What you may not know about the Glymphatic System.
You have probably heard of your lymphatic system (the drainage system that helps clear toxins and waste from the body, metabolizes fatty acids and supports immune function) but, did you know that your brain has its own drainage system called the Glymphatic system? The lymphatic system was named for its role in draining toxins from our bodies. The “Glymphatic” system or “Glial lymphatics” was named by combining the glial cell and the lymphatic system. Glial cells are the supportive cells in the brain that work largely to maintain homeostasis and protect neurons. So the “Glymphatic system” is the drainage system for the brain and nervous system. It may also distribute glucose, lipids, amino acids and neurotransmitters throughout the nervous system. This amazing drainage system allows the brain to heal itself by clearing out toxins and waste/proteins that would otherwise accumulate.
The glymphatic system uses the cells’ mitochondria to remove cellular waste from the brain. This cellular waste and other toxins are dumped into the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the brain. The CSF is the fluid that circulates inside the spinal canal and throughout the brain. You can compare the CSF function to the function of the lymph in the lymphatic system. The lymph carries toxins and waste from the body throughout the lymphatic system, transports it to the liver and kidneys and it is carried out of the body. The brain doesn’t contain lymph, so the CSF has this function instead. It transports toxins out of the cells and into the CSF, then into the body’s lymphatic system via the cervical lymph nodes for clearance. If this drainage is unable to occur, you can have β-amyloid accumulation in the brain as well as toxin buildup.
Why is sleep so important?
Sleep and rest are #1 for healing!! Not only is your body healing itself while you are sleeping but your brain can only properly detox while you are sleeping. You are healing and restoring the mind while you sleep! One reason for this is that melatonin helps increase the removal of toxic proteins, β-amyloid, from the brain. When you are asleep, melatonin levels are higher than when you are awake. This allows for increased movement in the CSF, providing a continuous flow of fluid across the brain and into the lymphatic system which helps to counteract the buildup of proteins in the brain that can lead to neuro degenerative diseases.
In a study using mice, researchers showed for the first time that the space between brain cells may increase during sleep, allowing the brain to flush out toxins easier that build up during waking hours. This makes sense because it would allow the CSF to navigate more easily and efficiently throughout the brain, removing toxins like no one’s business!
During sleep, the glymphatic system is highly active in removing waste products and toxins from the brain. Sleep disturbances can be early correlations to neurodegenerative diseases, including AD and Parkinson’s disease, that may occur later in life. Because of this, sleep can really be considered a neuroprotective factor in that the glymphatic system can really only function during it. Low activity of the glymphatic system, and poor drainage, could be a major risk factor for development of neurodegenerative diseases. You’ll never look at sleep the same way again!
What symptoms might you notice if your brain is not able to drain properly?
- Brain fog
- Memory issues
- Issues with focus
- Trouble remembering names of people you know
- Developmental issues (in kiddos)
- Behavioral problems
- Motor function problems
- Neurodegenerative diseases (later on)
So how do we support our brains and have proper glymphatic drainage?
Obviously, sleep is #1 - you want to make sure you are getting enough sleep. For adults this starts at 8 hours of sleep per night. While you are working through chronic illness, this may look like 10-12 hours of sleep. The phone scrolling and binge-watching can wait! Sleep is so, so important.
Including supplements that can enhance drainage of the brain and the lymphatic system are important as well. I have found that most people can benefit from support for the lymph especially. This can be even more important in those individuals that have been exposed to mold in the past or are currently living in mold.
Core Formulas Stress Control: This formula is amazing for the brain! It contains Phosphatidylserine that is essential for rebuilding cellular membranes and has a significant function in the brain. Remember when we talked about the mitochondria in the brain excreting toxins into the CSF for removal? This ingredient allows that to happen more efficiently by repairing cell membranes. The cells are able to excrete toxins more easily and are able to better defend against toxins getting into the cell at all when the membrane is robust. Phosphatidylserine contributes to increased cognitive function, memory and relieves stress along with repairing myelin sheath in the neurons of the brain for better signaling and communication. It may even reduce cortisol spikes (which could possibly increase melatonin).
The ETAs and Rhodiola help provide resistance to stress in the body by supporting the stress response and overall wellness by reducing inflammation.
Core Formulas Drainage Essentials: I love this formula so much! It is supportive of the liver, kidneys and lymphatic drainage - all in one supplement. It even is supportive of the brain in that it contains Inositol, which helps make your cells more sensitive to insulin in order to drive glucose into the cells more efficiently for energy production. The brain needs a constant flow of glucose in order to operate properly! It also supports neurotransmitter production and sleep, which we know is very important for brain drainage and communication.
Taurine has so many functions but it is supportive of the liver the most. It is required for proper detoxification in the liver (which the lymph and ultimately the CSF are filtered through), breakdown of fats in the diet (which the brain and lymph both need), and is beneficial for insulin resistance or getting more glucose into the cells for energy. Again, the brain needs a steady flow of energy.
Artichoke, Ginger root and Horsetail herb are all supportive of drainage in that they keep the fluids flowing throughout the kidneys, lymphatic system and the bowels in order for toxins and waste to leave the body. They are all also great for reducing inflammation and increasing the body’s overall detox capabilities. This is important because even if you are able to get toxins out of the brain, if they are unable to actually LEAVE the body, they will recirculate in the body and cause imbalance elsewhere. The multi-pronged approach of this formula makes it ideal for a lot of clients.
Lymphatic support: Adding in support for the lymphatic system is important, seeing as how the glymphatic system empties into the lymphatic system. In my practice, when the Nervous system comes up as a stressed area, the lymph is also a stressed area. Castor oil packs, lymphatic massage, dry brushing, lymphatic drainage exercises, rebounding, exercise, and using a vibration plate are all great ways to stimulate that lymphatic flow!
Anti-inflammatory diet: When there are toxins and pathogens at play, there is most certainly some inflammation going on. Bringing in antioxidant-rich foods like brightly colored vegetables, berries, pomegranates, vitamin C-rich foods, healthy fats for fat-soluble Vitamins A,D,E and K (including fish for DHA/EPA or Cod liver oil), dark leafy greens, salmon, organ meats, etc can all be helpful in reducing inflammation in the body. Avoid processed foods, fast food and refined sugary foods that can increase inflammation.
What other factors might affect the brain / glymphatics and lymphatic drainage?
I felt like I would be remiss if I did not include some factors that could contribute to poor glymphatic and lymphatic drainage apart from poor sleep.
Here are some other factors to consider:
Mold: Mold LOVES fatty tissue, including the brain. The lymph is also made up of fatty acids that are attractive to mold and can be clogged by mold, causing stagnation. This can back up the lymphatic drainage, making it difficult for toxins to leave the brain and body. Mold in the sinuses also has a direct path to the brain through the numerous blood vessels that line the sinus cavity. If you know you have been exposed to mold or are currently living in mold, it may be beneficial to include regular nasal rinses to flush out any mold spores in the sinuses.
Liver stagnation: the lymph is ultimately delivered to the liver for detoxification. If the liver is stressed or overburdened, that detoxification won’t happen as readily. Because the liver is involved in over 500 processes in the body, you can have various symptoms that all lead back to the liver needing more support.
Age: As you age, you naturally experience a decrease in vessel size. This makes it more difficult for lymph to flow freely throughout the body. You may need to add-in more supportive therapies for the lymph to support this change.
Nutrient deficiencies: Your brain, liver, lymph, kidneys (and the rest of the body) all need nutrients to be able to function properly. If you are deficient in certain amino acids, your detox capabilities will be hindered. If you aren’t getting enough fat in your diet, your CSF and lymph flow may be hindered. Nutrients are required for every process in your body to run sufficiently. If you are eating a nutrient-dense diet but are still seeing deficiencies in testing, it may be beneficial to add in digestive support, as well as work on sealing up the gut so you are able to properly absorb those nutrients.
Dehydration: Your lymph is composed of 96% water and the CSF is composed of 99% water. If you are chronically dehydrated, that will impact your drainage systems. Make sure you are drinking enough water (with minerals) daily!! For most people, this looks like half of your body weight in ounces of water daily. You may need even more if you are drinking a lot of diuretics.
Low melatonin levels: Not only does melatonin help regulate your circadian rhythm along with cortisol but, it aids in drainage and movement in the glymphatic system and is a powerful antioxidant! There are numerous studies on the benefits of melatonin, including detoxification of metals and mold from the brain. If you have extremely low levels of melatonin (can confirm with a Dutch test), it may be beneficial to take supplemental melatonin. However, speak with your practitioner before doing so as melatonin can increase detoxification. You want to make sure your body is ready!
High cortisol: When cortisol levels are high, melatonin levels are generally low. Cortisol levels can be higher for many different reasons but usually it is from stress! “Stress” can encompass actual stress, infections, pathogens, mold, heavy metals, blood sugar issues (not eating enough), over exercising, under sleeping, etc. In order to reduce cortisol levels, work on reducing stress levels.
Blood sugar regulation issues: When you are not eating frequently enough, the adrenal glands are signaled to release cortisol or “stress hormone”. When cortisol is released, it signals the body to start breaking down muscle and stored fat for energy. This is a stressor on the body and is considered an emergency situation! You do not want this to be happening on the regular as it is catabolic (you are breaking down your own body for energy). If you are trying to heal, you really want to be flooding your body with nutrients and rest. Make sure to fuel yourself appropriately!
EMF exposure/Pineal gland dysfunction: Your pineal gland is the primary gland that makes and secretes melatonin. EMF exposure can greatly impact your pineal gland, and therefore, lower your melatonin levels. Make sure you turn your Wi-fi router off at night and put your phone on airplane mode if on your nightstand. Artificial lighting or blue-light can throw off your circadian rhythm as well and lower melatonin levels. Reduce screen time 1-2 hours before bed or wear blue-light blocking glasses to reduce the effects of screens.
Gut microbiota: Because of the strong gut-brain connection, dysbiosis and leaky gut can lead to leaky brain. Leaky gut/brain is just a fancy way of saying there is inflammation present. Fungal and bacterial overgrowths, parasites, heavy metals, chemicals, etc can all impact the gut, therefore, the brain. Working through the roadmap for those root causes, while also supporting inflammation, can be beneficial for brain health.
I hope you found the glymphatic system as fascinating as I do! If you have any questions, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.