Recent research reveals our brains produce a type of waste associated with a natural activation of our biochemical pathways. Thus, the brain needs a mechanism to provide the removal of the waste, in other words a brain detox. The cleansing naturally occurs during a fit sleep when the body activates the glymphatic system (also known as the lymphatic system of the central nervous system) which clears out waste. The body’s lymphatic system includes a network of organs, nodes, vessels, and ducts which respectively produce, store, and deliver lymph (the fluid that flows through the lymphatic system) to the tissues where it is needed, which in turn drains it into the bloodstream. The effective lymph system filters out and eliminates bodily waste. Within the brain these tasks are performed mainly by the glymphatic system.

When the system does not work effectively, thought and brain disorders may occur including a probable link to Alzheimer’s.

Water channels, pores, and other clearance pathways in both the brain and spinal cord aid people to clean out products of cellular metabolism. The basic composition of cellular metabolism includes the chemical reactions occurring in living cells. In a broad sense, these can be divided into catabolic reactions which in turn convert nutrients to energy and anabolic (the process by which the body utilizes the energy released by catabolism to synthesize complex molecules) reactions. These processes lead to the synthesis of larger biomolecules (an organic molecule that includes carbohydrates, protein, lipids, and nucleic acids) promoting an internal flow of genetic information in the brain which leads to the production of metabolome (which represents the collection of small compound metabolites, a substance made or used when the body breaks down food, drugs or chemicals, or its own tissue) in an organism). Changes in the metabolome itself can be caused by viral infection with viral-induced alterations in both the host gene expression and host protein function. 

This is a large amount of technical information, and now it needs to be brought down to a simple level to understand what happens, how to make the process more effective, and then provide some (hopefully) relevant takeaways. The brain needs sleep to detox because it handles a generous amount of data when awake. One correlation is the difficulty posed in cleaning house and entertaining guests at the same time. 

The requirements for the glymphatic system to function effectively include heart, immune system, and blood vessel health. Adverse effects of a person’s health might contribute to body and brain inflammation and disease, while poor dietary and lifestyle choices can impede the lymphatic drainage of the brain.

General consensus believes the glymphatic system is more efficient and robust when our hearts are pumping, our blood is flowing, our bodies are moving, and our brains are getting regular restorative sleep. Reparative sleep stages allow for increased activity, and that is the time when the glymphatic system is at work.

Research shows this system is almost completely dormant during the day, but at night, it is active while we sleep. The canals forming the glymphatic system increase by around 60% which allows the brain’s waste to be expelled at a faster rate. Therefore, a person’s sleep patterns directly affect the amount of waste removed. 

The best steps to assist with helpful sleep patterns and better brain detox include:

  • Stay hydrated – water helps the body function better
  • Make healthy sleep patterns a priority – restorative sleep is critical for glymphatic drainage
  • Sleep on your side – research shows that a side-sleeping position accelerates the brain’s glymphatic system and may also help to improve future neurological health
  • Exercise – movement promotes the delivery of blood to support cellular metabolism which means intracellular debris can be removed and efficient clearance occurs 
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables – these contain multitudes of valuable compounds, and some can even help with sleep  
  • Promote healthful intestinal and bowel movements – if these bodily functions work well, there will be increased energy to aid glymphatic drainage
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol in the evening – these can impair cerebral blood flow

Moving forward, a few simple changes in one’s lifestyle can improve the detox of one’s brain to provide for a less stressful, happier and healthier life. 

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Grace Aspinall

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