A new study shows halting inflammation reverses dementia. I have written about brain inflammation before (see the free 20+ page whitepaper here), but this study identifies an additional mechanism to consider. Brain Fog is just the tip of the iceberg.
Researchers showed they can age brains with inflammation and make brains look and perform as younger when blocking inflammation. Bidirectional observations are powerful.
Blood-Brain Barrier (BBB)
The study focused on BBB leakiness. The BBB is an endothelial cell layer (only 1 cell thick, light brown in pic below) providing an extra layer of protection between blood and the cells.
They monitored leakiness via two parameters; (1) MRI and (2) brain rhythms by EEG.
BBB permeability, inflammation, and brain performance (to include brain fog, cognitive decline, etc) are all integrated. Let’s look at a few options to help our BBB and decrease brain inflammation.
BBB Permeability Contributors
This is not a complete list, but definitely what I consider a good starting point.
My paper, Optimizing Sleep, is a deep dive in all things sleep. But, it didn’t include details on BBB effects. Sleep restriction increases BBB permeability 3. In particular, a decrease in REM sleep is a big contributor here 4. Alcohol is a notorious REM suppressor – tread lightly here, anything over a drink or two can decrease REM.
Not to be a fun squisher, but excess alcohol can wreak havoc on our body. Similarly here, it can effect BBB permeability via oxidative stress.5 This is additive on top of the REM suppression effects above – a double whammy.
Yes, it is as gross as it sounds, maybe worse. The gut has an epithelial cell layer forming a barrier, very similar to the BBB. As this barrier becomes permeable, intestinal contents leak from the gut to the bloodstream (See? gross…). In fact, they have shown leaky gut and leaky BBB go hand in hand6. If substances cross either that don’t belong, the natural reaction is inflammation.
Gluten and glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup, please choose organic!) trigger a substance called zonulin that forces open those tight junctions in the GI tract leading to leaky gut7. Food additives, called surfactants, can drive an increase in permeability. And, get this. If you have inflammation, you reach for ibuprofen (an NSAID – non steroidal anti inflammatory drug). While that helps with some associated symptoms, it is increasing leaky gut8!
Chronic stress is a contributory factor in many chronic diseases. Here is no exception. Stress induces inflammation peripherally and centrally9. Further, other studies also show stress contributes to leaky gut1011.
High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is a known disruptor of the BBB. Our subject study even referenced the use of high blood pressure medication losartan after brain injury. Researchers showed elsewhere Losartan to counteract the effects of high blood pressure on the BBB12.
Losartan works to block the effects of a system called RAAS (Renin Angiotensin Aldosterone System). When activated, salt retention, vascular changes, and other mechanism promote higher blood pressure. Evidence is overwhelming excess RAAS activation is a negative.
Guess what activates the RAAS?
Salt restriction! That’s right, as I have written before, the pervasive recommendation to restrict salt activates RAAS, for which the need to take an RAAS blocker arises. And as we saw here, increased RAAS causes more BBB permeability.
Pass the salt shaker already. Here is the ideal amount according to a Salt Fix book I highly recommend (my notes on it are here):
Scientific research suggests that the optimal range for sodium intake is 3 to 6 grams per day (about 1⅓ to 2⅔ teaspoons of salt) for healthy adults, not the 2,300 milligrams of sodium (less than 1 teaspoon of salt) per day that’s commonly advised. And some people need even more13
Improving sleep quality is paramount for life and brain health in particular. My paper, Optimizing Sleep, has my full set of recommendations. I encourage you to read that, but if I had to start with a few, they would be:
- Doc Parsley’s Sleep Remedy – a great combination of many supplements I have used individually. Excellent place to start.
- The absolute best hack for optimizing temperature is called Chilipad. This system runs water through a mattress pad at the precise temperature you set (there are dual zones for bigger beds). I set mine to 55 degrees, but it goes up over 100 degrees. Cool sleep is the best sleep, and this helps my temp remain ideal. It made an immediate and lasting effect on my sleep tracker.
- I have tried a few blue light blocking glasses, but the ones I like best are called True Dark. Blue light decreases melatonin, and melatonin supports the BBB14.
Exercise causes short-term inflammation and physical stress, but the benefits are huge. From all my reading, exercise is the single best implementation for brain health. The internal response to the stress experienced results in a profound cascade of events that strengthen all areas of the brain.
Strength training, as well as High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), are the best places to start. Long-distance, chronic cardio is not desirable for most. In fact, it can negatively impact leaky gut15.
Society lives in a constant state of stress. Stress isn’t bad, we just need to add balance to recover.
There is no one simple answer for everyone as stress presents in many fashions. Here are broad areas to consider:
- Gratitude Practice
- Breathing techniques
- Time outside with no devices
Many of the techniques here allow the parasympathetic nervous system to dominate (as opposed to the sympathetic or fight/flight). One nerve in particular that carries important signals to the brain from the gut and other regions is the vagus nerve. The vagus communicates gut stress and inflammation to the brain and may tie BBB permeability with leaky gut. Another activity that can benefit the vagus nerve and BBB integrity is cold exposure (cold showers, etc)16. They take a while to get used to, but I have found them to be beneficial in many ways (took one this morning!)
As part of our Human Potential Coach training, we spent a ton of time on different tactics and strategies to incorporate these into a custom plan for an individual. Please reach out for help – dialing in this area is beyond critical for dealing with neuroinflammation.
I have a whole section in the Inflamed Brain Whitepaper, but two that most can benefit from are Omega 3 Fish Oils (I like this product) and turmeric/curcumin (I like this product or this one). A product called Restore decreases leaky gut from glyphosate and gluten exposure – I highly recommend having this as part of your arsenal.
A Powerful Custom Prescription
In Island Drug’s Compounding Lab, we see great success from a nose spray called Synapsin. Synapsin is anti-inflammatory targeted at the brain. A full write up is available in the Inflamed Brain Whitepaper and a summary version in an email to our customers. We have seen a doubling of deep sleep, and reports of increased focus and improved stress management.
To dive a little deeper on our topic including the BBB, I found a specific benefit here.
One ingredient in Synapsin is nicotinamide riboside (NR), a type of B vitamin. It is a precursor to an energy cofactor called NAD+. We want higher levels of NAD+, and introducing NR helps provide that. Turns out, higher NAD+ levels protect BBB integrity17!
Synapsin has been a game-changer for many patients, please reach out for more information on how to prescribe!
This study showed inflammation and dementia are overlapping. Chronic inflammation is often body-wide. Our interventions should focus there. If you have brain fog, chronically use anti-inflammatories, are under chronic stress, and/or don’t sleep well, act now. Brain degradation can be reversed, but the results are much better earlier.
- https://prescriptiveoptimization.com/2019/02/05/a-little-itch-could-mean-a-lotta- health-problems/
- James DiNicolantonio, The Salt Fix: Why the Experts Got It All Wrong–and How Eating More Might Save Your Life, loc. 2184
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