For years, people who keep up with health advice have heard about “leaky gut syndrome” – the pathology whereby holes in the intestinal walls allow particles to pass into the blood that don’t belong there.
Your brain has its own lining to keep out unwanted particles, and we may need to start thinking about “leaky brain syndrome.”
The brain is walled off from the rest of the body to protect its neurons from damaging substances that circulate in the blood. This blood-brain barrier is specially designed to keep out inflammatory chemicals given off by the immune system as well as other toxins.
Cracks and holes in the blood-brain barrier can be dangerous to your brain, but there are steps you can take to make the barrier stronger – and keep toxins and inflammatory molecules out.
According to integrative medicine experts like Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum (whom we interviewed in our video event Awakening from Alzheimer’s1 ), when the blood-brain barrier becomes porous, the resulting neuroinflammation in the brain can lead to Alzheimer’s disease and other brain-destructive conditions.
Blood-Brain Barrier Holes
The blood-brain barrier consists of living tissue. As you get older, the structure of the blood-brain barrier can weaken and sprout microscopic holes. Looking for ways to keep the brain healthier as people age, medical researchers have been searching for ways to slow or reverse this process.
And scientists at Georgetown University have found that the natural substance resveratrol may help.
“(Our) findings suggest that resveratrol imposes a kind of crowd control at the border of the brain. (It) seems to shut out unwanted immune molecules that can exacerbate brain inflammation and kill neurons,” says researcher Charbel Moussa. “These are very exciting findings because it shows that resveratrol engages the brain in a measurable way, and that the immune response to Alzheimer’s disease comes, in part, from outside the brain.”
In a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial (the type that scientists consider the gold standard), the Georgetown researchers discovered that high doses of resveratrol given for a year supported the idea that “resveratrol may seal off a leaky BBB (blood-brain barrier).”2 The study involved 119 people with moderate Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers also found that resveratrol slowed the progress of Alzheimer’s disease and significantly cleared up the inflammation that was going on among the neurons in the brain.
Build Yourself a Better Barrier
There are other natural ways besides resveratrol to keep your blood-brain barrier working properly.
A lab study at the Jackson Laboratory in Maine shows that consistently engaging in aerobic exercise – like walking, running, swimming, biking or hiking – can keep this barrier from leaking and reduce the possibility of brain inflammation.
According to these researchers, their analysis shows that exercise seems to help in at least two ways: It slows the loss of pericytes, cells that surround the blood vessels in the brain and keep the blood-brain barrier intact. And exercise also improves the basic functions of the blood vessel walls so that they don’t loosen up and create spaces in the blood-brain barrier.3
Fruits and Vegetables
Another dependable way to cement your blood-barrier defense is to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and avoid junk food.
The reason this type of diet helps may be its effect on the bacteria in your digestive system.
Lab work at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden shows that having healthy probiotic bacteria in the intestines is necessary for a non-leaky blood-brain barrier, although they can’t precisely explain the mechanism that connects the two in the body.4
In addition, staying out of heavily polluted air can also maintain the integrity of the brain’s defending wall. Research at the University of New Mexico demonstrates that when you inhale pollutants, the toxins cause the lungs to release particularly damaging inflammatory substances into the blood. When those chemicals reach the brain they cause a reaction that pokes holes in the brain’s defenses.5
Remember – an effective blood-brain barrier is vital for defending your brain. And healthy lifestyle habits can help it stay stronger.