Skip to content
All posts

Micronutrients & the Blood-Brain Barrier

Oftentimes something small can have a large impact—especially when it comes to the human body.  

One such example of tiny substances vital for the cellular functioning of a vast array of body processes is micronutrients.  

We know micronutrients are essential for energy production, hemoglobin synthesis, maintenance of bone health, adequate immune function, and protection against oxidative stress and cellular damage.  

But did you know that these nutrients play a significant role in neurological health? 

Micronutrients support the blood-brain barrier (BBB), which protects the brain from exposure to unwanted substances. 

Substances like water, oxygen, carbon dioxide, glucose, nutrients, and certain therapeutic drugs are desirable for the brain, while compounds such as bacteria, toxins, and viruses are not.  

There are a plethora of micronutrients that play specific roles in maintaining the proper functioning of the blood-brain barrier. 

In this article, we’ll break down the role of the blood-brain barrier, some of the key nutrients that support this neurological mechanism, and how they contribute.  

What is the Blood-Brain Barrier? 

Blog feature images

The blood-brain is a protective system around the brain composed of a tightly-spaced network of blood vessels, tissue, and proteins that work together to regulate the entry of substances. 

The blood-brain barrier is in charge of determining which substances are permitted entry and which are denied. 

The main functions of this barrier include maintaining homeostasis, regulating influx and efflux transport, and protecting the brain from harmful substances. 

A specialized multicellular structure characterizes the system, and each cell type has its role in maintaining the barrier’s integrity.   

If the barrier malfunctions, there may be severe consequences, such as inflammation and degeneration in the brain, leading to neurological disease. 

Micronutrients can help support the blood-brain barrier and prevent neurological damage through the unique roles they carry out in the body. 

Barrier Integrity

B vitamins are essential for maintaining blood-brain barrier integrity. Thiamin or vitamin B1 deficiency can disrupt the blood-brain barrier—supplementing with thiamin has been shown to restore barrier integrity.  

The most extreme form of thiamin deficiency is Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, which is associated with ataxia— the loss of control of one or more limbs, memory loss, and sensory neuropathy. 

The condition is characterized by a breakdown in the blood-brain barrier, and symptoms drastically improve when thiamin levels are restored.  

Other B vitamins, notably B6, B9 or folate, and B12, are involved in the metabolic pathways that clear homocysteine. This metabolic byproduct can contribute to blood-brain barrier permeability if accumulated in the blood. In turn, supplementing with high doses of vitamin B can slow atrophy in the brain linked to cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease. 


Barrier Permeability

Magnesium supports the blood-brain barrier by decreasing permeability. This micronutrient is the fourth major ion in the body and acts as a cofactor for more than 300 enzymatic reactions. 

A lack of magnesium can cause various neurological issues including headaches, stress, seizures, and diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson's. However, supplementing with magnesium to increase levels in the body is not always effective, as not all forms of the mineral can travel across the blood-brain barrier. 

Magnesium threonate is a unique form of magnesium that has been shown to effectively cross the blood-brain barrier, making it more bioavailable and more effective as a supplement. Once inside the brain, magnesium promotes synaptic plasticity and strengthens the blood-brain barrier through multiple processes including controlling free radicals.  


Like any somatic system, the blood-brain barrier cannot function properly if overwhelmed by toxins. This is where N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) comes in. NAC is a modified form of the amino acid cysteine, which the body uses to produce glutathione 

Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant and our body’s best innate detoxification system to reduce intracellular free radicals. 

NAC has been shown to successfully cross the blood-brain barrier and raise glutathione levels in the brain—reducing oxidative stress and protecting the brain from free radical neuronal damage.   

Damage Repair

Blog feature images (2)

EPA and DHA are two essential omega-3 fatty acids with well-known anti-inflammatory and cardiovascular health benefits. Both fatty acids must be obtained through diet, and DHA is typically generated from EPA. However, human conversion is relatively poor. 

Studies have shown that these powerful omega-3 fatty acids can reduce damage to the blood-brain barrier after stroke and traumatic brain injury and can be used therapeutically in those with multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease. 

DHA is particularly beneficial for the brain as it can turn on BDNF— the brain’s “growth hormone.” While you can obtain these omega-3 fatty acids through multiple food sources—wild-caught oily fish is best—most Americans fall short. At the same time, many Americans simultaneously consume too many omega-6 fatty acids that can compete with the omega-3s, altering the ratio. 

Thus, it is vital to assess patients for micronutrient levels, including omega-3's, to ensure the stability and function of the blood-brain barrier.  

Which Tests Can Help Measure Micronutrients?

When addressing deficiencies, it’s important to remember that all micronutrients exist in a delicate balance inside the body and that hyper-dosing with many individual micronutrients can potentially cause harm.  

Using advanced precision testing such as Vibrant’s Micronutrients panel will help you accurately assess your patients’ levels of micronutrients and create a proper nutrition and supplementation plan. 

To gain further information surrounding a patient's blood-brain barrier stability and brain health, use the Vibrant Neural Zoomer Plus – a cutting-edge antibody panel that includes antigens to detect blood-brain barrier permeability. 

Neural Zoomer Plus Box (1)Micronutrient Box-1


Regulatory Statement:

The general wellness test intended uses relate to sustaining or offering general improvement to functions associated with a general state of health while making reference to diseases or conditions. This test has been laboratory developed and its performance characteristics determined by Vibrant America LLC and Vibrant Genomics, a CLIA-certified and CAP-accredited laboratory performing the test. The lab tests referenced have not been cleared or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Although FDA does not currently clear or approve laboratory-developed tests in the U.S., certification of the laboratory is required under CLIA to ensure the quality and validity of the tests.