Micronutrients and the Blood Brain Barrier

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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

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