THE BLOOD BRAIN BARRIER

Did you know that your brain is protected by a special barrier? This barrier, called the blood brain barrier (BBB), acts as a shield to keep harmful toxins and bacteria from entering your brain. The BBB is made up of a network of cells that line the inside of your blood vessels. These cells act like a filter, preventing anything from passing through except for nutrients and essential elements needed by your brain. But what happens when the BBB is damaged? Can it be repaired? Read on to find out!

WHAT IS THE BLOOD BRAIN BARRIER?

Our brains are special organs. Not only do they control all the activities of our body, but they’re also enclosed in a protective skull. This protection is necessary because the brain is extremely sensitive to damage. One of the ways it’s protected is by something called the blood brain barrier (BBB). The blood brain barrier is a special barrier that separates your brain from the rest of your body. The blood brain barrier is formed by a network of cells that line the inside of your blood vessels. It is made up as a single-layered lattice of cells that are closely joined to one another. These cells, known as endothelial cells, act like a filter, preventing anything from passing through except for nutrients and essential elements such as oxygen and glucose to pass through to your brain. Anything else, including harmful toxins and bacteria, is blocked from entering. This barrier acts as a shield to protect your brain from harmful toxins and bacteria. The BBB is also maintained by a layer of astrocytes, which are star-shaped cells that support and protect your brain cells.

DAMAGE IN THE BBB

While the BBB does a great job of protecting your brain, it can also be damaged. When the BBB is damaged, harmful toxins and bacteria can enter your brain and cause damage. One way this can happen is by injuries such as a skull fracture. A skull fracture is a break in your skull bone. When this happens, it can damage the cells that make up the BBB. Another way the BBB can be damaged is by diseases such as stroke, meningitis, and encephalitis. In a stroke, for example, blood flow to part of your brain is interrupted, which can damage the BBB. These diseases can damage the endothelial cells that make up the barrier, leading to the passage of harmful toxins and bacteria into your brain. The BBB can also be damaged by things you eat and drink. For example, research shows how alcohol and certain drugs can damage the cells of the barrier. This can allow harmful toxins and bacteria to enter your brain and cause damage.

VAGUS NERVE & BLOOD BRAIN BARRIER

Recently on the IFHO blog, we discussed the importance of the vagus nerve.  The vagus nerve is a special nerve that connects your brain and your gut. It controls many functions in the body, including digestion and the immune system. Studies have shown that the vagus nerve can also play a role in maintaining the integrity of the blood brain barrier. When the vagus nerve is stimulated, it sends signals to the endothelial cells that line the blood vessels in the brain. These signals help to keep the cells tightly joined together, preventing harmful toxins and bacteria from entering. This suggests that the vagus nerve may be a way to protect your brain from damage caused by diseases and injuries.

LEAKY BRAIN

A leaky brain is an inflammed brain. Inflammation refers to the body’s response to injury or infection. When the BBB is damaged, it can trigger inflammation in your brain. Not all inflammation is bad. The body’s inflammatory response is important for healing and repairing tissues. When our body is injured, inflammation is the first line of defense. It’s what helps us to heal. However, when inflammation becomes chronic, it can be harmful. Chronic inflammation is when the body’s inflammatory response doesn’t go away and continues long after the injury or infection has healed. This can lead to a number of health problems. Leaky brain is a condition in which the blood-brain barrier is damaged, leading to the passage of harmful toxins and bacteria into your brain. When chronic inflammation occurs in the brain, it can lead to a wide variety of problems. What causes leaky brain?  There are many things that can cause chronic inflammation in the brain and lead to a leaky brain. Some of the most common causes are:

  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Infections, such as meningitis, encephalitis, and Lyme disease
  • Stroke
  • Alcoholism
  • Drug abuse
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Gut Dysbiosis (infections)
  • Leaky Gut
  • Autoimmune Disease
  • Mental Health Conditions
  • Stress & Vagus Nerve Dysfunction

STUDIES ON THE BBB

One area of research on the BBB is with NFL players. NFL players are at risk for head injuries, which can damage the BBB. Concussions are incredibly common in professional football. There was a study that looked at the brains of former NFL players from a brain donation program after they died. The study found Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) was found in 110 of 111 brains of deceased former NFL players[i]. The damage was most often found in the areas of the brain that are responsible for memory and thinking. The study also found that the damage to the BBB was linked to the players’ level of cognitive impairment.

Another study was done on retired NFL players who had a history of concussion. The study found that these players had a higher level of harmful toxins in their brain than people who didn’t have a history of concussion. The study also found that the players with a history of concussion had a higher level of protein associated with brain damage[ii]. This suggests that head injuries can damage the BBB and lead to the entry of harmful toxins into your brain.

Another area of research on the BBB is how it can be repaired. Some studies have shown that when the BBB is damaged, it can be repaired. For example, a study showed that when the BBB was damaged by a stroke, the barrier could be repaired by giving the patient erythropoietin (EPO), which is a hormone that helps your body make red blood cells. This suggests that there may be ways to repair the BBB if it is damaged.

HOW THE BBB AFFECTS THE WHOLE BODY

Our brains play a vital role in keeping our bodies healthy. The brain controls all of the functions of the body, including breathing, heart rate, and digestion. When the BBB is damaged, it can allow harmful toxins and bacteria to enter the body and cause damage. This is because the barrier not only protects the brain, but it also protects the rest of the  body. This affects our entire bodies , not just our brains.

FUNCTIONAL APPROACH TO THE BLOOD BRAIN BARRIER

Functional medicine is an approach to medicine that looks at the body as a whole. It takes into account all of the factors that can affect your health, such as your lifestyle, environment, and genetics. Functional medicine physicians often use a systems biology approach to treatment, which means they look at how all of the systems of the body work together.

At IfHO, we do that and more as partner with you to become your health intelligence partner with the goal of optimizing your health. We accomplish this with our signature precision medicine approach. We are a Maryland Functional Medicine but our providers use a combination of therapies that are tailored to your specific needs with a health optimization goal. We believe that our Medical Team should make use of the latest scientific research to offer our patients personalized medicine, based on real data. We call this precision health and it is the future of healthcare.

Our focus is not only looking at the root cause, but also to measure, quantify and optimize the patient’s personal health. We take a preventative approach, personalized, and precise approach in helping our patients control their risk factors early on in order to avoid chronic illness down the road. Our team of medical providers use a comprehensive approach with every patient that comes into our office, looking at all aspects of health including lifestyle, environment and genetics. There is no generic one size fit all protocols. No two patients receive the same treatment plan since we work with each individual to create a personalized plan. We empower our patients with the right tools and information, so they can take control of their own health. This is the future of longevity!


[i] https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2645104

[ii] https://www.nejm.org/doi/10.1056/NEJMoa1900757

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