Micronutrients and the Blood Brain Barrier

Micronutrients and the Blood Brain Barrier

With functional assessment of neurological health, the integrity of the blood brain barrier (BBB) is paramount. The BBB is, as its name implies, a barrier around the brain –a tightly spaced network of blood vessels, tissue, and proteins that work together to regulate substances that can/should reach the brain and those that should not.

We want compounds such as water, oxygen, carbon dioxide, glucose, nutrients, and certain therapeutic drugs (think anesthetics) to access the brain while other compounds such as bacteria, viruses, and toxins should not.

Without a healthy BBB, the brain is vulnerable. So how do you keep your BBB intact and thus your neurological health optimized? Certain nutrients play a vital role.

B Vitamins
Certain B vitamins are highly important for the brain. Thiamin (vitamin B1) deficiency has been shown to disrupt the BBB and supplementing thiamin can restore its integrity. The most extreme form of thiamin deficiency is known as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, which is associated with ataxia (loss of control of one or more limbs), memory loss, and sensory neuropathy.

It is characterized by a breakdown in the BBB. Symptoms drastically improve when thiamin levels are restored. Other B vitamins, notably B6, B9 (folate), and B12 are involved in the metabolic pathways to clear homocysteine — a metabolic byproduct that can contribute to BBB permeability if it accumulates in the blood.

Magnesium is the fourth major ion in the body and is a cofactor for more than 300 biological enzymes. Multiple studies have shown magnesium to be effective at decreasing BBB permeability to a significant degree.

An emerging body of literature is investigating one particular form of magnesium –magnesium threonate as the only form to functionally cross the blood brain barrier. [1] Once inside the brain, magnesium can influence the action (voltage dependent block) of NMDA receptors and control their opening, which is critical for synaptic plasticity.

N acetyl-Cysteine and Glutathione
N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) is a modified form of the amino acid cysteine which the body uses to produce glutathione. Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant and our body’s best innate detoxification system to reduce intracellular free radicals.

NAC has been shown to successfully cross the BBB and raise glutathione levels in the brain –in turn reducing oxidative stress and protecting the brain from free neuronal damage. [2]

EPA and DHA are two essential omega-3 fatty acids. Their anti-inflammatory and cardiovascular health benefits are well known. Both of these fatty acids must be obtained from the diet, and DHA is typically generated from EPA, however the human conversion is relatively poor.

Studies have shown that these powerful omega-3 fatty acids can reduce damage to the BBB after stroke and traumatic brain injury and be used therapeutically in populations with Multiple Sclerosis and Alzheimer’s Disease diagnoses. [3]

DHA is particularly good for the brain, as it can turn on the brain’s “growth hormone,” otherwise known as BDNF. [4] While there are multiple food sources of these omega-3 fatty acids (wild caught oily fish being the best), most Americans fall short while simultaneously consuming too many omega-6 fatty acids that can compete with omega 3’s altering the ratio.

It is important to remember that all micronutrients exist in a very delicate balance inside the body, and while deficiencies should certainly be addressed, it’s not always best practice to hyperdose with supplements of all individual nutrients.

Test don’t guess! All of the nutrient markers above can be tested on Vibrant’s Micronutrient test which pairs nicely with the Vibrant Neural Zoomer Plus –a cutting edge antibody panel that includes 4 antigens to detect blood brain barrier permeability.

Robert Vink. Magnesium in the CNS: recent advances and developments. Magnesium Research. 2016;29(3):95-101. doi:10.1684/mrh.2016.0408

Hara Y, McKeehan N, Dacks PA, Fillit HM. Evaluation of the Neuroprotective Potential of N-Acetylcysteine for Prevention and Treatment of Cognitive Aging and Dementia. J Prev Alzheimers Dis. 2017;4(3):201-206. doi: 10.14283/jpad.2017.22.

Hong, S. H., Khoutorova, L., Bazan, N. G., & Belayev, L. (2015). Docosahexaenoic acid improves behavior and attenuates blood-brain barrier injury induced by focal cerebral ischemia in rats. Experimental & translational stroke medicine, 7(1), 3. doi:10.1186/s13231-014-0012-0

Wu, A., Ying, Z., & Gomez-Pinilla, F. (2008). Docosahexaenoic acid dietary supplementation enhances the effects of exercise on synaptic plasticity and cognition. Neuroscience, 155(3), 751–759. doi:10.1016/j.neuroscience.2008.05.061


Micronutrients: The Gut Barrier and Malabsorption

Micronutrients: The Gut Barrier and Malabsorption

The small intestine and large intestine are where the majority of vitamins, minerals, and other important micronutrients are absorbed after a meal.

The health of your intestinal cells and the protective coating above them called the mucosa directly impacts how efficiently you digest and absorb nutrients from your food and supplements.

If you have been diagnosed with or are suspected of having intestinal permeability (this is often referred to in layman’s terms as ‘leaky gut’), it is likely you have some degree of nutrient malabsorption due to inflamed intestinal epithelial cells.

This means that some of your micronutrients may be deficient because you cannot properly absorb them through your intestinal wall and into your body.

Depending on the location of the inflammation or cellular damage, which nutrients are being malabsorbed can vary.

nutrient absorption by location GI
A common finding in patients with intestinal permeability, such as that shown on the test panel below, is that fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) may be low or suboptimal. This can be for a variety of reasons, but those might include:

cellular inflammation has impaired absorption bacterial pathogens present have altered vitamin receptors on intestinal cells bacterial overgrowth present has altered the pH of the digestive tract, and impaired lipase enzyme (fat digesting enzyme) function or bile concentration low dietary fat intake has reduced the solubility of fat-soluble vitamins (fat at meals is required to absorb fat-soluble vitamins)

This is just one of many scenarios in which micronutrients throughout the rest of the body depend on the health and functionality of the intestinal barrier.

When examining levels of critical micronutrients, it is important to assess the health and status of the intestinal barrier at the same time, to determine if nutrient deficiencies are due to lack of dietary intake, poor absorption at the intestinal lining, or simply poor absorption or activation at the cell membrane.


Five Micronutrients You Might Be Deficient In

Five Micronutrients You Might Be Deficient In

The human body requires major and minor nutrients in adequate quantities to function optimally. Many people manage to get enough of the macronutrients (carbs, protein, and fat); however, some fail to meet the daily requirements of some very important micronutrients. The micronutrients are comprised of the vitamins and minerals that serve as biological catalysts, modulators, and activators within the body. Without them, many necessary physiological functions will be compromised. Here are five of the most common micronutrient deficiencies and how they can impact the human body.

Vitamin B12
This micronutrient is an important B vitamin. This water-soluble vitamin has two primary functions. It acts as a coenzyme in folic acid metabolism, serving as a methyl donor. This means that all energy-yielding pathways in the body need B12 in order to work. It is also involved in the maturation of red blood cells and has a role in neurotransmitter synthesis. The vitamin’s absorption from the intestine is dependent upon intrinsic factor and requires calcium.

A deficiency of the vitamin can lead to pernicious anemia, which is a disease defined by megaloblastic anemia, in which red blood cells grow larger than normal, and peripheral neuropathy results. Deficiency of vitamin B12 also causes degeneration of the myelin sheath on nerves. What causes the deficiency? Commonly, this is seen in patients suffering from gastric atrophy, or those taking prolonged proton pump inhibitors. Both of these factors can cause a deficiency of intrinsic factor or the inability to cleave vitamin B12 from the intrinsic factor.

Another B vitamin, its functions resemble those of B12. Folate plays s an important role in methylation reactions, red blood cell synthesis, and DNA synthesis. Deficiency of this vitamin can lead to megaloblastic anemia which may manifest as jaundice. It can also cause elevated homocysteine levels, mood disorders, as well as fatigue and lethargy. Its deficiency has also been found to be linked to deficient immune function and cardiovascular diseases. Common medical causes of folate deficiency include the use of methotrexate, anticonvulsants, and antacids. Oral contraceptives can also deplete the vitamin. Some individuals carry genetic mutations that prevent them from activating folate in their cells, which may lead to a secondary deficiency of adequate active folate.

Vitamin D
This is the vitamin associated with healthy calcification and is primarily required for bone and teeth formation.Vitamin D has other important roles as well, including immune function, endocrine function, and a primary role in regulating mood. The most common reason for deficiency is lack of sufficient exposure to the sun. Deficiency of vitamin D causes rickets in children, stunted growth, and osteoporosis in adults. The deficiency has been associated with Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes type 1 and 2, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, and other systemic inflammatory disorders.

Magnesium is a mineral which holds prime importance in cellular metabolism. It is involved in more than 300 reactions and serves to support cellular activity, muscle contraction, bone development, and clotting of blood. A deficiency of the mineral may be caused by excessive intake of alcohol, use of diuretics, excessive sweating or hyperparathyroidism, chronic renal failure, and malabsorption syndromes. The deficiency initially causes general body weakness. This is followed by fatigue, irritability, mental confusion, and insomnia. The deficiency can also affect the heart and trigger irregular rhythms.

Calcium is the prime mineral required for mineralization of bones and teeth. This mineral is also needed for muscle contraction, nerve impulse conduction, and the clotting of blood. Deficiency of the mineral can manifest acutely as tetany and carpopedal spasm. Deficiency can also lead to osteoporosis as well as prolonged bleeding time, abnormal muscular contraction, and abnormal heart rhythms. It has also been linked to high risk of hypertension, colon cancer, and preeclampsia. The deficiency is most commonly caused due to insufficient intake of the mineral.

All of these deficiencies could aggravate serious problems and affect your health. The biggest problem is that most of them are clinically silent. They mimic other diseases so well that it is hard to distinguish the deficiency from the disease itself. How can you be sure that you have no deficiency?