“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 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 what is known as the “gut brain connection,” causing it to become “leaky.” A poor gut brain connection allows harmful substances to enter your brain, contributing to brain inflammation, which has been shown to cause cognitive problems and mental illness (1-3).
Hyperpermeability 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 (4-12).
The good news is that even though you may have a damaged gut brain connection, 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 6 strategies that have helped me.
They’ve been proven to help repair and support the blood-brain barrier.
Together, they can help you reduce neuroinflammation, heal your “leaky brain,” and overcome your brain and mental health challenges.
Heal Your Gut
There is a clear connection between your brain and digestive system. Whatever happens in your gut has a direct impact on your brain function. Because of this “gut brain connection,” it’s critical to address gut issues in order to treat a leaky brain.
In 2014, researchers found that mice that were “germ-free” (meaning they didn’t have any bacteria in their intestines) had very leaky blood-brain barriers. But then researchers introduced bacteria into the intestines of these unhealthy mice, and the permeability of the blood-brain barrier significantly decreased (16-17).
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 amounts of good bacteria in your digestive system, can help improve the integrity of your gut brain connection and heal your leaky brain.
Eating more prebiotic fiber and resistant starch, taking a high-quality probiotic, and eating fermented foods on a regular basis can increase the amounts of good bacteria in your gut.
My brain functions much better when I take care of my gut 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.
One main reason I recommend this is because gluten has been shown to disrupt the blood-brain barrier by elevating “zonulin.”
Zonulin is a protein in your body that increases the permeability of the intestinal barrier and blood-brain barrier (13).
In 2006, researchers found that gluten clearly increases zonulin and contributes to “leaky gut” and “leaky brain”, resulting in neuroinflammation and altered cognitive function (14, 15).
Dr. David Perlmutter, MD, brain health expert and author of Grain Brain, 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.”
Yet unfortunately, the myth continues to spread that only people with celiac disease need to avoid gluten-containing food. That’s simply not true.
Increase Your Intake of Magnesium
Magnesium is a vital mineral that participates in more than 300 biochemical reactions in your body.
It’s one of the most important nutrients for optimal brain and mental health and has been shown to increase your brain’s growth hormone.
There is also plenty of research showing that it can protect and promote a good gut brain connection.
Multiple studies found that magnesium protects the blood-brain barrier and prevents its disruption (25-27, 29).
One study found that it decreases blood-brain barrier permeability by 41% (28).
Foods that contain magnesium include spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds, almonds, avocado, dark chocolate and bananas.
However, taking a supplement or 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.
Sleep is necessary for the optimal functioning of your blood-brain barrier.
Sleep restriction has been shown to impair the functioning of the blood-brain barrier and increase its permeability (18).
So you should try to get at least 7 hours of high-quality, restorative sleep every night.
Easier said than done, right?
I understand. My sleep used to be terrible and it was one of the main factors that contributed to my poor mental health. And then my poor mental health would make my sleep worse. So it was a vicious cycle.
Supplementing with melatonin can help.
Melatonin is a hormone released by your pineal gland, a small gland in your brain. It helps control your sleep and wake cycles (circadian rhythm), and adequate levels of melatonin are necessary to fall asleep quickly and sleep deeply throughout the night.
Research shows that melatonin can stabilize the blood-brain barrier and prevent damage caused by traumatic brain injury (19, 20).
Not surprisingly, alcohol and acetaldehyde – a byproduct of alcohol metabolism – can contribute to leaky brain.
Research shows that they can weaken and damage the blood-brain barrier, and the oxidative stress that results from excess alcohol consumption can result in blood-brain barrier dysfunction (58, 59).
And then this can then lead to neuroinflammatory disorders (60).
There are ways to protect yourself from alcohol, but you’re better off avoiding it completely or significantly reducing your consumption if you’re trying to get healthy.
Eat More Grapes and Chocolate
Resveratrol is a beneficial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound found in grapes, red wine, raspberries and dark chocolate.
It is known to help prevent the development of neurodegenerative diseases.
And science is starting to understand why.
According to cutting-edge research, it can protect and support your blood-brain barrier and promote a healthy gut brain connection.
This year, researchers gave resveratrol to Alzheimer’s patients and it restored the integrity of their blood-brain barrier. Because of this, there was a reduction in brain inflammation, which slowed down the cognitive decline of the patients (30-31).
Numerous other studies have also found that resveratrol significantly reduces the breakage, damage and dysfunction of the blood-brain barrier (32-37)
If resveratrol was a pharmaceutical drug, we would definitely be hearing more about it. But natural compounds cannot be patented, so we don’t.
The brain has a remarkable ability to heal itself, and this includes the barrier that protects it.
The above six 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!