How does your brain take out the trash?
Our brains have a dedicated waste clearance system, called the Glymphatic System.
This system is a separate system to our lymphatic system, and is a network of vessels that clear waste from the central nervous system (CNS), mostly during sleep.
The most basic explanation possible is that the Glymphatic System acts like a flush or bath for the brain, clearing out layers of beta amyloid and tau protein deposits.
It acts as a maintenance system for the brain.
If this cellular system becomes overloaded from our lifestyle choices, or slowed down as we age, these deposits begin to build up.
Such a disease pathology is associated with Alzheimer's disease.
Our CNS is a highly active system, and metabolic waste builds up quickly. Thus, it requires a dedicated system to remove the cellular garbage.
Anatomically speaking, the Glymphatic System is glial-dependent and is connected downstream to the authentic lymphatic network, which we all know about.
It seems that our brains are becoming an evermore expensive organ.
When we get tired, what happens?
We all have a limited amount of energy a day, and everyday our habits decide how we spend it. When we have spent all of our energy, we become tired and feel the need to sleep. This period of 6-8 hours sleep is a critical period of cleaning the brain, and is where the Glymphatic System kicks in.
Nedergaard is a Danish neuroscientist most well known for her discovery of the Glymphatic System. She and her team, using murine models, discovered that the Glymphatic System was most busy as the animals slept.
Her data showed that the volume of the interstitial space increased by 60% while the mice were sleeping. But during the day, this system was entirely inactive.
In the last ten years, we have discovered more about the brain than we have in the last two hundred.
So, how can you improve your glymphatic system? Very easily, in fact physical exercise has been shown to positively affect the function of the glymphatic system, thus improving our memory, mood and decrease anxiety.
A follow-up study by Nedergaard and her team showed a two-fold increase in glymphatic flow in mice who had access to a running wheel, compared to the sedentary group.
Which adds more concrete evidence at just how beneficial your everyday morning run is.
However, if you're not a fan of physical exercise, there is no need to worry (kinda). Apparently, the side-sleeping position improves the brain's Glymphatic System and help it remove waste from the brain. Research suggests that sleeping on your side leads to waste being eliminated more efficiently and effectively.
What happens when we age and the garbage truck slows down?
Obviously, when we age a certain level of cognitive decline is almost inevitable. Recently, science suggests that the Glymphatic System could play a key role in this.
A study published in 2014 concluded that as the mice aged their Glymphatic System followed a dramatic decline in efficiency. The reduction in activity may then contribute to the accumulation of misfiled and hyperphosphorylated proteins, thus increasing the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.
We still know relatively little about the Glymphatic System, but we can't deny that it cleanses and looks after our most sensitive and valuable organ, so, most probability has a huge influence on our overall health.
This system definitely holds a promising avenue in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.