Glymphatics: Keeping the Brain's Waste Removal System Healthy

By Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

August 6, 2018

Glymphatics: Keeping the Brain's Waste Removal System Healthy
We all know the feeling of fatigue. We know what it feels like in our muscle tissues after starting a new exercise program or extensive yardwork. Things hurt and feel heavy and sluggish. The same thing can happen to our brain. When your brain is fatigued, it feels heavy. Hard to think, poor cognitive skills, reading the same thing over and over without comprehension or retention, irritability, trouble forming thoughts or having a conversation and just feeling exhausted. It reflects that your brain needs some rest and restoration.

While the brain takes up only two percent of the total body mass, it is responsible for 25 percent of total body metabolism. A waste removal system is needed to take care of the volume of metabolic by-products produced by brain function. This is the brain’s glymphatic system. In-depth information about how it functions may be found in the article Sleep: Molecular Clean-Up Time for the Brain. This complex system continues to be a hotbed of intensive research and we are now learning about what happens when this clean-up system is compromised.

Build-up of increased lactic acid or lactate and other waste products in the brain leads to many of the common symptoms listed above and even more debilitating symptoms. The brain overloaded with molecular trash reflects inadequate or compromised glymphatic function. Clearance of waste products in the brain depends on a healthy functioning glymphatic system.

The Importance of Healthy Glymphatic Function

A recent study published April 2018 identified that in healthy adults, even one night of sleep deprivation has been shown to increase trash levels in the brain, leading to glymphatic congestion. The most striking evidence seen in this study was the demonstration of “significant increase in amyloid beta burden in the right hippocampus and thalamus” after only one night missed sleep. Symptomatically, participants experienced a worsening of mood. The study revealed that genetic risk (APOE gene type for Alzheimer’s) did not affect the results.

The hippocampus is found deep in the brain and is considered the center of emotion, memory, and the autonomic nervous system. The thalamus is a relay station between the left and right sides of the brain that relays sensory information and is the center for pain perception.

No matter how you look at it, acute or chronic sleep deprivation is not good. Does this sound familiar – waking up in a bad mood after a short night’s sleep?

Eye Health and Glymphatics

Another area of exploration with glymphatics pertains to the eye and optic nerve. The optic nerve in the eye is an extension of the central nervous system. In the last year, scientists have discovered that glymphatic function helps cerebrospinal fluid bathe the optic nerve and is essential to waste movement.

Things That Compromise Glymphatic Function

General anesthesia especially high exposure compromises glymphatics. Heavy alcohol intake also impairs glymphatic function and waste removal.

Diets heavy in refined sugar and salt, processed foods, poor quality animal proteins coupled with high stress levels and low intake of fruits and vegetables create a stress response in the body. This Western Diet and lifestyle also contributes to increased amounts of toxins and damaged protein build-up that clogs the glymphatic system. When this is a chronic life-long pattern, scientists believe this is an underlying force for neurodegeneration and a burden on the glymphatic system.

How to Improve Glymphatic Function

A good night’s sleep is critical for nightly glymphatic function. To ensure plenty of good Zzzz’s, there are many things you can do for a healthy sleep routine. This ranges from turning off technology two hours before bed, complete darkness in the bedroom and other good relaxation practices.

Nutritional support like magnesium glycinate, calcium, theanine, lemon balm, taurine, melatonin, and other nutrients that support sleep naturally may be used as needed to help improve sleep quality. Supporting and restoring healthy glymphatic function is possible, and a good night’s rest is fundamental.

Musculoskeletal Care and Exercise Helps Glymphatic Movement

Although the majority of glymphatic function and trash clean-up occurs during sleep, your brain is constantly working to keep things moving. Musculoskeletal care through spinal manipulation provides structural and functional support for glymphatic flow. Hands-on care through chiropractic or osteopathic medicine has been shown helpful for glymphatic and lymphatic function. Cranial-sacral therapy, massage, and other body care are also likely to help your body manage glymphatics. Animal studies show that running supports glymphatic fluid movement during the day.

Body Position During Sleep

Animal studies show that sleeping on your side provides the most efficient method of brain waste removal. Researchers speculate that sleeping on your side may provide the best body posture for humans in removing amyloid beta plaque.

Glymphatics and Nutrition

Science is currently exploring nutrition and glymphatic function. The nutrients curcumin, DHA, and zinc have the current spotlight for healthy glymphatic function. Another angle of support is to ensure that the brain has enough antioxidants to help manage daily wear and tear. Grape seed extract, fisetin, glutathione, tocotrienolsresveratrol, blueberry, and other nutrients that help boost antioxidants for the brain and support healthy glial cell activity will likely help the trash removal system as well.

June 2018 research published in the journal of Medicinal Chemistry Research shows curcumin helps facilitate removal of amyloid proteins from the brain and supports healthy glymphatic function.

Omega-3 oils provide a protective role in the brain in numerous ways. In particular, the omega oil DHA is the most desirable fatty acid for brain cell health and is oftentimes lacking in the diet. Animal research shows us that omega-3 DHA aids glymphatic function and the healthy clearance of amyloid beta from the brain.

The mineral zinc is found in high concentrations in the brain, such as in the hippocampus and other vital structures. Science shows that zinc is essential for glymphatic function as it is involved with the transport of waste products out of cells and dumping it into channels that clear it out of the brain.

Foods high in zinc include pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, wheat germ, and squash seeds. Supplemental zinc picolinate is an absorbable form of zinc that may be helpful to add to the diet. Men need around 50mg of zinc per day and women need around 25mg per day for general health.

Another helpful nutrient for healthy lymph circulation is called arabinogalactan, a type of carbohydrate that helps support the immune system. This is often used with other nutrients like bromelain, papain, and quercetin to support healthy lymph fluid management. Sinus congestion or shoulder tightness upon waking may indicate a sluggish lymph system.

Brain waste clearance and healthy glymphatics is incredibly vital to healthy aging. Reduced physical activity, poor sleep, cumulative effects of stressors from anesthesia, alcohol, lack of musculoskeletal care, and the Western diet contribute to more stress or decreased functional activity with the glymphatics.

Watch your pet or your children after they have had a good night’s sleep or a nap. They stretch, move and then play around. They are re-energized. Feeling stiff, old, grumpy or out of it after a nap or a night’s rest indicates that your clearance of toxins may not be optimal. Life gets busy. Sleep is often compromised in quantity and quality with today’s busyness, nighttime light exposure and blue light exposure. The reality is we can’t skimp on sleep. Brain health, glymphatic function, and waste product clearance in the brain requires quality sleep. It is essential to ensure your glymphatic function is working optimally. How do you feel after you wake up?

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