The vast majority of posts on this site talk about different types of nootropics. They touch on any number of things, from how those supplements can enhance your brain function to how to take them. What I don’t often talk about though (and probably should) is the science behind smart drugs and how they interact with the body (and vice versa) to provide the benefits they do.
Well in today’s post, I’m going to touch on exactly that. Get ready to find out more about the blood-brain barrier (BBB) and what role it plays every time nootropics enter your system. It’s an essential piece of the puzzle.
The Purpose of the Blood-Brain Barrier
It pretty much goes without saying that the brain is the most critical organ in the body. In one way or another, it’s involved in every single thing you do. So, as you can imagine, protecting it is crucial.
The human body has many built-in solutions to serve this purpose. Most notable is the skull, designed to prevent damage to the brain from external forces. But there are other, more subtle ones too. I find it fascinating how the body works. It’s incredible how complex and intricate we are.
One such not so obvious solution is called the blood-brain barrier. If it isn’t evident by the name alone, it’s job is to act as a boundary between the brain’s blood vessels (also called capillaries) and other components and cells which make up the brain’s tissue.
The blood-brain barrier’s primary job is to ward off any external contaminants which can cause damage. Pathogens which lead to disease and toxins hitching a ride in the bloodstream are just a few of the things from which this barrier keeps the brain safe.
Discovering the Blood-Brain Barrier
The human body has been studied for as long as we have been around. But, it wasn’t until the late 19th century when the BBB was discovered as the study of anatomy progressed with the technology available at the time.
The blood-brain barrier, or rather its function, was first identified by German physician Paul Ehrlich. He was injecting dye into the bloodstream of mice, to observe its path through their bodies. He was shocked to find the dye penetrated almost all areas of the body, with two exceptions: the spinal cord and the tissue which makes up the brain.
This discovery led to the hypothesis that there was a natural boundary in the body which kept blood flow regulated. It wasn’t until much later that technology advanced enough to enable scientists to understand fully what’s going on.
In the 1960s, microscopes powerful enough to allow researchers to get that clear picture became available. They were finally able to see that the hypothesized barrier existed. They further learned the blood-brain barrier is made up of endothelial cells, which are key to how this entire defense mechanism works.
Endothelial cells are capable of forming a tight seal which keeps toxins and pathogens out of places where they have no business being. At the same time, these cells allow healthy substances to pass through and feed the brain with everything it requires. For example, nootropics like noopept or phosphatidylserine can cross the blood-brain barrier.
It’s quite amazing how various system in our body work together to keep us safe and functioning at peak performance. I hope you find this sort of information as interesting as I do. Understanding how our brain works can only help us on our journey of cognitive enhancement.