What is The Blood-Brain Barrier?

One of the most important systems in the body is the blood-brain barrier, commonly known as the BBB. A specialised system of brain cells that shield the brain from harmful substances like toxins, bacteria and viruses and prevent them from entering and causing damaging inflammation. When the BBB breaks down, it can signal the onset of certain neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. Here’s how to keep yours strong and healthy.

The BBB is a major component of the central nervous system and as well as keeping harmful things out, also keeps useful things in. Inside the barrier are lipid-based endothelial cells which line the inside of your brain’s blood vessels and are so tightly packed together that they essentially form a blockade. Small lipid-soluble molecules like proteins, amino acids and glucose can pass through without being repelled, but larger or water-soluble molecules can’t get through without help.

While certain illness and conditions like traumatic brain injuries can make the BBB less effective, inflammation is also a big culprit. To maintain a low inflammatory lifestyle, things like smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are big no-nos. Instead, get plenty of exercise and try and reduce exposure to stress where possible.

When it comes to your diet, there are plenty of ways to keep your BBB in good shape. Eating foods that help reduce inflammation is key, so stock up on nutrient-dense fruit and vegetables like cabbage, blueberries and pomegranates and eat plenty of healthy fats from avocados and nuts and seeds. Fish oils are rich in omega-3s which are particularly anti-inflammatory so include plenty of salmon, mackerel and herring where possible. Getting enough fibre in your diet is also important, because fermentation of dietary fibre produces a substance called butrayte, a short-chain fatty acid that can protect the BBB and enhance plasticity. High fibre sources include beans and lentils, apples, pears, oats and broccoli.

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