Crossing the Blood Brain Barrier

Crossing the Blood-Brain Barrier

May 20, 2020

Written by Sara Uffelman

Fact checked by The Brain Blog Team

Does Your Supplement Cross the Blood-Brain Barrier?

Like your skull, the Blood-Brain Barrier (BBB) is one of the human body’s most impressive methods of protecting your brain. The BBB, made up of semipermeable barriers and cellular processes, allows necessary substances - like oxygen, infection-fighting molecules and nutrients like glucose - to reach the brain, while protecting it from toxins, viruses and other destructive agents. Pretty amazing, right? But how exactly does it do what it does?

How Does The Blood-Brain Barrier Work? 

The BBB is semi-permeable, made up of high-density endothelial cells, similar to the cells in our capillaries. These cells can restrict the passage of any and all cells that get through to the brain. It’s controlled through a biochemical process and the central nervous system. Whew! It’s complicated AND very effective for protecting your brain from toxic and foreign substances.

Brain Supplements And The Blood-Brain Barrier  

So what about supplements for brain health? How can you be sure that the one you’re taking is actually reaching your brain? After all, the BBB has been a major obstacle for pharmaceutical developers and drug manufacturers attempting to create new drugs to treat conditions that affect the brain. 

 Fortunately, there are several brain-targeted nutrients that can cross the BBB, where they can improve cognitive function, enhance memory and support overall long-term brain health. Here are some of the brain-boosting supplements that have been scientifically proven to cross through the brain’s natural protective layer:


Lutein is a carotenoid that is present in both the eye and the brain, and because it is located in both the eye and brain, it readily crosses the BBB. Carotenoids are plant-based pigment nutrients that exist in leafy greens like spinach, kale, broccoli and peppers.

Lutein is known to act directly to neutralize oxidants. In fact, it’s the dominant carotenoid in the brain. According to a study published by the National Institutes of Health, higher levels of lutein are shown to positively affect cognition, “consistently associated with a wide range of cognitive measures including executive function, language, learning and memory.”

The best part about Lutein and its related carotenoids (called Zeaxanthin and Meso-Zeaxanthin)? They can be measured in the body in a way that’s non-invasive. According to the Washington Post, “While most nutrients from foods or supplements are challenging to trace once they enter the cavern of the human body, lutein and zeaxanthin are 100 times more concentrated in the macula than elsewhere, and their density can be studied using a fancy desktop ophthalmoscope. This measurement, called Macular Pigment Ocular Density (MPOD) correlates well with blood levels of the compounds and with the amount we ingest. Conveniently, MPOD also correlates with objective tests of eye and brain function such as how fast we process visual stimuli.”

Zeaxanthin and Meso-zeaxanthin

Zeaxanthin and Meso-Zeaxanthin are two Lutein-related carotenoids that are also concentrated in the eye and present in the brain. These nutrients have high value for both sight and cognition and are able to cross the BBB. These are available through nutrition, though supplementation can help ensure you’re supporting your eyes and your brain with amounts that ensure your current health and help stave off future age-related issues like cognition decline, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a proven antioxidant that protects cells from oxidative stress caused by destructive free radicals. It also reduces inflammation. And since it can cross the BBB, it can easily do its magic protecting the brain. 

 According to research from the National Institutes of Health, “The brain is highly susceptible to oxidative stress, which increases during ageing and is considered a major contributor to neurodegeneration. High plasma vitamin E levels were repeatedly associated with better cognitive performance.” 

Vitamin E supplementation may also serve to stave off Alzheimer’s disease, since sufferers typically have lower levels of vitamin E in the cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds and protects the brain.

Omega-3s DHA and EPA

Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically DHA and EPA, are stellar brain food, since the brain is made up of 60% fat. They’re considered building blocks for healthy cell membranes and support healthy memory, cognition and emotional well-being. Research also demonstrates that a lack of these nutrients correlates with an increase in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Since our bodies can’t produce Omega-3 fatty acids naturally, most people get them in their diet and/or through supplements.

A Brain Supplement That Crosses The Blood-Brain Varrier (BBB)

The brain health supplement Memory Health® delivers its patented brain-boosting formula through the BBB to protect and support your brain health. It’s a combination of the plant-based nutrients Carotenoids, Omega-3s, and Natural Vitamin E with powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that reduce oxidative stress and fight off dangerous free radicals.

“Most supplements can’t cross the blood-brain barrier. If the nutrient doesn’t already exist in the brain-like—like lutein, zeaxanthin, meso-zeaxanthin, and Omega-3s do—you can be sure that it won’t make it through the blood-brain barrier to provide any targeted nutrition.” 
- Edward Shehab
, Managing Partner of Memory Health LLC

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