The relationship between leaky brain and gut health

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Just as our digestive system has a barrier that protects against unwanted invaders, so does our brain. This is called the blood brain barrier. And when it gets compromised we call this having a leaky brain.

No, a leaky brain is not when you have weird green goo oozing out of your ears. It’s when damaging chemicals and proteins that don’t belong in your head are able to pass through a protective membrane designed to keep these things out.

Our brains manage almost every aspect of our body, not just our thoughts. This includes hormones, muscles, and digestion. The automatic functions of breathing, body temperature, and heart rate are each controlled by the brain.

If your brain isn’t functioning properly then the rest of your body will be strongly affected. The blood brain barrier keeps toxins, viruses, and bacterial components out while allowing in the nourishment that the brain needs to think straight.

Reg-ular headaches, confusion, brain fog, and depression can be signs of a leaky brain. Memory problems, issues with concentration, ongoing anxiety, and chronic fatigue are also associated with compromised permeability of this barrier.

There are very specific cells that transport molecules like glucose and amino acids across the blood brain barrier. Just like in the gut, the brain maintains tight junctions that let in some things while keeping out others. The junctions in the brain are more restrictive than in the rest of the body.

Many of the same things that contribute to a leaky gut can cause a leaky brain. This includes long term inflammation throughout the body, oxidative stress, and increased cortisol levels. Infections, environmental toxins like mold, head trauma from a stroke or concussion, and heavy metals will certainly play a role.

The effect of bio-toxins on our brain is becoming increasingly alarming and is thought to affect 30% of the population. But the most common contributor is our own diet. What we eat directly influences not only the permeability of our gut, but also the permeability of our blood brain barrier. Think about that.

Many of the things we eat that damage the villi of the small intestine can eventually create havoc with the cells protecting and feeding our brain. Villi are the small finger like projections lining our gut that increase absorption by increasing surface area. Gluten and flours, sugars, artificial sweeteners, and alcohol are all part of the common thread of damage.

When we have an imbalances of gut bacteria there can be an over release of a toxin called lipopolysaccharides that leads to increased inflammation in the brain. Yeast overgrowth in our gut presents an issue as well.

When we eat foods that contain gluten, an enzyme called zonulin is created that weakens the protective brain barrier. Toxins from molds and preservatives often found in processed foods made with flour contribute to brain inflammation.

It is important to always start in the gut when trying to heal a leaky brain. This means really looking at food sensitivities, the ones that cause inflammation and can lead to auto-immune responses. These responses often effect the central nervous system and lead to multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. It is recognized that individuals with an auto-immune disorder will have a 45% increased risk of getting diagnosed with a mood disorder.

To mend a leaky brain you should consider low-carb and low-sugar foods, like the ketogenic or Mediterranean diets. Stay with good quality fats and moderate animal proteins.

There are some supplements I consider useful for brain health including Omega 3’s, probiotics, antioxidants, magnesium, B vitamins, and vitamin D. A curcumin phosphatidylcholine complex can be great at managing brain inflammation. Good sleep and active movement cannot be over emphasized.

If you’d like to talk more, stop on by.

Scott Porter, a functional medicine pharmacist, is the director of the Center for Functional Nutrition at Sandpoint Super Drug.

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