This is the 4th article in our series on the brain, memory, and dementia. This article discusses the blood-brain barrier which protects the brain.
What is the Blood-Brain Barrier?
The blood-brain barrier prevents toxins and microorganisms from crossing from the blood stream into the tissue of the brain. At the same time, beneficial nutrients are capable of crossing this barrier. Generally, integrity of the blood-brain barrier is important and its compromise contributes to a number of neurodegenerative conditions.
Causes of a compromise in the blood-brain barrier include:
- mental health issues such as chronic stress, stress hormones, neurotransmitters, toxins),
- toxins from excess alcohol usage, smoking, and environmental toxic exposure,
- other diseases (such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, uncontrolled diabetes, epilepsy, stroke, brain trauma and edema),
- systemic diseases (such as liver and chronic inflammatory conditions),
- poor diet (and leaky gut), and
- a low level of antioxidants.
The blood-brain barrier does have mechanisms to repair itself. Ways to help this repair process include:
- Glucocorticosteroid treatment
- GABA supplementation
- Nutrient supplementation
The heavy-hitting GCs were shown to at least temporarily restore blood-brain barrier integrity in patients with multiple schlerosis.1 These drugs are often used to enhance BBB integrity in cases of brain tumors,2 epilepsy3, psychotic disorders,4 and similar brain-related conditions.
Gamma-aminobytyric acid (GABA) is an inhibitory chemical messenger that is widely distributed in the brain and may cross the blood brain barrier.5 Its natural function is to reduce the activity of the neurons to which it binds, controlling fear or anxiety experienced when neurons are overexcited. GABA is not available through foods directly, but fruits, vegetables, teas, and red wine contain flavonoids that influence how GABA functions in the brain.6
- A simple test7 as to whether GABA is helpful is to take 800mg-1,000mg of GABA and give yourself a two-to-three-hour window see whether it affects you. It is best to take GABA between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., so you can sleep it off if it sedates you.
- If GABA causes relaxation, calming, and sedation, don’t keep taking it regularly or you risk shutting your GABA receptor site and a retest won’t be accurate.
- If GABA causes anxiety, irritability, or panic this may indicate a permeable blood-brain barrier. Eating some protein may help alleviate these symptoms.
Yoga in the form of meditation sessions is linked to increased levels of GABA in the brain, and positively correlated to improved mood and decreased anxiety (and balancing of glutamine found in excess in Alzheimer’s patients).8
Nutritional Support for the Blood-Brain Barrier
Alpha lipoic acid. The alpha R form is the one most easily utilized nutrients by the body. Supplementation with alpha lipoic acid inhibits the production of excess tau protein resulting in the build-up fibrillary plaque found Alzheimer’s patients , reduces cognitive decline, lipid peroxidation, inflammation, and tau-induced iron overload also found in Alzheimer’s patients.9 ALA is able to cross the blood-brain barrier to support important messengers in the brain. Many foods have low amounts of ALA, such as spinach, broccoli, yams, yeast, Brussels sproutes, carrots, beets, and rice bran.
Baicalein. Baicalein appears to be able to cross the blood-brain barrier,10 and may play a role in healing the BBB by reducing permeability.11 It has powerful anti-inflammatory benefits, reduces anxiety, restores blood flow, and promotes neuron development in damaged sections of the brain. Good food sources include Arnucca apples. wine, tea, citrus fruits, dark chocolate, and herbs.
Curcumin. After a disruption in the blood-brain barrier, such as brain hemorrhage or edema, curcumin appears to help restore blood-brain permeability to allow the excess liquid to be removed. In this case, the barrier is being protected improving normal permeability.12 Curcumin is the main active ingredient in turmeric; absorbability is enhanced with the addition of black pepper.
Probiotic lactobacillus is significantly suppressed during alcohol consumption, so supplementing with this probiotic is highly recommended to help restore proper flora balance. Blood-brain barrier integrity is affected by leaky gut and/or poor digestion.
Resveratrol. Given to Alzheimer’s patients, resveratrol appears to restore the integrity of the blood-brain barrier, reducing the ability of harmful immune molecules secreted by immune cells to infiltrate from the body into brain tissues.13 Peanuts, pistachios, grapes, red and white wine, cranberries, cocoa, and dark chocolate contain resveratrol.
For more information about memory and dementia, take a look at Michael Edson’s 400 page book, Natural Brain Support. He writes about natural ways to both prevent and treat Alzheimer’s, dementia, PTSD, Parkinson’s, and CES with diet, lifestyle, and nutritional support and more, based on over 3200 peer reviewed research studies.
Dr. Grossman has identified those nutrients which best support memory and dementia. They are assembled in discounted packages.
- Miller DH, Thompson AJ, Morrissey SP, MacManus DG, Moore SG, et al. (1992). High dose steroids in acute relapses of multiple sclerosis: MRI evidence for a possible mechanism of therapeutic effect. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. Jun; 55(6):450-3. ↩
- Koehler PJ. (1995). Use of corticosteroids in neuro-oncology. Anticancer Drugs. Feb;6(1):19-33. ↩
- Janigro D, Iffland PH, Marchi N, Granata T. (2013). A role for inflammation in status epilepticus is revealed by a review of current therapeutic approaches. Epilepsia. Sep;54 Suppl 6(0 6):30-2. ↩
- Nasib LG, Sommer IE, Rossum IW, de Vries J, Gangadin SS, et al. (2020). Presnisolone versus placebo addition in the treatment of patients with recent-onset psychotic disorder: a trial design. Trials. Jun 8;21(1):492. ↩
- The evidence is contradictory according to a 2015 review. Boonstra, et al. Front Psychol. 2015;6:1520. ↩
- WebMD. Retrieved Apr 6 2021 from https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/gaba-uses-and-risks. ↩
- This GABA test is further explained in Datis Kharrazian’s book, Why Isn’t My Brain Working? ↩
- Streeter CC, Whitfield TH, Owen L, Rein T, Karri SK, et al. (2010). Effects of yoga versus walking on mood, anxiety, and brain GABA levels: a randomized controlled MRS study. J Altern Complement Med. Nov;16(11):1145-52. ↩
- Zhang YH, Wang DW, Xu SF, Zhang S, Fan YG, et al. (2018). A-Lipoic acid improves abnormal behavior by mitigation of oxidative stress, inflammation, ferroptosis, and tauopathy in P301S Tau transgenic mice. Redox Biol. Apr;14:535-548. ↩
- Chen M, Lai L, Li X, Zhang X, He X, et al. (2016). Baicalein attenuates neurological deficits and preserves blood-brain barrier integrity in a rat model of intracerebral hemorrhage. Neurochem Res. 41:3095-3102. ↩
- Wang CX, Xie GB, Zhou CH, Zhang XS, Li T, et al. (2015). Baicalein alleviates early brain injury after experimental subarachnoid hemorrhage in rats: Possible involvement of TLR4/NF-κB-mediated inflammatory pathway. Brain Res. 1594:245-55. ↩
- Yuan J, Liu W, Zhu H, Zhang X, Feng Y, et al. (2017). Curcumin attenuates blood-brain barrier disruption after subarachnoid hemorrhage in mice. J Surg Res. Jan;207:85-91. ↩
- Sawda C, Moussa C, Turner RS. (2017). Resveratrol for Alzheimer’s disease. Ann N Y Acad Sci. Sep;1403(1):142-149. ↩