The brain fascinates me, and the more we learn about it, the more fascinated I've become! The fitness, health, and wellness industry is inundated with information regarding movement practice, fad or popular diets, or mindfulness practices, but rarely do we get to dive into what effects it all has as a whole. My plan moving forward is to begin to shed light on some topics that hopefully will intrigue the inquisitive mind. So let's dive together into Your Brain & How to Keep it Optimized for Performance and Longevity!
What is the Blood Brain Barrier?
The blood brain barrier (BBB) is a physical barrier of capillary endothelial cells (simple squamous cells that line the inside walls of blood and lymphatic vessels) one layer thick. It includes anatomical, physicochemical, and biochemical mechanisms that control the exchange of materials between blood, brain, and cerebrospinal fluid, which makes it the main physical barrier through which nutrients, hormones, and various chemicals pass from your brain to your blood system, and vice versa.
When this barrier is compromised in any way, we run into an issue called “leaky brain”. Leaky brain occurs when the endothelial cells of the blood brain barrier (BBB) are exposed to detrimental compounds and physiological circumstances that cause them to die prematurely, leading to a weakened line of defence for the brain.
Now there is no accessible testing methods for leaky brain, so we use a symptom based approach for diagnosis. Typical symptoms include:
Brain fog (that afternoon sluggish brain)
Neuro- degenerative disease (Alzheimers, dementia)
Headaches or migraines
Mood disorders (depression, anxiety)
Cognitive impairment (memory recall, coordination)
There are many causes of leaky brain, but we are going to focus on the most common, mostly because they are most prevalent in our coaching practice. The top three we see on the regular:
Sleep Deprivation Excessive Alcohol Consumption High Blood Pressure Now, we will cover other contributors, but it's really worth while to highlight those three as they tend to do the most damage and by far are the most common. The good news is I'm about to give tools and actions to mitigate BBB damage. 1) Sleep - Get enough sleep!! 7-9 hours in a 24hr period. - Small doses of melatonin (.3-2mg) has been shown to decrease BBB permeability, though should only be used sparingly and strategically.
2) Limit Alcohol - Limit alcohol to 1-2 servings preferably in a fasted state, on a day where you had a hard workout. - Support your liver, detox, and nutrient status when consuming alcohol.
3) Control Blood Pressure - Consume nutrients shown to reduce blood pressure : Beets (and anything that increases nitric oxide), Magnesium & Potassium, Dark Chocolate (yum), Garlic, Garlic Extract, Allicin
4) Caution with High Fat Diets - If doing a high-fat or ketogenic diet, make sure it’s rich in plant fiber and phytonutrients! Be sure your sources of dietary fat are of high quality, don’t feed your precious brain with rancid, highly processed fats. Include lots of dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, turmeric, and astragalus root.
Certain supplements can help combat the deleterious effects of high-fat on the BBB:
- Bitter melon extract (Kion Lean)
- Vitamin D3 - Aged garlic extract - Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) - Niacin - Nicotinamide
5) Avoid Snacking
- Avoid frequent snacking or grazing and only eat when hungry. - Practice IM (intermittent fasting) such as daily 12-16 hour fasts, and/or a weekly 24 hour fast 6) Improve Vagal Nerve Tone
- Deep Breathing - Singing - Meditation - Acupuncture - Massage - Cold Exposure - Chewing Gum - Sleeping on your right side - Electronic VNS devices 7) Drink Coffee / Tea
- Caffeine binds to adenosine receptors => Incites cAMP production => Increased intercellular communication => Reduced inflammation => Better BBB integrity. Black, additive free is always best, and it has been shown to be helpful during time restricted eating or fasts!
8) Nourish the Gut
- Regularly consume nutrients that nourish the gut. Bone broth, colostrum, glutamine, prebiotics, probiotics, and fermented foods.
9) Cold Therapy
- Cold exposure can improve communication between gut and brain via vagus nerve, and also causes a release of blood and nitric oxide in the brain. Implement daily cold therapy practices:
Cold soaks Cold showers Splashing cold water on face Cryotherapy Body cooling gear Keep temperature of home at 65 degree or below
- Integrate some of the following into your diet for optimum support of the BBB: Ginseng Olive Leaf Extract Magnesium B Vitamins (6, 9, 12) Alpha-GPC Inositol Berberine Astragalus Chlorogenic acid Rosmarinic Acid Apigenin Butyrate Citicoline Shilajit
As always we encourage our clients to focus on the low hanging fruit - quality of sleep hygiene being number one when it comes to protecting and optimizing your brain performance. Try incorporating some of the suggestions above and feel good about caring for the most important resource we have as it relates to living a high performing, adventurous, long and healthy life: your brain.