What is your busiest organ? If you said your brain, you are correct. Your brain consumes as much as 25 percent of your overall energy. Along with that energy consumption comes waste, and the need to have the waste removed.
It has long been known that the lymphatic system, a fluid passage system, existed and was responsible for collecting and circulating waste from our bodies so it can be removed. It was also believed, until a few years ago, that the nervous system had no such system and the lymphatic system did not help the brain flush its waste.
In 2015 it was discovered independently by researchers Antoine Louveau and Aleksanteri Aspelund that the brain does in fact have a system for removing waste, the glymphatic system.1
As amazing as that discovery was, it was made even more profound when it was discovered that the main waste product the glymphatic system removed is amyloid beta, the protein that accumulates in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.
Great! We have this system to clean our brains, all is well! Not so fast my friend.
As it turns out, the way to have your glymphatic system be at its most efficient is to get quality sleep. The glymphatic system is 60% more productive when we sleep than when we are awake. Your glial cells (which surround and support brain neurons) control the glymphatic flow by shrinking when you sleep, explains Brian R. Christie, a neuroscience professor at the University of Victoria in British Columbia. “The space between your cells increases by up to 60 percent. This expansion allows more fluid to be pumped through and drives the clearance of waste from the brain,” he says.2
“The intricacies of that cleansing process — called the glymphatic system — are still emerging. Just this past May, for example, a group of researchers published their discovery of a new type of brain scavenger cell in zebra fish, which share many of the same cell types as humans. “The research is ongoing, but we know that some scavenger cells are important for brain health and seem to become impaired with age,” says Jeffrey Iliff of Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, who is part of the team pioneering this research. Iliff’s research focuses on why the brain’s cleaning systems diminish with age and, ultimately, on how to prevent that decline. He and other neuroscientists say there are steps you can take that may help maintain a clean brain bill of health.
Start with the basics. Studies have indicated that maintaining your blood pressure, getting regular exercise and eating a diet rich in vegetables, healthy fats and antioxidants all should have a positive impact on brain cleaning. But perhaps the most important piece of advice is to prioritize sleep.”3
“Knowing this, think about the long-term consequences of not sleeping well. Making the decision to stay up late at night impairs your brains ability to get rid of toxic waste products building up during the day. Think of your brain like a massive ocean tanker. The glymphatic system is the ships bilge pump removing the built up water from the hull of the ship. If the bilge pump malfunctions or does not run effectively the water accumulates and the ship sinks. While this is most certainly not the full explanation of the genesis of Alzheimer’s disease, it may play a significant role. A 2013 article published in the Journal of American Medical Association Neurology support this mechanism. In this study of seventy older adults, the subjects who reported either sleeping smaller amounts or having more sleep disruption, were shown to have more amyloid beta accumulation.”4
1. W. Chris Winter, MD “The Sleep Solution”, p.12
4. W. Chris Winter, MD “The Sleep Solution”, p.12