointestinal Tract Acids GTAs

Key Lipid ratios

  • Omega-3/6

  • Omega-3/9

  • Plasmalogen choline to Phosphatidylcholine

  • Ethanolamine plasmalogen to Phosphatidyl ethanolamine

  • Sphingomyelin to Ceramide

With this information you can replete plasmalogens with newly available plasmalogen precursor supplements. These supplements survive the stomach acid as a precursor and reportedly will transform into active plasmalogens once they are absorbed and sent to the liver.

On the surface the supplement appears to be similar to DHA fish oil however it is different. According to formulator and inventor Dr. Goodenowe; in regular omega-3 supplements the DHA/EPA/DPA are attached to a tri-acyl glycerol backbone. This is the regular oil backbone. However in plasmalogen precursors such as (prodromeneuro); DHA/DPA/EPA is attached to an Alkyl-acyl glycerol backbone. This is what makes it a plasmalogen precursor. That form allows the liver to synthesize this into a plasmalogen. Again referring back to the diagram on plasmalogen synthesis we see that we are absorbing a precursor to plasmalogens.

I am very encouraged that plasmalogens provide a piece of the puzzle that was missing. I am offering testing of plasmalogens and appropriate repletion strategies. I am even trying them out to help with my brain health. Find out more information by reaching out at Below is a continuation of this topic with podcast and show notes.

Link to Podcast:

Transcript of the episode

Dr. Adam Rinde: Dr. Goodenowe, welcome to The ONE Thing podcast. I'm delighted to speak with you today.

Dr. Dayan Goodenowe: Well, thank you very much for inviting me, Dr. Rinde. I'm very excited to talk about plasmalogens and answer any questions you may have.

Dr. Adam Rinde: You're welcome. Same here, I am very excited to learn more about this very interesting topic. I think a great place for us to start is just to kind of hear a little bit about your background about how you've got involved with plasmalogens. I think it goes back to probably before 1999, doesn't it?

Dr. Dayan Goodenowe: Yes. The plasmalogens came afterwards. So, technically speaking, my background is in synthetic organic chemistry and then my PhD is actually in the biochemical mechanisms of psychiatric disease. And so, my background is in the pharmaceutical industry in medicinal chemistry looking at drugs, structure activity, relationships and so on. And, what happened in the late 80s, early 90s was that this whole genomics revolution took off with this concept of being able to sequence the whole human genome and our ability to kind of look at health in a more global sense. But my background in biochemistry and chemistry, there was no really technology that was analogous to whole genome technology for small molecules and for the biochemistry of life. And so, I had to take a little bit of a pause and my first real invention was this invention of complex sample analysis using high field mass spectrometry and really allowed us to do comprehensive, non-targeted analysis of the biochemistry of systems.

And the real cool thing about it was that we could measure in large numbers of individuals because we could do clinical trial work as well as cell culture or animal model studies and we applied this technology to human health and clinical trials. We're looking at case control studies, people with cancer, without cancer, people with dementia, without dementia and so on. And when we did the dementia studies, we found that this class of molecules was reproducibly lower in individuals with dementia and the more severe the dementia was in these individuals, the more severe the depletion in these molecules were.

And, when we did structure elucidation of what these actually were in the blood of these individuals, it turns out that their plasmalogens, so that's how I really discovered plasmalogens. It really wasn't something that I was pre-thinking about. It was totally organically discovered using human epidemiological research.

Dr. Adam Rinde: Sort of an unexpected finding.

Dr. Dayan Goodenowe: Absolutely.