Nutrition & BBB

nutcarBy: Nikki Nies

Like a car needs gas, oil, brake fluid and anti freeze to properly work, our brains need  vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates to function correctly.  Specifically, “brain fuel” is glucose.

You may be wondering what kinds of things enter the brain, don’t worry not everything is allowed in the brain.   Due to the blood brain barrier (BBB), the brain is separated from the circulatory system and protects the central nervous system from potentially harmful chemicals.While certain substances are not allowed in the brain, the brain allows certain nutrients in. Nutrients can enter the BBB in 3 ways:

  1. Some materials can pass through “holes” of BBB
  2. Special carriers transfer some materials through BBB
  3. Material break down BBB

Proper nutrition’s essential during pregnancy to ensure baby receives optimal growth and prevents likelihood of malnutrition, behavioral problems, and/or brain disorders.  Brain function and structure is dictated by the reaction and relationship between cells (i.e. endothelial cells, astrocytes and pericytes) and the extracellular matrix of the brain and blood flow in the capillaries.  Without the correct building blocks of glucose, amino acids and fatty acids, an overabundance or deficiency can occur and impact the CNS.

One’s diet has a direct correlation in the production of neurotransmitters produced.  If there is a deficiency in a particular macronutrient, vitamin or mineral, neurological and/or mental disorders may occur.

Neurotransmitter Function Food source
Aspartic Acid Makes aspartate Peanuts, eggs, potatoes and grains
Choline Makes acetylcholine Eggs, liver and soybeans
Glutamic Acid Makes glutamate Flour and potatoes
Phenylalanine Makes dopamine Beets, almonds, soybeans, eggs, meats and grains
Tryptophan Makes serotonin Skim milk, bananas, milk, cheese, yogurt, meat, eggs
Tyrosine Makes norepinephrine Milk, meat, fish and legumes

Nutrients–> BBB:

There is a connection between poor nutrition and BBB problems due to environmental factors.  However, it’s hard to single out one substance one at a time to know which nutrients are impacting the brain negatively or positively.  For ethical reasons, it’s hard to test human subjects and a lot remains unknown between BBB and nutrients.  Also, since people respond differently to the same diets, it can be trying to pinpoint cause and effect.  If there is a change in the diet, it can be due to the placebo effect.

Photo Credit: Washington University


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