Leaky Gut, Leaky Brain
One of the buzzwords in holistic medicine is “leaky gut” aka intestinal hyper permeability. The idea is that the lining of our intestinal tract is only one layer thick. The cells that make up that layer have bridges called tight junctions that keep them close to one another. Sometimes, however, those bridges are not so strong and the light junction becomes looser. As a result more things get absorbed through the intestinal tract than we like. When this happens the immune system, not recognizing the bigger substances, begins to attack them creating inflammation in the body. One substance in particular is a toxin called lipopolysaccharide (LPS) from our own intestinal bacteria that was never meant to be absorbed. When it is, it creates a lot more inflammation in the body.
As this lining is the guardian of your body from toxins in the gut, we have another specific guardian in our brains. However, like the gut lining, when the blood brain barrier, BBB, is disrupted, we get inflammation in the brain.
There are no commonly used tests for a leaky blood brain barrier though Alon Friedman, a researcher in this field, has developed a special MRI call Dynamic Contrast Imaging that he uses in his research. He finds that at age 70, nearly 60% of adults have a leaky blood brain barrier. While not universally accepted, some believe that two tests used in the medical mold world, TGF beta 1 and MMP 9, may correlate with the integrity of the blood brain barrier.
While proving causation may be elusive, a leaky blood brain barrier may be associated with leaky gut itself, intestinal infections, autoimmune disease and not surprisingly stress.
Especially to the susceptible person, mold toxins may trigger inflammation that can break down the blood brain barrier. Infections in the brain including candida, which has been linked to multiple sclerosis (2), may also break down the blood brain barrier. Any causes of reactive oxygen species like too much of an excitatory neurotransmitter called Glutamate and diabetes can contribute (3).
Ferreting out the causes can be a challenge, but we’ll certainly never find them if we never look. Certainly, we would want to address the gut, dramatically limiting foods that are intrinsically inflammatory like sugar and gluten. Organic is better because pesticides, especially glyphosate (Roundup ®), can breakdown the intestinal lining and has even been shown to specifically break down the blood brain barrier(4). In addition, there may be others that are particularly inflammatory to certain people.
As noted by Dale Bredeson, author of End of Alzheimer’s, high homocysteine is bad for the brain, specifically the BBB (5).
Having found as many specific things as you can, a person thought to have a leaky blood brain barrier should use that as inspiration to clean up their diet, work on stress reduction, and get enough sleep. There are natural supplements that have been tried that you could discuss with your doctor including Curcumin, Vitamin D, acetyl L carnitine, Resveratrol and many others.
Hormonally progesterone seem to be helpful (6)
Most of the research supporting these, while promising, are theoretical and have been done in animal studies.
Some people have even turned to the pharmaceutical world. Steroids would work, but the side effects turn most people away from them. Amongst other medicines, minocycline was one of the most promising a few years ago but that promise was dampened by a recent study finding it not to change symptoms in Alzheimer’s over 2 years. That said, I wonder if Dr. Bredesen who used Alzheimer’s as a roof with 36 holes in it (read more) would argue to keep it on the radar screen as possibly helpful in combination with other therapies.
Recently the most dramatic things we have seen has been the local infection of a biologic used for autoimmune diseases, Enbrel. This technique was invented by Dr. Tobnick from the Institute for Neurologic Recovery in Boca Raton Florida. For more on that, see here.
If brain thinking is not what it used to be, if brain fog seems to cloud the day, consider discussing your options with a medical practitioner at Health and Wellness of Carmel.
1 McMillin, Matthew, Frampton, Gabriel et al TGFβ1 exacerbates blood-brain barrier permeability in a
mouse model of hepatic encephalopathy via upregulation of MMP9 and downregulation of claudin-5
Lab Invest. 2015 Aug; 95(8): 903–913.
2 Purzycki CB, Shain DH. Fungal toxins and multiple sclerosis: a compelling connection. Brain Res
Bull. 2010 Apr 29;82(1-2):4-6.
3 Prasad, S Sajja RK et al Diabetes Mellitus and Blood-Brain Barrier Dysfunction: An Overview J
Pharmacovigil. 2014 Jun; 2(2): 125.
4 Martinez A1, Al-Ahmad AJ2. Toxicol Lett. 2019 Apr;304:39-49. Effects of glyphosate and
aminomethylphosphonic acid on an isogeneic model of the human blood-brain barrier.
5 Beard RS , Jr,1 Reynolds JJ ,1 and Bearden SE Hyperhomocysteinemia increases permeability of the
blood-brain barrier by NMDA receptor-dependent regulation of adherens and tight junctions Blood.
2011 Aug 18; 118(7): 2007–2014.
6 Si D1, Li J1, Liu J1, Wang X2, et al Progesterone protects blood-brain barrier function and improves
neurological outcome following traumatic brain injury in rats. Exp Ther Med. 2014 Sep;8(3):1010-