The Blood-Brain Barrier and Brain Degeneration
There is a very thin layer of blood surrounding the brain called the blood-brain barrier it is one single cell thick. For comparison, your skin can be as thick as about 10,000 cells. This blood-brain barrier, though important, is a very poor barrier protecting your brain.
If the blood-brain barrier begins to leak, some of the materials, such as neurotransmitters, which your brain needs can get into the bloodstream. An imbalance of these neurotransmitters can cause a number of problems. For example:
● Norepinephrine can cause anxiety and depression.
● Dopamine can cause Parkinson's disease and depression.
● Acetylcholine can cause Huntington's disease and Alzheimer's, as well as depression.
The Role of the Gut in Brain Health
When someone comes to me for functional medicine with any kind of brain issues, I always am sure to look at the digestive system, or the gut. When I refer to “the gut,” I specifically mean the 32 feet in the small intestine.
A normal, healthy gut will have:
● Two to three bowel movements a day.
● Little to no gas or bloating.
● No constipation or diarrhea
● No need to take heartburn medications or antacids
Presence of these symptoms are signs that the digestive system is not working correctly. Research shows that a bad digestive system results in a poor blood-brain barrier.
Similar to the blood-brain barrier, the layer between the digestive system and the nervous system located in the gut is only one cell thick. This barrier is maintained by what is called a “tight junction” between cells. When that tight junction breaks away, the result is what we call “leaky gut.”
Leaky Gut and the Brain
If you have a leaky gut, materials in the digestive system can leak into the bloodstream. For example, if you eat wheat, a protein called gluten can leak into the blood and start causing chronic inflammation.
Signs of leaky gut typically include:
The integrity of this gut barrier is therefore extremely important to maintain. If you have inflammation in your blood, the inflammation will also head to the brain, causing the brain to also become inflamed.
The brain and the gut are intimately connected via the bloodstream. If you are chronically inflamed, your whole brain is inflamed.
Symptoms and Solutions
There are no pain receptors in the brain itself. So when the brain starts to malfunction, it does not often result in pain, but in other symptoms.
These symptoms can include:
● Brain fog
● Brain fatigue
● Memory problems
A leaky gut automatically results in a leaky brain. The best way to handle this condition is through a functional medicine program, which examines all aspects of the body and its functionality at once to address the root cause of any issue.
In this example, a functional medicine practitioner will examine your mental and nervous issues in conjunction with your digestive system, and in the process of treating one, help solve the problems of the other.