What Causes Leaky Brain?
Repairing the Blood Brain Barrier

POSTED BY: Mindd Foundation

It is valuable to discuss the different aspects of a Leaky Brain and how to make the blood-brain barrier whole

Inside the Blood-Brain Barrier

The brain, with its numerous functions critical to life, is protected from potentially harmful substances in the bloodstream by a fence-like structure called the Blood-Brain Barrier.

The Blood-Brain Barrier, or BBB, is a single-layered lattice of cells joined together by tight junctions that keep most substances out and allow few substances into the brain.

Toxic substances typically kept out include heavy metals, pesticides, pcbs as well as damaging proteins while substances allowed in are oxygen, hormones, and nutrients.

What is a Leaky Brain?

A brain is considered leaky when the Blood-Brain Barrier has been compromised in some way. . If the tight junctions become loose or broken, the BBB becomes more permeable and harmful substances can leak in. Harmful chemicals and proteins can damage the brain leading to inflammation; in other words, a Leaky Brain is an Inflamed Brain.

What Causes Leaky Brain?

The profound connection between the brain and the gut cannot be underestimated as research repeatedly confirms that microbes living in the gut affect the brain both positively and negatively.

In fact, the stomach and small intestine contain a lining similar to the blood-brain barrier which also keeps harmful substances from entering the gut.

Therefore, many of the same factors that cause a leaky gut—poor gut health, unhealthy diet, food intolerances, food sensitivities, toxins and infections—can also create a leaky brain.

Studies from Harvard³ show that wheat creates leaky gut in everyone as a protein called gliadin, found in wheat and gluten, increases another protein, zonulin. Zonulin weakens the tight junctions of the gut lining and BBB thereby contributing to leaky gut and leaky brain.

 

Five causes of Leaky Brain

  1. Gut Dysbiosis (infections)

  2. Leaky Gut

  3. Autoimmune Disease

  4. Mental Health Conditions

  5. Stress & Vagus Nerve Dysfunction

All five of these categories have inflammation as a basis for the problem, yet they become even more problematic in the following disease states:

  • Bacterial infections deteriorate the BBB allowing bacteria into the brain where they do not belong

  • CIRS and Mold toxins trigger inflammation, promote oxidative damage in the brain, and disrupt the BBB

  • Excess glutamate overstimulates nerves causing the BBB to breakdown increasing permeability to potentially harmful agents

  • Free radicals benefit inflammatory as well as aging processes further damaging the BBB

  • High blood sugar and diabetes represent dramatic changes in blood sugar which produce oxidative stress and inflammation

  • Elevated homocysteine, seen in individuals living with heart disease, autoimmune disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative disease or those who survive a stroke, changes tight junction function and prevents the BBB from functioning properly

  • High-fat, high-calorie diets and obesity increase oxidative damage and deprive the brain of oxygen

  • Hypoxia places the body in a condition of insufficient oxygen supply thereby further damaging the BBB’s tight junctions

  • Liver damage releases a signal called MMP9 into the bloodstream that increases BBB permeability

  • Low quality sleep interrupts the sleep-wake cycle interrupting the uptake of nutrients and offload of toxins while increasing inflammation

Mental Health Conditions and Leaky Brain

Whilst it is more obvious that leaky brain causes inflammation which then drives mental health conditions, it is less known that mental health conditions can also drive inflammation and leaky brain.  The contributing factors could be:

  • Toxins 

  • Stress Hormones

  • Neurotransmitters

  • Stress

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Brain-Gut Axis: The Vagus Nerve Connection

The brainstem connects to the vagus nerve, which in turn connects to all the digestive organs. The brain sends signals through the vagus nerve to the organs. The organs also send signals through the vagus nerve to the brain.

The vagus nerve initiates many important digestive functions such as stomach acid secretion, enzyme production, gallbladder function and intestinal motility.

If there is poor brain communication to the vagus nerve there can be many negative effects including:

  • Chronic inflammation

  • Poor digestion

  • Leaky gut,

  • Inflamed brain

  • Depression and related mental health conditions

What are the Signs and Symptoms of a Leaky Brain?

Leaky Brain manifests as multiple signs and symptoms, so pay attention to these as opposed to ignoring them:

  • ADD/ADHD/Autism spectrum disorders

  • Brain fog or difficulty concentrating

  • Chronic fatigue that does not improve with rest or sleep

  • Headaches or migraines that come on suddenly become worse with standing, and grow more severe as the day progresses

  • Memory loss or another cognitive decline which may lead to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease

  • Mood disorders, particularly anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia

  • Peripheral neuropathy or muscular sclerosis

  • Seizures

It is important not to ignore these signs and symptoms because those living with Leaky Brain are at an increased risk of developing neurological or psychiatric conditions. Many of these conditions are considered signs and symptoms of Leaky Brain, but they may also be counted among the causes of Leaky Brain.

 

Leaky Brain Can Cause:

  • Reduced mental ability, difficulty concentrating or multitasking, short and long-term memory loss, collectively referred to as brain fog, via prolonged activation of mast cells

  • An increase in VCAM-1 adhesion molecules which allow beta-amyloid peptides to accumulate in the brain forming plaques around nerve cells interrupting their function and blocking their nutrient supply, a process more commonly known as Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Changes in the transport of molecules between the brain and bloodstream which allow Huntington Disease to progress and decrease the number of proteins available to form tight junctions within the BBB.

  • Brain inflammation and oxidative damage, increasing the risk for schizophrenia, by destroying BBB-supporting, astroglial cells and triggering the release of toxic inflammatory agents further breaking down the BBB.

  • Insufficient blood flow to the brain as well as abnormal brain activity, as seen in patients living with depression, because extended periods of brain inflammation disable adequate nerve function similar to schizophrenia.

 

Diseases that Contribute to Leaky Brain include:

  • Multiple Sclerosis – People with this disease have high levels of MMP9 which damages nerves along with significant albumin in the brain which promotes inflammation and makes nerves more susceptible to glutamate toxicity.

  • Autism – More of a reciprocal relationship, Autism can cause Leaky Brain and vice versa; BBB permeability is higher in people diagnosed on the Autism spectrum thereby tolerating mast cell activation and inflammation.

  • Seizures & Epilepsy – Seizures interrupt BBB function, and prolonged seizures permit inflammation and albumin to rise in the brain increasing BBB permeability which can lead to chronic epilepsy.

 

Are there Diagnostic Tests for a Leaky Brain?

With the assistance of an Integrative Health Practitioner, individuals can screen for their overall risk of Leaky Brain with one or more of the following tests:

  • GABA-EEG
    Gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, is a neurotransmitter that inhibits neural impulses. Once believed not to cross the BBB at all, recent research indicates that GABA crosses the BBB in small quantities. So, with the assistance of an EEG, the amount of GABA crossing the BBB (or the rate at which it crosses) can reveal the overall leakiness of the BBB

  • Spectrophotometry and Optical Imaging
    Albumin, a prominent protein that circulates in the blood, cannot cross the BBB under healthy conditions. A dye called Evans Blue which only binds and dyes albumin can be injected into the bloodstream. Then, spectrophotometry reveals the amount of Evans Blue dye accumulated in the brain, if any. To assess the full amount of BBB leakage, optical imaging is preferred following the dyeing process

  • MMP9 Level Evaluation
    Matrix metalloproteinases, or MMPs, are enzymes that break down the peptide bonds that hold proteins together. They contribute to BBB damage by breaking the tight junctions that maintain BBB integrity. MMP levels elevate following tissue damage in the liver or brain (i.e., stroke, traumatic brain injury). Testing for high MMP in the blood can disclose a patient’s likelihood of Leaky Brain. As a preliminary treatment, the patient can begin taking an MMP inhibitor to limit BBB damage

  • Genetic Testing
    Genetic testing can reveal if someone is innately inclined to develop a Leaky Brain. Alterations in any of the genes that express tight junction proteins, control oxidative stress, regulate inflammation, or fight autoimmunity can cause Leaky Brain. Knowing such altered genes are present can even further direct an individual’s treatment options and choices

  • Occludin and Zonulin
    Occludin and zonulin are two proteins that help determine both gut lining and blood-brain barrier permeability. Elevated antibodies against occludin and zonulin are another way to gauge leaky brain syndrome.

Additional diagnostic measures that can be explored involve testing with horseradish peroxidase (HRP), radiolabeled markers with sucrose or inulin, other blood proteins (fibrinogen and immunoglobulin), sodium fluorescein, and dextran. An Integrative Health Practitioner can provide more information on all these tests.

 

How to Reverse and Heal a Leaky Brain – Stop, Start, and Seek

Treating a leaky brain starts by healing a leaky gut. This involves eliminating all the causative factors of leaky gut and leaky brain and then adding dietary and lifestyle factors that support brain health.

Following these steps will lower inflammation in the body and brain, maximize the transport of oxygen, glucose, and other nutrients into the brain, facilitate better removal of toxins out of the brain, reduce oxidative stress, and help rebuild tight junctions to restore the integrity of the BBB.

 

STOP:

  • Consuming gluten and foods that the individual cannot tolerate

  • Including sugar and processed foods in meals

  • Ignoring stress

  • Allowing bacterial and viral infections to fester before getting treatment

  • Drinking alcohol in excess

  • Exposure to environmental toxins in air, water and food

 

START:

  • Detoxifying the body of pesticides,  and heavy metals

  • Taking in probiotic foods to keep the gut balanced

  • Eating essential fatty acids, which are vital for the brain, including avocado, coconut oil, flaxseed, hemp seed, oily fish, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts

  • Reducing inflammation through the diet – see our article Understanding Leaky Gut Syndrome

  • Making quality sleep a priority

  • Reducing psychological and emotional stress through exercise, meditation, chanting/song

 

SEEK:

  • Supplements that help repair the BBB, (do seek the support of an integrative health practitioner) including:

    • Acetyl L-Carnitine, Alpha-Lipoic Acid, Alpha-GPC

    • Angelica (Dong Quai) Extracts, Astragalus, Astaxanthin, Apigenin

    • B12-B6-Folate Mix, Berberine, Bitter Melon, Butyrate

    • Catechins, Chlorogenic-Acid, Citicoline, Collagen, Curcumin

    • Vitamin D3, Ellagic Acid, Fish Oil, Ginseng, Goji Fruit

    • Hydrogen, Licorice, Luteolin, Lycopene

    • Myoinositol, Magnesium, Melatonin, Methylene Blue

    • Olive Leaf Extract, Oxaloacetate, Parthenolide (Feverfew)

    • Progesterone, Pterostilbene, Resveratrol, Rosmarinic Acid

    • Shilajit, Selenium, Sulforaphane, Ursolic Acid

  • Therapeutic medications that repair the BBB, like:

    • Glucocorticoids which increase anti-inflammatory proteins in the brain

    • MMP Inhibitors which inhibit MMP function and help rebuild the BBB

    • Angiotensin which blocks MMP9 increases anti-inflammatory proteins and protects the BBB from further damage

Special Treatment for People with Multiple Sclerosis

Steroid hormone treatments, such as methylprednisolone, have proven helpful in reducing MMP9 levels in the central nervous system. Such therapies also prevent BBB leakage, demonstrate BBB strengthening effects, and decrease brain inflammation by lowering the number of circulating immune cells.

Special Treatment for People with Seizures and Epilepsy

Anti-epileptic, anticonvulsant drugs, microRNA treatments, and mTOR inhibitors are potential forms of treatment exclusively for their ability to prevent or limit seizure activity. While more research is needed, in theory reducing seizure events will limit the spread of inflammation as well as albumin leakage into the brain allowing BBB tight junctions time to repair.

It is never too early to take measures to prevent Leaky Brain nor too late to take steps to fight Leaky Brain.

The sooner diet and lifestyle align to support gut health as well as brain health, the sooner the Blood-Brain Barrier will regain it’s full protective function and prevent Leaky Brain.

 

 

References
  1. Anyia, A. (2018). Leaky brain: Signs, symptoms, causes, treatments and more. Retrieved from Consumer Health Digest at https://www.consumerhealthdigest.com/brain-health/leaky-brain.html

  2. Ball, K. (2018). Could your leaky gut be causing a leaky brain? Retrieved from Mr Vitamins at https://www.mrvitamins.com.au/news/digestion/could-your-leaky-gut-be-causing-a-leaky-brain/

  3. Fasano, A. Zonulin, regulation of tight junctions, and autoimmune diseases https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3384703/

  4. Cohen, J. (2017, October). What is the blood-brain barrier? Causes and tests for a leaky brain. Retrieved from Self-Hacked at https://www.selfhacked.com/blog/blood-brain-barrier-causes-tests-leaky-brain/

  5. Kent, J. (n.d.) 7 Tips for reversing leaky brain syndrome. Retrieved from Mind Body Network at https://mindbodynetwork.com/article/7-tips-for-reversing-leaky-brain-syndrome

  6. Lopez-Ramirez, M. A., Wu, D., Pryce G.,…Romero, I. A. (2014). MicroRNA-155 negatively affects blood-brain barrier function during neuroinflammation. The FASEB Journal, DOI: 10.1096/fj.13-248880

  7. Perlmutter, D. (2018). What on earth is a leaky brain? [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.drperlmutter.com/leaky-brain/

  8. What is the Gut-Brain Axis? Retrieved from https://empoweredsustenance.com/gut-brain-axis/

  9. Signs you might have a leaky brain. https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-20800/signs-you-might-have-a-leaky-brain-what-to-do-about-it.html

How to Actually Heal and Repair a Leaky Blood-Brain Barrier

August 26, 2021 Jordan Fallis

“Blood-brain barrier leakage means that the brain has lost its protective means, the stability of brain cells is disrupted and the environment in which nerve cells interact becomes ill-conditioned. These mechanisms could eventually lead to dysfunction in the brain.”

— Dr. Walter H. Backes, Maastricht University Medical Center

A healthy, properly-functioning blood-brain barrier is absolutely critical for optimal brain and mental health.

The blood-brain barrier is a protective shield that surrounds your brain.

It acts as a gatekeeper and filter, allowing beneficial nutrients to cross over into your brain, and keeping unwanted molecules out of your brain.  

But in his book Why Isn’t My Brain Working, Dr. Datis Kharrazian explains that the blood-brain barrier can break down and become “leaky”.

This allows harmful substances to enter your brain, contributing to brain inflammation, which has been shown to cause cognitive problems and mental illness (92, 110-111).

Hyper-permeability of the blood-brain barrier and neuroinflammation have been linked to a number of different brain and mental health problems and symptoms, including depression, anxiety, cognitive impairment, brain fog, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson’s disease, headaches, migraines, chronic fatigue syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and schizophrenia (101-109). 

A number of factors contribute to “leaky brain”, including (93-100):

Needless to say, these things are very common today, so a lot of people likely have a leaky blood-brain barrier.

The good news is that even though the blood-brain barrier can break down and become leaky, it can also be fixed!

You can repair it if you give it what it needs to heal. 

After living in a moldy home and suffering multiple concussions, my brain and its barrier were in rough shape.

Since then, I’ve searched far and wide for solutions that could strengthen it.

Here are 24 strategies that have been shown to support and repair the blood brain barrier.

Many of them have helped me.

Together, they can help you reduce neuroinflammation, heal your “leaky brain,” and overcome your brain and mental health challenges. 

1. Avoid Gluten

Avoiding gluten is necessary for optimal brain and mental health.

I’m convinced that if you struggle with a chronic brain or mental illness, you should follow a strict gluten-free diet for at least 30 days and see how you feel.

You'll likely feel better.

There’s one main reason I recommend this…

Gluten has been shown to elevate “zonulin”.

Zonulin is a protein in your body that increases the permeability of the intestinal barrier and disrupts the blood-brain barrier (48).

Researchers have found that gluten clearly increases zonulin and contributes to “leaky gut” and “leaky brain”, resulting in neuroinflammation and altered cognitive function (49, 50).

Gluten sensitivity can also create visible changes to the white matter in your brain, according to research in The Lancet Neurology (51).

Yet unfortunately, the myth continues to spread that only people with celiac disease need to avoid gluten-containing food.

That’s simply not true.  

Dr. David Perlmutter, MD, author of Grain Brain and Brain Maker, explains:

“Not only is there increased gut permeability when the gut is exposed to gliadin, a protein found in gluten, but in fact the blood brain barrier also becomes more permeable in response to gliadin exposure.”

You should also determine if you have other food sensitivities and remove those foods from your diet as well. A lot of people are sensitive to dairy, along with gluten. I can't tolerate gluten, dairy and egg whites and have to avoid them completely. 

2. Heal Your Gut (and Increase the Good Bacteria Within It)

There is a clear connection between your brain and digestive system.

I’ve discussed this before.

Whatever happens in your gut directly impacts your brain function.

Because of this connection, it’s critical to address gut issues in order to heal a leaky brain.

 

Researchers have studied mice that are “germ free”.

“Germ-free” mice means that the mice don’t have any bacteria in their intestines.

And what did the researchers find?

They found that these germ-free mice had very leaky blood-brain barriers (56).

But when these germ-free mice received a fecal transfer, where researchers introduced bacteria into their intestines, the permeability of their blood-brain barriers decreased significantly (57).

So it’s becoming increasing clear that our gut bacteria directly affect the health of our blood-brain barrier.

And manipulating your gut bacteria, and increasing the amount of good bacteria in your digestive system, can help improve the integrity of your blood-brain barrier and heal your leaky brain. 

“Given that the microbiome composition and diversity change over time, it is tempting to speculate that the blood-brain barrier integrity also may fluctuate depending on the microbiome.”

— Dr. Sven Pettersson, MD, PhD

In my experience, this is true, as my brain functions much better when I take care of my gut. 

Eating more prebiotic fiber and resistant starch, taking a high-quality probiotic, and eating fermented foods on a regular basis can increase the amount of good bacteria in your gut.

I take Optimal Biotics every day.

You should check out my previous article about gut health to learn more.

And if you have depression or anxiety, taking these probiotics can help.

3. Drink Coffee

Coffee and caffeine are excellent for brain health. There is lots of research showing they are very healthy and can be protective against dementia.

One possible explanation for this is that caffeine supports the blood-brain barrier.

Studies show that caffeine protects against Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson’s disease by keeping the blood-brain barrier intact, and protecting against blood-brain barrier dysfunction and leakage (32).

 

In one study, researchers found that caffeine blocks the disruption of the blood-brain barrier, concluding that caffeine is “useful in the treatment Alzheimer's disease” (33, 34).

Another study showed that caffeine can protect against Parkinson’s disease and neurodegeneration by stabilizing the blood-brain barrier (35).

I used to not be able to handle any coffee and caffeine at all. But now that I have my anxiety under control, I can handle it just fine. I drink one cup of this coffee most mornings.

Coffee and caffeine can disrupt sleep though, so make sure you don’t drink it later in the day. I have my last cup sometime between 10 in the morning and noon. If I have it any later than that, it disrupts my sleep.

It's also important to note that some people simply can’t tolerate coffee. This is because most coffee contains low levels of mycotoxins (toxic metabolites produced by mold). 

After living in a moldy home for more than one year, I’m extremely sensitive to mold and mycotoxins. Kicking Horse Kickass coffee and Bulletproof coffee are the only two coffees I have found so far that don’t make me feel sick. I can also tolerate pure caffeine tablets.

Most people can tolerate regular coffee just fine. But if coffee makes you feel terrible and jittery, it might be the quality of the coffee. Consider trying one of the two coffees above, or simply take pure caffeine, and see how you feel. You’ll likely feel better than if you consumed low-quality coffee. 

Lastly, there are additional brain health benefits when you consume the whole coffee fruit, instead of just coffee or pure caffeine. 

Usually, coffee beans are extracted from the whole coffee fruit for roasting. And then the surrounding coffee fruit is then thrown away. 

But this is a problem because the coffee fruit contains several healthy compounds not found in coffee beans themselves.

And researchers have now discovered that ingesting whole coffee fruit concentrate significantly increases brain function.

That’s why I included coffee fruit concentrate in the Optimal Brain supplement

4. Sulforaphane

Sulforaphane is a phytochemical found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts or cabbages.

 

It has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions.

It’s quite similar to curcumin.

Numerous studies have shown that sulforaphane can prevent the breakdown of the blood-brain barrier, reduce permeability of the blood-brain barrier, and improve cognitive function after stroke and traumatic brain injuries (87-91).

You can take sulforaphane in supplement form.

If you decide to take it as a supplement, make sure you get the "myrosinase-activated" form.

Myrosinase is the enzyme in broccoli that helps metabolize sulforaphane.

I once bought a supplement that didn't contain myrosinase and had to return it, and then ended up buying this one instead.

5. Avoid Alcohol

Not surprisingly, alcohol and acetaldehyde – a byproduct of alcohol metabolism – can weaken and damage the blood-brain barrier, and contribute to leaky brain.  

Researchers have found that the oxidative stress that results from excess alcohol consumption leads to blood-brain barrier dysfunction (58, 59).

And this can then lead to neuro-inflammation (60).

There are ways to protect your brain from alcohol, but you’re better off avoiding it completely or significantly reducing your consumption if you’re trying to heal.

Some types of alcohol are better than others. You can learn more about the best types of alcohol here

 6. Resveratrol or Pterostilbene

Resveratrol is a beneficial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound found in grapes, red wine, raspberries and dark chocolate.

It’s known to help prevent the development of neurodegenerative diseases.

And scientists are starting to understand why.

Resveratrol can increase BDNF and support your mitochondria.

And according to cutting-edge research, it can also protect and support your blood-brain barrier.

 

In a recent study, researchers gave resveratrol to Alzheimer’s patients and it restored the integrity of their blood-brain barriers.

Because of this, there was a reduction in brain inflammation, which slowed down cognitive decline in the patients (38, 39). 

Numerous other studies have found that resveratrol:

  • Significantly reduces the breakage, damage and dysfunction of the blood-brain barrier;

  • Defends and protects the blood-brain barrier; and

  • Improves and maintains the overall integrity of the blood-brain barrier (36-37, 40-43).

“Resveratrol imposes a kind of crowd control at the border of the brain. The agent seems to shut out unwanted immune molecules that can exacerbate brain inflammation and kill neurons.”

— Dr. Charbel Moussa, MD, PhD

Because of resveratrol’s ability to stabilize the blood-brain barrier and protect against neuroinflammation, researchers also believe it may reduce the clinical severity of multiple sclerosis (44).

Lastly, resveratrol has been shown to protects against oxidized LDL-induced breakage of the blood–brain barrier (45, 46).

So clearly resveratrol is great for our blood-brain barriers.

If resveratrol was a pharaceutical drug, we would definitely be hearing more about it. But natural compounds cannot be patented, so we don't.  

Pterostilbene, a compound found in blueberries, is very similar to resveratrol.

It’s also been shown to protect the blood-brain barrier by reducing oxidative stress, and it’s apparently better absorbed than resveratrol. In fact, it’s commonly referred to as a “better resveratrol” (47).

I tried this pterostilbene and it was beneficial, but I didn’t find it any more helpful than resveratrol, so I’ve decided to just stick with resveratrol considering it has significantly more research to back it up. 

7. Reduce Stress

I highly recommend you try to do something every day to manage and reduce your stress.

Research suggests that acute stress damages the blood-brain barrier (52).

And extreme stress has been shown to increase inflammation and increase the permeability of the blood-brain barrier (53-55).

But normalizing your stress levels can help the blood-brain barrier repair itself.

The most effective way to significantly reduce your stress and anxiety is neurofeedback. It’s advanced, guided meditation and I previously wrote about my experience with it here.

If you can’t access neurofeedback, taking up a daily meditation practice is an excellent idea.

I’m a big fan of the Muse headband. It’s a device that guides you while you meditation. Similar to neurofeedback, it gives you real-time feedback while you meditate. I wrote an entire review about it here, and you can get the device through Amazon or the Muse website

Regular massage, acupuncture, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), emotional freedom techniques (EFT), heart-rate variability (HRV) training, and this acupressure mat have helped me a lot as well.

Lying on this acupressure mat while using my EmWave2 for just 10 minutes relaxes my entire body and mind. I do this at night before bed.

Some nutrients and herbs that can help you with stress include zinc, magnesium, ashwagandha and phosphatidylserine.

This anti-anxiety supplement also includes a number of natural compounds that have helped me manage my stress over the years.

8. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that your body cannot produce itself. So you need to get them from diet or supplements, as they are absolutely necessary for the normal functioning of your brain and nervous system.

 

Omega-3 fatty acids can support your mitochondria, increase your BDNF levels, and help you overcome addiction and withdrawal.

But they can also support your blood-brain barrier.

Researchers have found that omega-3 fatty acids can: 

  • Reduce damage to the blood-brain barrier after stoke;

  • Limit blood-brain barrier disruption after traumatic brain injury; and

  • Benefit people with multiple sclerosis by indirectly reducing disruption of their blood-brain barriers (76-78).

Wild fish is the best food source of omega-3 fatty acids, but unfortunately, most people don't consume enough omega-3 fatty acids through their diet.

That’s why I recommend supplementing with krill oil, a special kind of fish oil that contains the essential omega-3 fatty acids. I take this one

Krill oil also contains astaxanthin, a powerful, naturally occurring carotenoid.

Astaxanthin has also been shown to decreases inflammation and protect the blood-brain barrier (118-119).

9. Sleep and Melatonin

Deep sleep is necessary for the optimal functioning of your blood-brain barrier.

My sleep used to be terrible and it was one of main factors that contributed to my poor brain and mental health. And then my poor brain and mental health would make my sleep worse. So it was a vicious cycle.

Sleep restriction has been shown to impair the functioning of the blood-brain barrier and increase its permeability (84).

So you should really try to get at least 7 hours of high-quality, restorative sleep every night.

Supplementing with melatonin can also help.

Melatonin is a hormone released by your pineal gland, a small gland in your brain. Melatonin helps control your sleep and wake cycles (circadian rhythm).

Adequate levels of melatonin are necessary to fall asleep quickly and sleep deeply throughout the night.

Research also shows that melatonin can stabilize the blood-brain barrier and prevent damage caused by traumatic brain injury (85, 86).

Besides taking melatonin, here are some other steps you can take to maintain your circadian rhythm and maximize the quality of your sleep:

You can also take this sleep supplement, which contains magnesium and a number of other natural compounds that I’ve used over the years to promote the production of melatonin.

10. Berberine

Berberine is an alkaloid extracted from various plants. 

It has anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective and possibly antidepressant effects. It can also improve intestinal health and lower cholesterol.

And several studies have shown that it can decrease the permeability of the blood-brain barrier and reduce brain damage after traumatic brain injury. It does this by suppressing inflammation (23-26). 

I’ve experimented with varying dosages of this berberine. I personally didn’t notice any profound brain and mental health benefits, but I have heard good things about berberine from other people. 

11. Avoid Environmental Mold and Mycotoxins

Environmental mold can be a serious problem for some people.

Unfortunately, most people aren’t even aware that mold is in their home or workplace and affecting their brain function.

In water-damaged buildings, mycotoxins (toxic metabolites produced by mold) are released into the air.

If you’re genetically susceptible, they can wreak havoc on your brain, and your cognitive function and mental health can deteriorate for no apparent reason.

One way mold and mycotoxins can disrupt brain function is by causing “leaky brain.”

Researchers have discovered that mycotoxins can clearly reduce the integrity of the blood-brain barrier (62).

They’ve also concluded that exposure to mycotoxins in an indoor environment can cause neurological damage. One way it does this is by breaking down the blood-brain barrier (61).

Several other studies have found that mycotoxins increase the permeability of blood-brain barrier and disrupt the functioning of the nervous system (63-66).

I lived in a moldy house for more than a year, and my blood-brain barrier likely became significantly leaky during that time, as my brain and mental health deteriorated. I also suffered a terrible concussion while living in that house, making my brain even more permeable. It took a while to get back to normal.

Today I use this air filter in my apartment to protect myself from any mold. It removes any mold spores and smoke that may be in the air.

Mycotoxins aren’t just in your environment though. Low amounts of mycotoxins are also often found in some seemingly healthy foods, such as tea, nuts, coffee and chocolate. I recommend finding the freshest, highest-quality, organic versions of these foods.

If I'm exposed to mold or their toxins, I supplement with activated charcoal or bentonite clay. Activated charcoal and bentonite clay are potent natural treatments that can trap toxins and chemicals, allowing them to be flushed out of your body.

12. B Vitamins

Several B vitamins have been shown to support the blood-brain barrier and help heal leaky brain.

Vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency disrupts the blood-brain barrier, and supplementing with Vitamin B1 restores its integrity (80-81).

Researchers have also found that vitamins B12, B6, and B9 (folate) can restore the integrity of the blood-brain barrier in adults that have elevated homocysteine levels and mild cognitive impairment. Homocysteine is an inflammatory compound that can contribute to blood-brain barrier breakdown at high levels, and the B vitamins normalize homocysteine levels (82-83).

13. Magnesium

Magnesium is a vital mineral that plays a key role in more than 300 biochemical reactions in your body.

It impacts your neurotransmitters and hormones, both of which can significantly impact your mood and brain function.

Magnesium is one of the three nutrients that I think everyone should be taking for their brain, because most people are deficient nowadays.

Research shows that it can support your mitochondria, protect your brain from alcohol, increase your BDNF levels, and help you overcome addiction and withdrawal.

And there is plenty of research showing that it can protect and support your blood-brain barrier as well.

Multiple studies have found that magnesium protects the blood-brain barrier, prevents its disruption, and significantly reduces hyperpermeability of the blood-brain barrier (27, 28, 31).

One study found that it decreases blood-brain barrier permeability by 41% (29).

Magnesium’s protective effect against blood-brain barrier hyperpermeability has also been seen after traumatic brain injury (30).

Foods that contain magnesium include spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds, almonds, avocado, dark chocolate and bananas.

But supplementation and taking Epsom salt baths is still necessary for most people because magnesium is rapidly used up during times of stress and certain psychiatric drugs can deplete magnesium.

14. Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA)

Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) is an antioxidant produced by your body.

It can also be taken as a supplement.

ALA is fat soluble and can easily cross the blood-brain barrier to protect your brain (1-3).

As I’ve discussed before, it can protect your brain from alcohol and support the mitochondria in your brain.

But not only can it cross your blood-brain barrier and support your brain; it can also support your blood-brain barrier itself.

Studies show that ALA has neuroprotective effects, and it maintains the integrity of the blood-brain barrier by reducing oxidative stress (4-5)

Researchers also point out that its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects can stabilize the blood-brain barrier. This makes it an “attractive therapeutic agent for the treatment” of multiple sclerosis and traumatic brain injury (6-8).

ALA is included in the Optimal Antiox supplement.

15. Acetyl-Carnitine (ALCAR)

Acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR) is an acetylated form of the amino acid carnitine.  

It’s been shown to have neuroprotective and cognitive-enhancing effects. It’s often used as a natural brain booster because it increases alertness and provides support to brain cells.  

ALCAR has also been shown to be very effective at alleviating chronic fatigue and improving mood. It helps reverse neurological decline and supports mitochondria function as well. 

It does so much, so not surprisingly, researchers have also found that ALCAR helps repair the blood-brain barrier by reversing mitochondria decay caused by oxidative damage (122).

I find that ALCAR personally gives me a big boost in mental energy and cognitive function.  

That’s why it’s included in the Optimal Brain supplement

16. Curcumin

Curcumin is the most heavily researched compound within turmeric, the spice that gives curry its yellow colour.

Curcumin is one of my favourite compounds for the brain. It can lower your cortisol levels and increase your BDNF levels.

 

But it can also:

  • Reduce the disruption and hyperpermeability of the blood-brain barrier;

  • Reverse blood-brain barrier dysfunction; and

  • Improve the overall integrity of the blood-brain barrier (13-18).

Studies have also shown that curcumin can prevent blood-brain barrier damage and reduce the permeability of the blood-brain barrier caused by oxygen and glucose deprivation (20-22).

Researchers believe it can do all of this because it significantly reduces inflammation and oxidative stress (19).

17. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that your skin synthesizes when it’s exposed to the sun.

Every tissue in your body has vitamin D receptors, including the brain, heart, muscles, and immune system.

This means your entire body needs it to function properly and a deficiency can lead to costly physiological and psychological consequences.

Researchers have found that Vitamin D can prevent the disruption of the blood-brain barrier, mainly by reducing inflammation (72, 73).

In patients with multiple sclerosis, Vitamin D has been shown to protect endothelial cells and reduce blood-brain barrier disruption (74).

And one study found that intranasal administration of vitamin D reduces blood–brain barrier disruption (75).

I personally take this Vitamin D3 supplement to make sure my Vitamin D levels are optimal.

It's important to test and monitor your Vitamin D levels before and after supplementing with it. You can order an at-home Vitamin D test here.

18. Citicoline or Alpha GPC

Choline is an essential nutrient that most people don’t consume enough of because very few foods in the Western diet contain it.

Citicoline (also known as CDP-Choline) is the most bioavailable supplemental form of choline.

As I’ve discussed before, it can help you overcome brain fog and addiction.

But it’s also been shown to significantly decrease the disruption and breakdown of the blood-brain barrier after traumatic brain injury (11-12).

And after brain ischemia, Citicoline significantly reduces blood-brain barrier dysfunction (10).

I personally take Citicoline every day.

It helps me a lot because I’ve had multiple concussions. 

Alpha GPC is another excellent form of choline that has been shown to support the blood-brain barrier.

Researchers have found that it improves cognitive function by reversing the changes to the blood-brain barrier after a brain injury (9).

You can find some choline in beef liver and egg yolks, but both Citicoline and Alpha GPC have much more noticeable and immediate effects.  

Both citicoline and Alpha GPC are included in the Optimal Brain supplement

19. Reduce Exposure to Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs)

“I have no doubt in my mind that, at the present time, the greatest polluting element in the Earth’s environment is the proliferation of electromagnetic fields.” - Dr. Robert Becker, Nobel Prize nominee and author of The Body Electric: Electromagnetism And The Foundation Of Life

An increasing amount of research is showing that radiofrequency electromagnetic fields emitted from Wi-Fi, laptops, and cellphones can negatively affect the brain and produce widespread neuropsychiatric effects including depression.

It’s an inconvenient truth that needs to be talked about, rather than downplayed, ignored and dismissed.

One way that radiofrequency EMFs may be causing neuropsychiatric effects is by contributing to a "leaky brain".  

Several studies have found that EMFs emitted from cellphones increase the permeability of the brain-blood barrier, and this increased permeability may lead to the accumulation of brain tissue damage and cognitive impairment (112-114). 

I encourage you to check out my other post about EMFs here

I'm still learning about how to manage and combat them, but here are some initial steps you can take:

  • Get an EMF meter to determine your exposure. I use the Cornet ED88T. It's the best option that is currently available. It measures electric, magnetic and radiofrequency fields. It's like having three meters in one. You can get it here.

  • Put your phone on airplane mode when you’re not using it and/or use a radiation-blocking phone case such as Safe Sleeve. I did a lot of research into radiation-blocking cases and Safe Sleeve is the best on the market. They are manufactured with materials that have been 3rd-party tested to block 99.9% of radiation coming off a cell phone.

  • Turn off Wi-Fi at night while you’re sleeping.

  • If you have a laptop, don’t touch it. Use a wired keyboard and wired mouse instead.

  • Supplement with the herb Rhodiola. It has radioprotective effects (60-62). I take this one, and previously wrote about it here.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other steps you can take, and I plan on writing more about this soon because it isn’t discussed enough.

This may seem like “woo-woo” but it’s a real issue. And I suspect it will eventually become one of the biggest issues of our time.

20. Lower Homocysteine

Homocysteine is an amino acid that is produced in the body as a result of methylation.

In healthy people, it’s properly metabolized and normal levels are maintained. 

But when homocysteine isn’t properly metabolized, it can build up inside the body and levels can become too high.

And that’s when homocysteine becomes dangerous and unhealthy. 

At high levels, homocysteine is inflammatory, and research shows it increases permeability of the blood-brain barrier (115).

You can check your homocysteine levels by ordering this blood test

If you test and find out your levels are high, check out this article for 16 ways to lower your homocysteine levels.

Normalizing homocysteine not only helps the brain recover from physical damage, but also reduces depression and cognitive decline.

21. Progesterone

Progesterone is a natural steroid and sex hormone involved in the menstrual cycle and pregnancy.  

It has a variety of important functions in the body, and even plays an important role in brain function.  

Research has found that progesterone supports the normal development of brain cells and protects them from damage

And one study shows that it reduces inflammation and can support the blood-brain barrier after brain injury (120).

In addition to its role as a natural hormone, progesterone can be taken as a medication, usually by women during menopause as part of their hormone replacement therapy. 

22. Increase Brain Blood Flow

Brain blood flow, or cerebral blood flow, refers to the blood supply that reaches your brain during a given period of time. 

Your brain needs almost 20% of the blood supply provided by each heartbeat.

A steady flow of blood brings oxygen, glucose and nutrients to the brain, and carries carbon dioxide, lactic acid, and other metabolic waste products away from the brain.

But when blood flow to the brain is impaired, problems can arise, including a leaky blood-brain barrier.

Research shows that lack of brain blood flow increases oxidative stress, damages the blood-brain barrier, and increases blood-brain barrier permeability (116-117).

Be sure to check out this post for 21 ways to increase blood flow to the brain.

23. Vagus Nerve Stimulation

The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in your body and part of your parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system.

Research shows that stimulating the vagus nerve can decrease blood-brain barrier disruption.

In fact, researchers have found that vagus nerve stimulation can prevent the increase in blood-brain barrier permeability after a traumatic brain injury, and reduce it after a stroke (123-124).

So how do you stimulate your vagus nerve naturally?

I previously provided 13 ways to activate your vagus nerve in this post.

Deep breathing with the EmWave2 device is my favourite way. 

24. Intermittent Fasting

Fasting is another great way to strengthen your blood-brain barrier.

It allows your digestive system to take a break, and triggers a number of hormones that boost your body’s ability to repair itself.

Ghrelin, a hunger-stimulating hormone, signals to your body that it’s time to eat. And it increases when you are fasting.

Researchers have found that that ghrelin improves the integrity of the blood-brain barrier and reduces the breakdown of the blood-brain barrier after a traumatic brain injury (125).

As a result, fasting can help treat neurological conditions and lowers the risk of cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

This is why I personally eat all my food for the day within an 8-hour window, and then fast for the other 16 hours of the day.

You don’t need to go that long, but you should try to fast for at least 12 hours at a time.

The best way to get started is simply by eating dinner around 6, not eating anything after that before bed, and then eating a regular breakfast the next day.

That should give you about 12-14 hours of fasting time.

25. BONUS: Other Nutrients, Antioxidants and Herbs

Here are several other nutrients, antioxidants and herbs that have been demonstrated to support the blood-brain barrier.

I’ve decided to not write about these in-depth because there isn’t as much research to back them up.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t useful though. They have still helped me: 

Conclusion

The brain has a remarkable ability to heal itself, and this includes the barrier that protects it.

The above steps have been proven to help repair and support the blood brain barrier, and I’ve noticed the benefits of implementing them into my own life.

I hope they help you too!

Enjoy This Article? You Might Also Like My FREE Food Guide for Optimal Brain Health!

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE FREE GUIDE

Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

Connect with me

 

 

 

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