As a restorative physician, I am constantly seeking innovative ways to optimize health and wellness for my patients. In recent years, a fascinating area of research has emerged, shedding light on the crucial role of the glymphatic system in brain health. In this article, I will delve into the intricate workings of the glymphatic system, explore its connection to brain wellness, and discuss strategies to support the function of your brain.

Let’s face it: maintaining optimal brain wellness is paramount for overall health and quality of life. The brain serves as the control center of our body, responsible for coordinating various bodily functions, processing information, and regulating emotions. A healthy brain is essential for cognition, memory, mood, and overall well-being.

  • Cognitive function: A healthy brain enables you to think clearly, concentrate, solve problems, and make decisions. Cognitive decline, such as impaired memory and reduced mental agility, can significantly impact daily life and productivity.
  • Mental health: Brain wellness is closely tied to mental health. Imbalances in brain chemistry and functioning can lead to conditions like anxiety, depression, and mood disorders. By prioritizing your brain health, you can support your emotional well-being and promote resilience in the face of stress.
  • Neurodegenerative diseases: Age-related neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, can have devastating effects on individuals and their families. Maintaining brain wellness through various lifestyle interventions can potentially reduce the risk of developing these conditions or slow their progression.

Where Does the Glymphatic System Fit in?

The glymphatic system, discovered by researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center in 2012 (though it could be that the ancients knew about the glymphatics 5000+ years ago…who knows….), is a network of vessels and channels that facilitate the removal of waste and toxins from the brain. This unique system functions similarly to the lymphatic system in the body, clearing metabolic waste products and maintaining brain homeostasis.

How Does the Glymphatic System Work?

The glymphatic system relies on the flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and interstitial fluid (ISF) to carry away waste and deliver nutrients to brain cells. During sleep, the glymphatic system becomes highly active, with an increase in the volume of CSF and expansion of interstitial spaces. This surge in activity allows for efficient waste removal. The glymphatic system has a number of critical functions:

  1. Waste Clearance: The glymphatic system acts sort of like a sewage system for the brain, clearing away metabolic waste products, metals, chemicals, inflammatory byproducts, and cellular debris. Failure to efficiently remove these waste products can lead to their accumulation, potentially contributing to neurodegenerative processes.
  2. Nutrient Delivery: In addition to waste removal, the glymphatic system also delivers essential nutrients, oxygen, and other substances required for optimal brain function. This ensures that brain cells receive the necessary resources to perform their functions effectively.
  3. Brain Homeostasis: The glymphatic system helps maintain brain homeostasis by regulating the balance of ions, neurotransmitters, and other chemicals within the brain. This balance is crucial for optimal neuronal communication and overall brain function.
  4. Sleep & Glymphatic Activity: The glymphatic system’s activity is closely linked to sleep. During sleep, the flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) increases, allowing for the efficient removal of waste products. Inadequate sleep or disrupted sleep patterns can impair glymphatic function, potentially contributing to cognitive decline and an increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases.

 

The Link between Glymphatic Function & Brain Wellness

Impaired glymphatic function has been implicated in various neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis. Reduced glymphatic activity may also impact cognitive function, memory, and overall brain health. Furthermore, disrupted glymphatic flow has been observed in conditions like traumatic brain injury, neuroinflammation, and strokes.

Factors Affecting Glymphatic Function

  • Lifestyle Factors: There is emerging evidence that a few key lifestyle and other factors can reduce glymphatic flow. These include:
    • Stress, particularly chronic unpredictable mild stress
    • Smoking
    • Excessive alcohol consumption
    • Overload of iron and other heavy metals such as arsenic (As), manganese (Mn), mercury (Hg), aluminum (Al), lead (Pb), nickel (Ni), bismuth (Bi), and cadmium (Cd) in the brain
  • Sleep: Adequate sleep and quality rest are essential for optimal glymphatic function. Sleep deprivation or disturbances can hinder the clearance of waste products, leading to cognitive decline and increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases.
  • Diet & Hydration: A nutrient-rich, anti-inflammatory diet combined with proper hydration supports glymphatic activity. Antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and plant-based compounds found in fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats have been shown to enhance brain health.
  • Physical Activity & Exercise: Regular physical exercise promotes glymphatic flow by increasing blood flow to the brain, enhancing waste removal, and supporting overall brain function. Engaging in activities like aerobic exercise, yoga, and tai chi can be beneficial.

Supporting Glymphatic Function for Brain Wellness

  1. Dietary Recommendations: A nutrient-rich, anti-inflammatory diet combined with proper hydration supports glymphatic activity. Antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and plant-based compounds found in fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats have been shown to enhance brain health. Consume a nutrient-dense diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables, omega-3 fatty acids, and anti-inflammatory foods. And stay hydrated – my rule of thumb is to drink ½ of your body weight in ounces of clean water.
  2. Sleep Hygiene: Adequate sleep and quality rest are essential for optimal glymphatic function. Sleep deprivation or disturbances can hinder the clearance of waste products, leading to cognitive decline and increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases. Create a sleep-friendly routine by maintaining a consistent sleep schedule and creating a relaxing sleep environment, avoiding caffeine and stimulating activities before bedtime, and minimizing exposure to screens and stimulating activities close to bedtime.
  3. Exercise and Physical Activity: Regular physical exercise promotes glymphatic flow by increasing blood flow to the brain, enhancing waste removal, and supporting overall brain function. Engaging in activities like aerobic exercise, strength training, mind-body practices like yoga and meditation, and tai chi can be beneficial.
  4. Supplements: Certain supplements, such as curcumin, resveratrol,Acetyl-L-Carnitine, bacopa, theanine, omega-3-fatty acids, ginkgo biloba and green tea extract have shown potential in supporting glymphatic function. Consult with your physician before incorporating supplements into your routine.
  5. Other Interventions: Early morning sun exposure and cold rinses after a hot shower may also be effective in stimulating your glymphatics. 

Photobiomodulation Therapy for Augmenting Glymphatic Function

Exciting new research recently published in the journal Neurology has shed light on the potential effectiveness of photobiomodulation therapy such as near infrared light on improving glymphatic flow. I have been using a photobiomodulation unit at Reboot Center for many different neurological challenges ranging from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s to AD(H)D, anxiety, depression, TBI and migraines and even tinnitus. I have a feeling that this will be a field that will be exploding with more research in the next few years, as I’ve had overwhelming positive results. Ask your physician about this type of therapy, if you feel that you might benefit from it! Your brain is worth it!! 

As I always say to my patients: Our body is the only thing we really truly own in this world. So, let’s treat it like royalty, whatever it takes, right?

To Sum it Up…

Optimal glymphatic function is critical if you want to keep your brain healthy, and especially if you are determined to reverse cognitive decline and other brain-specific challenges. By prioritizing quality sleep, adopting a brain-healthy diet, engaging in regular exercise, minimizing exposure to harmful lifestyle factors, and perhaps adding in some light therapy and supplements (check with your doc), you can shift away from the potential gradual decline commonly associated with aging and/or chronic disease, and move towards actively optimizing glymphatic function and promote long-term brain health. You’ve only got one brain! 

As a restorative physician, I encourage you to incorporate these strategies into your daily life and empower yourself to flow towards brain wellness. Because, WHY NOT!!??

Find out more about our cutting-edge BrainReboot Program. Get started on your revolutionary health optimization journey today!  

References

  1. Iliff JJ et al. (2012). A Paravascular Pathway Facilitates CSF Flow Through the Brain Parenchyma and the Clearance of Interstitial Solutes, Including Amyloid β. Science Translational Medicine, 4(147):147ra111.
  2. Xie L et al. (2013). Sleep Drives Metabolite Clearance from the Adult Brain. Science, 342(6156):373-377.
  3. Bacyinski et al. (2017). Alzheimer’s Disease and Astrocyte-Neuron Interaction. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 18(7):1411.
  4. Holth JK et al. (2017). The Glymphatic System: A Primer for Clinicians. The Neurohospitalist, 7(3):169-176.
  5. Morris G et al. (2020). Brain Glymphatic System Function is Reduced in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis: An Exploratory Study. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 9(8):2548.
  6. “Short-Term Effects of Whole-Body Photobiomodulation on Pain, Quality of Life and Psychological Factors…” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9845459/. Accessed 17 July 2023.
  7. “The Glymphatic System (En)during Inflammation”. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8305763/. Accessed 17 July 2023.
  8. “Astrocytes in heavy metal neurotoxicity and neurodegeneration.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8999909/.  Accessed 17 July 2023.