Blood Brain Barrier Support
The blood vessels that surround the brain are highly picky as to which substances they allow near your precious grey matter. Do you know what it is exactly that protects your brain? You may think that it’s your skull. Well, this isn’t entirely correct. While the skull may protect your brain from physical injury, it’s not what safeguards it against germs, chemicals and toxins. The major player in your brain’s health is called the blood-brain barrier. This barrier may not be well-known, but it performs a very important function: keeping your brain free of damaging chemicals and microorganisms that may be circulating inside your bloodstream. The blood vessels that supply the kidneys with oxygen and nutrients let almost everything through, including harmful substances. It’s then the kidney’s task to filter the blood to remove the toxins. This isn’t the case with the brain. This delicate organ is susceptible to damage from toxins, viruses and bacteria and requires an access control mechanism to keep all menacing matter out. Access is controlled by means of carrier molecules in the walls of the vessels that feed the brain. These carrier molecules transport whatever the brain needs, across the blood vessel walls, into the brain itself, while preventing all undesirable wastes from entering. This barrier of selective access is medically known as the blood-brain barrier (BBB).
When the BBB malfunctions, it becomes permeable, allowing damaging toxins and germs into the brain. These can cause many unpleasant brain-related health issues, including reduced learning ability; memory and cognitive decline; depression; neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s; and infections, such as cerebral malaria. Bear in mind that immune system cells, which are present in all other parts of the body to kill germs, are too large to enter the brain. Therefore, without these disease-fighting cells, it’s the sole responsibility of the BBB to ensure that germs are kept at bay. This explains why when the BBB is compromised and germs enter the brain, it’s usually a medical emergency and often fatal, as exemplified by meningitis and cerebral malaria.
Possible causes of BBB permeability include stress; pollution, such as cigarette smoke; some infections; and environmental toxins in the food we consume, for example, mercury-infected fish. A significant cause of acute BBB malfunction is excessive alcohol consumption. Alcohol starves the brain of energy and initiates a series of free radical reactions in the cells within blood vessels of the BBB. This makes it permeable, not only to alcohol itself, but to other toxins such as acetaldehyde, a dangerous byproduct of the metabolism produced by the liver. This results in damage and death of brain cells. Acetaldehyde is also responsible for the symptoms of a hangover. If you’ve experienced the tell-tale throbbing headache and grotty feeling the morning after drinking, you can be sure that your BBB has been compromised and brain cells have been damaged.
STRAIN AFTER A STROKE
An animal study in 2007 observed that much of the brain damage that occurs after a stroke is as a result of a collapse of the BBB. In this study, an extract from turmeric spice called curcumin, was administered shortly after a stroke (in this case, 30 minutes later) and this resulted in significantly reduced damage to the BBB. The study also reported a reduction in stroke-related deaths and fewer neurological problems in test animals that were given curcumin. Even though this study will need to be duplicated on humans before definitive recommendations can be made, it can’t do any harm to take a dose of curcumin after a stroke, especially since it has many additional detoxifying effects.
HIV WEAKENS THE BBB
A study published in the June 2011 edition of The Journal of Neuroscience reported that HIV infection destroys cells called astrocytes. These cells provide physical support to the BBB. The resultant weakening and permeability of the BBB may occur with very low, or even undetectable, levels of the HIV virus. This may explain why some people living with HIV experience neurological problems, even though they are taking antiretroviral medicines and have undetectable HIV levels. Furthermore, recent studies show that up to 60% of patients taking antiretroviral medication continue to experience neurological deficits, including memory loss and learning difficulties. A likely cause is a compromised BBB.
A PROMISING ANTIDOTE
Two new studies have shown that an amino acid called acetyl-l-carnitine can prevent the damage to the BBB caused by alcohol, therefore protecting the brain. It was found that acetyl-l-carnitine neutralises the free radicals that cause BBB permeability in response to alcohol, providing extra support to help the BBB deal with its toxic challenge. Other research shows that pantethine, also known as coenzyme B5 (don’t confuse this with vitamin B5) also prevents inflammation and permeability of the BBB. Older research shows that pantethine also helps protect the brain from alcohol-damage, via an additional mechanism, by destroying acetaldehyde directly.
Acetyl-l-carnitine comes in many forms. However, the form that is most effective in protecting the brain is acetyl-l-carnitine arginate. This form is unique in that it consists of two powerful amino acids: acetyl-l-carnitine and arginine. Bound together, these amino acids work to offer an enhanced effect.
PLEASE NOTE: Products are ranked in decreasing order of potency. Products listed nearer the top of any particular health need are the most effective and have the most scientific research to support their use in respect of such health need. Multiple products, one from each bullet (•) can be combined with products from other bullets for added effectiveness, if needed, since products from different bulleted lines have different mechanisms of action. However, where more than one product is listed within a particular bullet (•), then only one of these products should be used, since all products listed within the same bullet share an identical or similar pharmacology (mechanism of action) for that condition. This is because whenever a particular condition is treated via multiple different mechanisms of action, the result is generally improved effectiveness. However, when products are combined that work via exactly the same mechanism of action, then no extra benefit is obtained.