Do you have unexplained brain fog, trouble concentrating, memory problems, or constant anxiety? You may have what is called a leaky brain. I've previously explained what a Leaky Gut is, but what is a leaky brain?
Our brain houses our memories, our language and communication skills, our ability to move our bodies, as well as controlling our autonomic functions like heartbeat, breathing, temperature. We need to protect our brain. Your brain is your most protected organ in your body. Not only is it housed in the thick bones of the skull, it is floating in cerebrospinal fluid to protect it from damage in a head injury. We have built-in shock absorbing ability in our head!
The blood vessels of the brain are also very specialized to protect the brain. The cells of those vessels form very tight junctions only allowing very small molecules and substances through what is called the Blood Brain Barrier (BBB). This is similar to the intestinal barrier that keeps large food particles out of our blood stream and out of our interstitial fluid. Only special cells and substances that provide food and function to the brain are allowed through that barrier, that is if that blood brain barrier hasn't been compromised.
A leaky brain is when that protective blood brain barrier has become breached and substances normally kept out of the brain are able to cross over through the walls of the vessels into the brain.
What Causes a Leaky Brain?
If you have a leaky gut, it's very likely you have a leaky brain. Things like gluten, and other food allergies that damage the villi of the small intestine may eventually damage the blood brain barrier as well. Alcohol and drug abuse poses its risk on the BBB permeability. Stress, infections and environmental toxins all take their toll on the blood brain barrier as well. Zonulin is a substance in our body that determines the permeability of the gut and the brain. Research shows that eating gluten increases Zonulin in the body, thus causing elevated permeability in both barriers. It is common for those with gluten sensitivity to have both a leaky gut and a leaky brain.
Once the blood brain barrier has been compromised, the brain is susceptible to damage from heavy metals, bacteria, environmental toxins and other harmful substances that would normally be banned from the brain. Leaky brain can lead to more serious neurological conditions like depression, ADD/ADHD, seizures, Autism, mental illness, and chronic pain.
Healing a Leaky Brain
To heal the critical blood brain barrier it is important to address the gut as well. As mentioned, it is common to have both a leaky gut and a leaky brain. There's a saying in Functional Medicine, "fire in the gut equals fire in the brain." The two seem to go hand in hand, and addressing both issues is necessary. Balancing blood sugar and managing stress are also pivotel in restoring the BBB. A strict gluten-free diet must be adhered to regardless if you think you are gluten sensitive or not. There is a lot of evidence implicating gluten as harmful to the brain, especially when you have leaky brain. Determining any other food sensitivities and removing those foods from the diet along with gluten is also key. Brain support through supplementation will definitely assist in the healing process and help restore the proper blood brain barrier. This can include DHA fatty acids from Omega-3 oils, neurotransmitter support, and anti-inflammatory botanicals for the brain.
Maintaining a healthy brain is key to aging gracefully and preserving cognitive function. Healthy seniors see very little decline in cognitive function compared to much younger people. But a leaky blood brain barrier will endanger memory and may impair the body's normal function.