Your Brain On Fire
So you’ve heard of leaky gut right? You know, the whole idea that contents inside our gut lumen such as food proteins, virus, bacteria, toxins, metals (and god knows what else) can escape digestion prematurely by seeping through the tight junctions between the cells of our gut straight into the bloodstream and cause inflammatory havoc in various parts of the body?
Turns out, there is also a semi-permeable barrier protecting the delicate contents of the brain and all its weird and wonderful componentry. This protective layer is called the blood-brain-barrier (“BBB”). And it's the same deal- If the space between the cells of this delicate barrier start to separate and become porous (in response to the host of insults we’ll discuss further) neurological issues start to show their head. No pun intended.
So What's Leaky Brain?
This concept is now being referred to as “leaky brain” in integrative medical circles and in mainstream medical research. A leaky brain is essentially a brain on fire with inflammation and one that has lost the ability to selectively control and regulate the passage of contents past this barrier. Think of the big night-club security guard turning a blind eye to the entry of unruly and disorderly teenagers who only show up to cause chaos.
You're starting to imagine what this looks like in the human body... We're talking:
- brain fog,
- chronic fatigue,
- joint pain,
- increased risk for autoimmune issues,
- behavioural spectrum disorders and much more.
What we usually see preceding this however is the sustained leaky gut wall allowing for the passage of fragmented environmental and dietary components into the blood travelling up and permeating through the BBB and gradually worsening its integrity over time. And yes, sadly they often occur together.
Leaky gut = leaky brain
I'm going to take a deep dive into the list of FIVE common insults known to breakdown and erode this barrier as well as the ways we can support its integrity and detoxify the suspects known to initiate damage once inside. Let's go.
1. HEAVY METAL TOXICITY
In no other time in history have we had to rely so heavily on optimising our detoxification capacity in order to maintain wellness as part of a longevity strategy. In todays modern era, we humans are absolutely peppered with environmentally transferred toxicity from multiple avenues including:
- industrial pollutants,
- off gassing,
- chemical-laden food,
- run off,
- household chemicals,
- amalgams, mercury containing dental
- water contaminated with pharmaceutical-metabolites
- and more.
Among them all, heavy metal toxicity is perhaps one of the greatest threats to our wellbeing and is connected with the onset and exacerbation of many inflammatory mediated conditions such as Alzheimers, dementia, autoimmune disease and Parkinsons among others. You get the picture...
Toxic load and punctured blood-brain-barrier? Trouble is not far away...
Part of my work as a functional naturopath is sending off a patients hair sample to the lab to investigate the possibility of heavy metal toxicity especially if working with neurological related illnesses or any inflammatory or fatigue related illness for that matter.
What I am assessing first and foremost is the presence of heavy metals that have known neurotoxic associations such as mercury, lead, aluminium, arsenic etc. See, these metals are able to attach themselves to the sulfhydryl groups on various proteins in our body which makes them appear foreign to our immune system and thus thought to initiate an inflammatory reaction towards them.
Our bodies come equipped with some amazing internal enzyme systems however to deal with toxic compounds before they travel around the body and deposit into tissue. Some of these enzyme systems and antioxidants include;
- Superoxide dismutase and
These amazing antioxidants however require particular dietary precursors to enable their manufacturing. Now here are the three kickers...
A) Most of western society consumes a diet devoid of the amounts of nutrients like selenium, wholefood vitamin C, riboflavin and sulphur-bearing amino acids to sufficiently maintain adequate amounts of these anti oxidant systems.
B) In response to the sheer toxic load we’re faced with today, these enzymes systems are in 10-fold demand compared to that of our ancestral predecessors.
C) Epigenetics has taught us that some individuals will express certain variations on these genes resulting in a lowered enzymatic production of them, which can predispose to a lifetime of heightened oxidative stress damage and accumulation of toxicity. These are the patients whom are at a higher risk of going on to develop inflammatory related conditions.
In addition to supporting the production of the above antioxidants, there are particular nutraceuticals available that act as excellent antioxidants to complement the ones our bodies manufacture. When dealing with any inflammatory / neurodegenerative illness and known presence of heavy metals, it is imperative that the body’s production of glutathione (GSH), superoxide dismutase (SOD) and Catalase are fully optimised.
Through specific dietary and supplemental therapies that help detach metals from their binding sites within tissue, it is also imperative that phase 1 and 2 liver detoxification processes are encouraged in line with adequate motility and excretion of gastrointestinal contents to prevent re-absorption of these toxins. (This section warrants its own dedicated post, but let's press on to keep it flowing).
2. VIRAL LOAD
Viruses were here long before homo sapiens and have had ample time to evolve alongside us and become true stealth pathogens capable of evading our immune detection and capitalising when our resilience factors are challenged. What greater time than now for these little critters with an emerging population of stressed out, overworked, nutrient-deplete, nature-deprived, maladapted humans of the 21st century... Fortunately nature has provided some pretty damn good anti-viral solutions from the botanical world as you are probably well acquainted with if you’ve been following SuperFeast for a while!)
Research shows us that a porous or leaky BBB has a compromised ability to filter out the influx of viral, bacterial and parasitic organisms. Some of these organisms (namely viruses) have developed sophisticated invasion strategies to breach the BBB such as via transportation along neural pathways and infected-white blood cells.
When this occurs, the immune system releases massive amounts of pro-inflammatory cytokines (immune messengers) that in attempt to disable this process, damage nearby tissue and disrupt the tight junctions present in the BBB. In short, an unchecked viral load contributes toward a leaky BBB and neurological inflammation. In addition to maintaining a strong BBB, antiviral strategies to retard viral replication upstream and lower overall viral load may be extremely beneficial.
First and foremost, this includes the use of medicinal mushroom extracts know to possess neuroprotective benefits and anti viral action such as SuperFeast Lion’s Mane and Reishi. In fact, check out this Amazing Benefits of Lion's Mane article here. Other botanicals to consider that have been shown to offset the oxidative stress and inflammatory damage to the brain induced by viral damage include Ginko biloba and Rhodiola rose (both of which are in the SuperFeast nootropic blend, Neural Nectar).
3. MOULD AND FUNGAL OVERGROWTH
Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (coined by Dr Ritchie Shoemaker) is a condition associated with the presence of mould mycotoxins ingested through exposure to water-damaged buildings. Knowledge of this condition has gained serious attention by researchers, Orthodox practitioners and even different states across the Australian and American government bodies.
What has been dismissed in the past as ‘chronic fatigue syndrome’ or ‘fibromyalgia’ is actually now thought (in concert with other factors) due largely to the presence of biotoxins absorbed from mould affected homes and workplaces.
The scary part is that according to recent statistics, 1 in 4 will possess a certain genetic predisposition to suffering from biotoxin illness if he/she carries the HLA-DQ2 / DQ8 genotype.
So essentially, 4 people all exposed to a mouldy environment may all become ill, however based on these statistics, 3 out of those 4 will regain their health following their exit from the exposure source. While the 1 in 4 carrying this genetic susceptibility will remain ill as they do not carry the internal machinery to detoxify the biotoxins. Coincidentally, this genotype coincidentally happens to be the same as those whom carry higher risk for development of coeliac disease.
Additionally, fungal overgrowth in the form of candida (a commensal yeast that has the capacity to become pathogenic under opportunistic circumstances) bears a strong association with neurological impairment and the dreaded “brain fog” that many experience. Sure, for a time there, candida was probably overhyped in the natural medicine blogosphere, but the reality is that any individual with impaired cognitive ability is more than likely experiencing some degree of yeast overgrowth, which through specific antimicrobial therapies targeting the gut, lymph and upper respiratory centres can be extremely effective in mitigating.
4. LIFESTYLE STRESSORS
One of the most overlooked and underrated factors in treating cognitive disorders are addressing underlying sleep hygiene issues. Sleep hygiene refers to ones ability to activate and maintain deep sleep whereby the body’s capacity to undergo anabolic processes, growth, repair and maintenance are fully optimised and facilitated.
As a functional naturopath practitioner, I would have to say that EMF and blue light exposure are possibly the biggest sleep disruptors of today’s modern human. Netflix, instagram, social media and other avenues are all contained with devices that emit blue light frequencies, which hit the retina of the eye and activate cortisol secretion.
Cortisol is commonly known as the “stress hormone” secreted by the adrenals however it also is signalled first thing in the morning when our eyes see daylight. It is supposed to steadily decline with the setting of the sun in line with the activation of the sleep hormone cascade predominated by melatonin.
Think of cortisol and melatonin as two runners in a baton race. What we want to avoid (for optimum sleep hygiene and therefore better brain function) is chronically activated cortisol secretion (from blue light exposure and chronic stress) crossing over into the melatonin cycle as this essentially disrupts our ability to wind down and settle into a deep sleep.
Chronic low-grade stress is absolutely rampant in our modern age and it is a fact that we are not rigged for it biologically. Today’s stressors are the polar opposite of the acute and momentary stressors faced for thousands of years by our ancestral counterparts. These sorts of stressors would have included fleeing from dangerous predators, physical injury, violent exchanges, thermal stress and so on. What we are seeing is an epidemic of prolonged cortisol and stress hormone secretion in response to fight-or-flight scenarios encountered in our daily worklife, deadlines and financial responsibilities. These issues can lead to the dysregulation of the HPA axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis) which is fancy term for the communication network between our brain and adrenal glands.
Addressing and correcting imbalances in the HPA axis through these sorts of lifestyle modifications is a crucial part of optimising brain function and allowing for the resolution of inflammatory messengers throughout the body. Try practices such as:
- Wim Hof method,
- diaphragmatic breathing and
- vagus nerve stimulation therapy in concert with
- the removal of sleep-disturbing factors
5. STEALTH GUT INFECTIONS AND DYSBIOSIS
Increased presence of “pathobionts” (commensal residents of the microbiome that can become pathogenic under the right circumstance) anywhere throughout the gastrointestinal tract coupled with a leaky gut wall and / or blood barrier is a perfect recipe for inflammatory contents to spill out and increase symptoms such as depression, mood disorders, forgetfulness and lowered healthy neurotransmitter production according to recent studies. You know that saying “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas?” The opposite couldn't be more true as it pertains the microbiome and contents of the gut...
The new phrase coined by Dr Alessio Fasano (well known gastrointestinal researcher of intestinal permeability and gluten-related disorders) is “What happens in the gut, does not stay in the gut”. In other words, the days of the medical world viewing body systems in isolation and separate from another are starting to change as we uncover the systemic issues that can arise from a dysbiotic gut microbiome such as poor brain function, fatigue, neurodegenerative illness, diabetes and so forth.
Part of my naturopathic protocol which I carry out for over 90% of my clientele will involve initial gastrointestinal investigation, testing for the presence of dysbiosis and pathogenic organisms, usually in conjunction with assessment of their gut wall integrity as first port of call. This data gathering stage is usually also paired up with toxicity screening (which involves sending a hair sample to the lab for heavy metal assessment). I can honestly say that patients are different people on the other side of individualised treatment for the own unique gut microbiome and / or heavy metal profiles.
If you or anyone you know start developing signs of cognitive impairment or any of the symptoms we’ve previously discussed in this article, it is usually a sign to assess your dietary and lifestyle patterns first and foremost to ensure you are absorbing and excreting correctly whilst allowing for the necessary growth and repair to ensue through a decent and restful nights sleep free of tech-devices, EMFs, work/home related anxieties and so on. These modifications in conjunction with a careful naturopathic approach and individualised data provide the necessary building blocks for optimised brain function, recall, mood and positive mental wellbeing.
Key Take Away's
With the empirical and modern research available to us, it appears that that the removal of inflammation-triggering foods, gut microbes and toxic loads, varied with correct lifestyle practices, stress and sleep modulating therapies give us the most primed positioning for achieving optimised neurological function and brain health. The effects of this may include more energy, improved mood regularity and overall wellbeing in tandem with stronger recall ability.
SuperFeast have tried to make this as efficient as possible through the creation of Neural Nectar, which combines natures best allies for optimising brain health and longevity. In addition to adding such amazing botanicals to your health practices, it is recommended to work with a holistic practitioner to identify and remove these types of aforementioned obstacles in concert with such dietary and herbal regimes.