What Is The Blood Brain Barrier? Everything You Should Know
Published by Dr. Venn-Watson
Dr. Eric Venn-Watson’s Highlights
- The brain is protected by several structures, including the blood-brain barrier.
- The blood-brain barrier is responsible for ensuring the blood flow to the brain is safe and toxin-free.
- Learning more about the blood-brain barrier could help us better understand how to care for people with neurological disorders.
The brain is protected by several physical structures. These structures ensure that the brain and spinal cord are protected from physical injury.
These protective barriers include:
- Cerebrospinal fluid. This fluid surrounds the brain, spinal cord, and spine. This clear, water-like fluid has three major functions. It cushions and protects the brain and spinal cord, delivers necessary supplies to the brain from the blood, and removes waste from the brain.
- 7mm thick skull. The skull is made up of 22 separate bones that encase and support the brain. The skull also keeps a fixed distance between your eyes and your ears.
- Meninges. The meninges is a protective, three-layer membrane that surrounds the brain. The innermost layer is called the pia mater, the middle layer is the arachnoid, and the outer layer is the dura mater, which is a tough, thick membrane.
By and large, these three features protect the brain against physical injury. But what about internal injury from parasites or the body’s own immune system? For that, we have the blood-brain barrier.
What Is the Blood-Brain Barrier?
The meninges lies between the skull and the blood-brain barrier (BBB). If the skull, spinal fluid, and meninges protect the brain from physical harm, the barrier function of the blood-brain barrier is to protect cells and blood vessels of the brain from pathogens and toxins that could be found in our own bodies.
The cells in the blood-brain barrier that give it the ability to protect the brain are known as endothelial cells. These form what is called an endothelial tight junction. These cells are found inside all blood vessels in the body, which help keep our blood vessels strong and impermeable.
The closeness of the cells creates a tight junction through which only small molecules can pass. This protects our brain tissue from pathogens and toxins which otherwise could enter and make us sick.
The brain’s endothelial cells make it impossible for larger molecules to pass through, so important molecules that need entry (like the glucose that powers our brains) have to use a specialized gate. These gatekeepers are called transport proteins.
What Does the Blood-Brain Barrier Do?
The systems that protect our brain (like the skull, spinal fluid, meninges, and blood-brain barrier) are there to protect our brains from harm. Specifically, the blood-brain barrier has other functions, too.
Delivery of Necessary Nutrients
Your brain, like all other parts of your body, needs nutrients to survive. Transport proteins carry glucose, amino acids broken down in the bloodstream, to the brain. This feature of the BBB is known as blood-brain barrier permeability.
Homeostasis in the Brain
Like the rest of your body, the brain is in constant balance, or homeostasis. The brain uses neurons and receptors that constantly communicate with one another to keep this balance and regulate what’s going on inside your brain.
By regulating levels of hormones and even the water content of the brain, the blood-brain barrier keeps the brain balanced.
What Happens When the BBB Is Compromised?
Even though the blood-brain barrier is very protective of our central nervous system (CNS), the barrier integrity can falter. One of the most common ways our blood-brain barrier can be damaged is by contracting meningococcal diseases.
These diseases (like meningitis) can be caused by bacteria, fungi, parasites, or viruses. But if the barrier is supposed to protect us from these pathogens, why doesn’t it always work?
Remember that the blood-brain barrier is made up of endothelial cells. With these illnesses, the toxins attach themselves to these cells' basement membranes, causing them to separate only slightly and resulting in the brain barrier breakdown.
If left untreated, the brain barrier disruption can worsen and allow other toxins and pathogens into the brain. The results can be fatal.
Sometimes, the brain barrier itself is to blame. In diseases like multiple sclerosis, the blood-brain barrier incorrectly allows white blood cells into the brain, which attack neurons and glial cell types. This can cause brain messaging dysfunction.
The problem is, it can be difficult to treat these types of illnesses, because blood-brain barrier function may disallow the passage of necessary medications.
How Do Things Get Past the Blood-Brain Barrier?
Although the human brain does a great job protecting itself with the blood-brain barrier, there are instances when being able to bypass it would allow us to better care for people with certain neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, or neurological disorders like brain tumors, epilepsy, and seizures.
So far, researchers have found two ways to bypass the blood-brain barrier to better understand neurodegenerative disorders:
- The Trojan horse method. In this method, an antibody or treatment is attached to a molecule capable of passing through the blood-brain barrier.
- Opening the blood-brain barrier. Using ultrasound equipment, it’s possible to temporarily open the blood-brain barrier, kind of like a drawbridge, to allow for drug delivery.
The neuroscience of using the blood-brain barrier to our advantage in treating neurodegenerative diseases is evolving and may even help us understand how to prevent them in the future.
The Future of Brain Therapy
We know a lot about the brain but don’t know everything yet. We know that in addition to these protective properties of the brain, the brain also creates protective immune cells, known as microglial cells.
These cells act as a second layer of defense inside our brains should they come in contact with a pathogen. We also know that the brain is constantly communicating with our immune system, an idea that was once thought untrue.
As we continually learn more about the ability of our brain to protect itself, we can better understand what steps to take to protect our brain health. One way to start now is by supporting the cells that make up our brains and bodies. Science says there’s an easy way to do it.
Cellular Support With Fatty Acids
You might already take an omega-3 supplement in the form of a fish oil capsule. If so, you know that omega-3 is an essential fatty acid that can provide cellular support.
What you might not know is that omega-3 has some important side effects that can be less-than-ideal for your health like:
- Thinning of the blood
- Excessive bleeding if an injury were to occur
Omega-3 is a polyunsaturated fatty acid, which means it is liquid at room temperature and therefore, prone to oxidation and becoming rancid, kind of like cooking oil. That means your fish oil capsules can go rancid in the bottle and in your cells.
Thankfully, there’s a solution.
Pentadecanoic acid, also known as C15:0, is an odd-chain, saturated fatty acid that is the first essential fatty acid to have been discovered since the omegas over 90 years ago. Although we’ve heard that saturated fat is bad, science now supports that it is not the case. It is now recognized that there are some types of saturated fatty acids that are beneficial and even essential to our health.
C15:0 is an odd-chain saturated fatty acid, which has recently been identified as an essential fatty acid. Science supports that higher levels of C15:0 are associated with better metabolic, immune, liver and heart health.*
In addition, studies comparing C15:0 to omega-3 show that C15:0 is better, broader, and safer than the purest, highest peforming form of omega-3.
Where To Get It
C15:0 is primarily found in trace levels in whole-fat dairy products. However, increasing your intake of whole-fat dairy products comes with extra calories, sugars, and high levels of the "bad" pro-inflammatory even-chain saturated fats.
A solution? Fatty15.
Fatty15 is a breakthrough supplement born from scientific discovery, containing one pure ingredient, FA15™. This vegan-friendly, sustainably produced, award winning version of C15:0 is all you need to restore your circulating levels and help protect your cells. The best part is that there’s no fish taste, no massive dosage, and fatty15 is not prone to oxidation and will not go rancid like omega-3 fish oil supplements.
Keeping your brain healthy is a multifaceted task. In addition to eating right, exercising, and learning more about how the brain works, taking a once-a-day supplement, like fatty15, can help you support your brain cells (and every other cell in your body, too).*
Eric Venn-Watson M.D.
Senior Scientist, Co-Founder
Eric is a physician, U.S. Navy veteran, and Co-founder and COO of Seraphina Therapeutics. Eric served over 25 years as a Navy and Marine Corps physician, working with the special forces community to improve their health and fitness. Seraphina Therapeutics is a health and wellness company dedicated to advancing global health through the discovery of essential fatty acids and micronutrient therapeutics.
You May Also Like...
Biohacking Supplements: Essential Supplements for Biohackers
We’ve got more knowledge at our fingertips than ever before. For most of us, going to the library to research a topic we’re interested in isn't even necessary. We’ve got a wealth of information (and plenty of misinformation) in the...
Cellular Hydration: Drinking Water Isn’t Enough
If you’re a health-conscious individual, you’re probably keenly aware of your water intake, ensuring proper hydration levels in your body. However, you might not be aware of your cellular hydration state or just how hydrated the cells in...