Leaky Brain: Signs, Symptoms, Causes, Treatments and More

Editor's Note: This article has been recently updated with latest information and research studies.
 

Our brain is an intricate part of the human body. It is part of the central nervous system and is situated at the top of the head. It controls diverse functions such as our thinking, knowledge, conduct, character, hearing, vision, balance, coordination and other very important functions

Our brain is lined with a network of cellular elements which make up the blood brain barrier (BBB). The blood brain barrier (BBB) creates a barrier between the bloodstream and the brain.

There are tight junctions present between the network of cellular elements that make up the BBB similar to the tight junctions in the cells that line up the digestive system. They form a diffusion barrier selectively monitoring the entry of substances into the brain. So the blood brain barrier is our brain’s protective barrier that allows essential nutrients to cross over into the brain but prevents togutxins and other harmful particles from crossing over.

A dysfunction of the blood brain barrier (BBB) can lead to the tight junctions becoming more permeable and not working properly. This will allow any substance including toxins cross over into the brain. The brain gets inflamed and is now regarded as a leaky brain.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of a Leaky Brain?

Symptoms of a Leaky Brain
  • Headaches – One of the signs and symptoms of a leaky brain is headaches. A review published in 2000 in the Neurosurgical Focus Journal suggested that an abrupt onset of a severe and unexpected headache may be signs and symptoms of a leaky brain. The review also stated the pain is worse when an individual is standing and becomes more severe throughout the day.
  • Cognitive decline – Cognitive decline including memory loss can come about for several reasons including a dysfunction in the blood brain barrier. A review published in 2014 in the Front Aging Neuroscience Journal observed that a dysfunction in the blood brain barrier (BBB) may contribute to cognitive decline which is often observed in patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Chronic fatigue syndromeChronic fatigue syndrome causes constant tiredness that doesn’t go away even with sleep or rest. A review published in 2001 in the Medical Hypotheses Journal found that a change in the permeability of the blood-brain barrier may bring about the continuing signs and symptoms found in chronic fatigue syndrome.
  • Depression and Schizophrenia – A clinical review published in 2009 in the Cardiovascular Psychiatry and Neurology Journal suggested that a breakdown in the blood brain barrier (BBB) was observed in patients with major psychiatric illnesses, including depression and schizophrenia

What Causes a Leaky Brain?

Causes a Leaky Brain

There is a relationship between our brain and digestive system. Whatever happens in our gut has a direct impact on our brain function. A study published in 2014 in the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology Journal demonstrated a clear relationship between changes in our gut flora (the bacteria in our gut) and our brain function.

The small intestine and the stomach are lined with epithelial cells that are connected together by tight junctions similar to the tight junctions in the blood brain barrier (BBB) of the brain. These tight junctions prevent particles that are not supposed to enter from entering into our gut and only allow essential nutrients in.

Various factors such as stress, infection, changes in our gut flora, a poor diet and food sensitivities can cause the tight junctions in our gut to become more permeable and not work properly, the tight junctions will no longer be able to prevent the wrong particles from entering in. Our gut lining becomes inflamed and leaky.

Gluten can also cause the tight junctions to be more permeable, making the intestinal barrier and blood brain barrier weak. A research published in 2011 in the Physiological Reviews Journal stated that zonulin is the only substance that regulates the function of the tight junctions in the blood-brain barrier of brain and the intestinal barrier of the gut.

Another study published in 2006 in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology Journal found that gliadin which is a protein present in wheat and gluten increases* zonulin; when zonulin increases*, it makes the tight junctions more permeable preventing it from working properly leading to a leaky gut and a leaky brain.

Inflammation isn’t completely bad, it helps to bring protection and restoration to the body after an illness or injury or trauma or a stressful situation but if the stimulus persists and inflammation becomes prolonged, it becomes chronic and harmful.

A new research report published in 2014 by scientists in the FASEB Journal found that inflammation makes the blood-brain barrier weak preventing it from working properly. This allows toxins and other harmful particles entry into the brain.

Treatment of a Leaky Brain

Treatment of a Leaky Brain

To treat* a leaky brain effectively, it is imperative that any issues with the gut is also addressed because of the connection between the gut and the brain.

Gluten should be eliminated from the diet, it has been shown to increase* zonulin which increases* the permeability of the tight junctions, causing the blood brain barrier to break down.

It is important to eliminate* any other food you may be sensitive to from your diet. Food sensitivity has been linked to inflammation. A review published in 2015 in the Paediatrics International Journal found that some individuals react to food and other proteins as though they were pathogens causing inflammation of the mucosal barrier.

Inflammation needs to be addressed so identify the root cause of inflammation and get rid of it.

It is also vital to manage your stress. Stress has been linked to leaky gut and inflammation. A study published in 2013 in the Biological Psychiatry Journal found that stress increases* inflammation and intestinal permeability (leaky gut) (12).

Supporting the Brain Function

Supporting the Brain Function

Our brain is approximately 60% fat. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are vital for the health and function of the brain. A study published in 2009 in the Acta Nerologica Taiwanica Journal found that an imbalance intake of EFAs weakened the performance of the brain. The body cannot make essential fatty acids so we have to get it from what we eat. Sources of essential fatty acids include oily fish (sardine, salmon, mackerel, herring), flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, hemp seed and walnut

Other good sources of healthy fat such as avocado and coconut oil should also be included in your diet to support the function of your brain. Processed food including sugar should be eliminated from your diet; it feeds the bad bacteria in your gut, creating changes in your gut flora which can have an impact on your brain function.

A dysfunction of the blood brain barrier which leads to a leaky brain has been linked to various neurological diseases including dementia and Alzheimer’s, depression, and schizophrenia so maintaining a healthy brain function is vital.

References

  • Ballabh P, Braun A, Nedergaard M (2004) The blood-brain barrier: an overview: structure, regulation, and clinical implications. Neurobiology of Disease, 16: 1-13.
  • Schievink W I (2000) Spontaneous spinal cerebrospinal fluid leaks: a review, Neurosurgical Focus, 9: e8.
  • Takeda S, Sato N, Morishita R (2014) Systemic inflammation, blood-brain barrier vulnerability and cognitive/non-cognitive symptoms in Alzheimer disease: relevance to pathogenesis and therapy, Front Aging Neuroscience, 6:171.
  • Bested A C, Saunders P R, Logan A C (2001) Chronic fatigue syndrome: neurological findings may be related to blood-brain barrier permeability. Medical Hypotheses, 57: 231-237.
  • Shalev H, Serlin Y, Friedman A (2009) Breaching the Blood-Brain Barrier as a Gate to Psychiatric Disorder. Cardiovascular Psychiatry and Neurology, 2009:278531.
  • Gareau M G (2014) Microbiota-gut-brain axis and cognitive function. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, 817: 357-371.
  • Lopez-Ramirez M A, Wu D, Pryce G, Simpson J E, Reijerkerk A, King-Robson J, Kay O, De Vries H E, Hirst M C, Sharrack B, Baker D, Male G J, Michael I, Romero A (2014) MicroRNA-155 negatively affects blood-brain barrier function during neuroinflammation. The FASEB Journal, 10.1096/fj. 13-248880.
  • Fassano A (2011) Zonulin and its regulation of intestinal barrier function: the biological door to inflammation, autoimmunity, and cancer. Physiological Reviews, 91: 151-175.
  • Drago S I, Asmar R, Di Pierro M, Grazia Clemente M, Tripathi A, Sapone A, Thakar M, Iacono G, Carroccio A, D’Agate C, Not T, Zampini L, Catassi C, Fasano A (2006) Gliadin, zonulin and gut permeability: Effects on celiac and non-celiac intestinal mucosa and intestinal cell lines. Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, 41: 408-410.
  • Ohtsuka Y (2015) Food intolerance and mucosal inflammation. Paediatrics International: official journal of the Japanese Paediatric Society, 57: 22-29.
  • Chang C Y, Ke D S, Chen J Y (2009) Essential fatty acids and human brain. Acta Nerologica Taiwanica, 18: 231-241.
  • Garate I, Garcia-Bueno B, Madrigal J L, Caso J R, Alou L, Gomez-Lus M L, Mico J A, Leza J C (2013) Stress-induced neuroinflammation: role of the Toll-like receptor-4 pathway. Biological Psychiatry, 73: 32-43.

Take Action: Support Consumer Health Digest by linking to this article from your website

Permalink to this article:

Embed article link: (Click to copy HTML code below):

Reprinting this article:
Non-commercial use OK, cite ConsumerHealthDigest.com with clickable link.


 
Author

Expert Author : Anne Anyia (Consumer Health Digest)

Anne Anyia is a UK based BANT and CNHC registered Nutritional Therapist and Consultant specializing in weight loss and weight management. She has also interest in digestive health and women's nutrition. She is passionate about health and well-being and showing people what to eat and how to eat for optimal health. She believes everyone should be empowered to be able to manage their own health. Anne has a diploma in Nutritional therapy from the Institute for Optimum Nutrition. She also works closely with children in her local church in the community.