7 Tips For Reversing Leaky Brain Syndrome
By Joan Kent, PhD
Keeping toxins out of the brain is the function of a protective barrier called the blood/brain barrier. The BBB permits entry of essential nutrients but prevents toxins from entering the brain.
Once the BBB has been breached, the brain is vulnerable to damage from environmental toxins, bacteria, and other harmful substances. This is called leaky brain syndrome.
Leaky brain syndrome may show up as brain fog, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, depression, or memory problems. It can lead to serious neurological conditions, including ADD/ADHD, seizures, autism spectrum disorders, and more.
Tight junctions in the cells that make up the BBB are similar to the ones in the cells of the digestive system. When those junctions are disturbed, their protective function is compromised. In the digestive system, it's called leaky gut.
The two conditions are related: leaky gut may be associated with the destruction of the BBB. If you have leaky gut, it's more likely that you have leaky brain. Foods and allergens that trigger leaky gut can eventually lead to leaky brain.
What Causes Leaky Brain?
Like leaky gut, leaky brain is associated with inflammation. Inflammation elevates levels of a molecule called microRNA-155 (miR-155). MiR-155 creates microscopic "gaps" in the barrier of endothelial cells that make up the BBB. Any dysfunction in the BBB can make those junctions more permeable so they can't protect the brain, and materials pass through them.
Because leaky brain starts with inflammation, brain inflammation may be linked with depression, anxiety, brain fog, and more.
If you suffer from any of those, the first order of business is to contact a medical doctor to have appropriate lab tests done. Those would include tests that show BBB damage and gut permeability, as well as gluten sensitivity or other food allergies.
If you suspect you have either "leaky" condition, here are 7 healthful steps you can take. Healing the gut can help heal the blood/brain barrier.
1. Avoid inflammation-causing foods.
Foods like white flour, sugar and other processed carbs can damage both brain and gut. In part, this involves the release of high insulin and the inflammation it triggers.
2. Avoid gluten.
Gluten is known to make the gut more permeable. It reduces beneficial bacteria in the gut. That in turn decreases bacterial regulation and raises levels of pro-inflammatory bacteria.
Gluten increases zonulin, a protein in brain and gut that triggers permeability of both the gut and the BBB. The resulting inflammation can alter brain function.
3. Put natural anti-inflammatories into your diet.
Anti-inflammatories include catechins from green tea, curcumin from turmeric, resveratrol from grapes or wine, luteolin from dried oregano and raw radicchio, and others.
Catechins and curcumin reduce several pro-inflammatory cytokines, small messenger proteins that signal inflammation throughout the body. Resveratrol suppresses inflammation of the brain's microglial cells. Luteolin inhibits activation of the microglial cells and helps prevent BBB damage.
4. Eat probiotic foods.
Probiotics may help reduce pro-inflammatory cytokines. Probiotics in the Lactobacillus group (live-culture yogurt or kefir) may help reinforce the gut barrier.
5. Eat healthful fats.
The brain is about 60% fat and depends on essential fatty acids for its health and function. Essential fats aren't made in the body, so we need to get them from food. Sources include fish (sardines, mackerel, herring, salmon), krill oil, flaxseed, hemp seed, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts.
6. Reduce alcohol consumption.
Studies suggest alcohol damages the blood/brain barrier by increasing production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and other inflammatory factors in gut and liver.
Aerobic exercise has been shown to increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which promotes brain and neuron health.
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