Tennee | August 27, 2018
Most people interested in growing old gracefully agree that supporting brain health and preventing cognitive decline is a priority if they want to live a long and healthy life.
In this day and age, neurodegenerative disease is at an all time high, making it a necessity to put in place as much cognitive support as you can, as early as possible, to offset the chances of developing neurodegenerative disease. While most people reading this may feel too young to have to think about Alzheimers or Parkinsons, research shows that neurodegenerative disease can plague a person for up to 20 years BEFORE they even receive any traditional
symptoms of neurodegeneration. My experience has taught me that an ounce of prevention is much better than a pound of cure!
Thanks to the groundbreaking research that has been done in the field of neuroscience, it is now a well known fact that some of the first telltale signs of poor cognitive health show up with poor sleep patterns.
Why is Sleep Important for Brain Health?
In the past few years research has come out that sheds light on the fact that your brain actually detoxifies at night while you sleep. Human beings drain on average three pounds of toxins annually from our brain while we are asleep. This microscopic brain drain system was discovered in 2012 and was shown to remove 55% of beta amyloid plaque from rodents brains in studies which now provides insights into the correlation between poor sleep habits and the buildup of beta amyloid plaque known to cause neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimers and Parkinsons.
Taking out the Trash-How our Brain Dumps Toxins
As it turns out, our brains have their own garbage disposal system. We have circulating fluid in our brain called cerebral spinal fluid that interacts with the lymphatic fluid and drains into the central nervous system from the tailbone to the top of your brain. This fluid is known as the glymphatic system and it is responsible for maintaining homeostasis in the brain. This means it brings in nutrients and dumps out toxins. Your glymphatic system is made of up glial cells which literally means “glue” and refers to structures in the brain that hold the neurons and synapses together. Your glymphatic system uses mitochondria to remove cellular waste from the brain while you sleep while also fueling your brain by transporting glucose, lipids, amino acids and neurotransmitters to their necessary locations. The glyphatic system was discovered in 2012 when neuroscientists at the University of Rochester Medical center discovered a previously unrecognized brain drainage system that transports waste from the brain to the cerebrospinal fluid through a series of alternative pathways. They dubbed it the “glymphatic system” because it behaves similar to the lymphatic system however it uses glial cells in the cerebral spinal fluid. So just as the lymphatic system is responsible for removing toxins and other impurities from the body, the glymphatic system has been found to remove the toxins from your brain.
The Critical Role of Sleep
Sleep turns out to be a critical activity that is responsible for stimulating the glymphatic system to work within the brain. During sleep, neurons shrink by around 60% and channels throughout the brain and between the cells enlarge and fill with cerebral spinal fluid. The surrounding glial cells activate their pumping systems and push the interstitial fluid through these extra spaces and flush toxins out into the cerebral spinal fluid.
How to Optimize Glymphatic flow in your Brain to Encourage Detox
1. Sleep on your Side
The position with which you sleep also effects the waste disposal system of the brain. Sleeping on the side may have evolved to optimize the waste disposal system to ensure that the channels of the brain run as effectively as possible.
2. Foods and Nutrients that Support Sleep and Brain Health
Magnesium - Insomnia is a common symptom of magnesium deficiency. People with low magnesium often experience restless sleep, waking frequently during the night. Magnesium plays a role in supporting deep restorative sleep by maintaining healthy levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep. Foods highest in magnesium include: spinach (cooked), swiss chard (cooked), dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, almonds, avocados, black beans.
Zinc - As the second most abundant trace metal in the human body, zinc is essential for many biological processes and is especially well known as a sleep modulator. The use of zinc has been shown to increase the quality and quantity of sleep. Foods high in zinc include: pumpkin seeds, liver, nuts and seeds. /Source: NCBI
Melatonin - This sleep hormone is produced in our bodies naturally to regulate the sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin can be taken in supplement form and works with your bodies circadian rhythm to calm the body and encourage the sleep state. While sleeping, melatonin binds to receptors in the brain to help reduce nerve activity and can help reduce dopamine levels which keeps you awake. Melatonin is also an antioxidant with neuroprotective qualities. If taking melatonin, it is recommended to work with a health care practitioner. /Source: NCBI
An amino acid found in green tea has been found be a precursor to the neurotransmitters: GABA, Serotonin and Dopamine. These neurotransmitters work to regulate sleep, emotions, mood, concentration and other cognitive skills. L-theanine also reduces levels of chemicals in the brain that are linked to stress and anxiety. L-theanine has been shown to protect brain cells against stress and age related damage.
Sources: green tea.
Lemonbalm - Also known as Melissa officinalis, this herb from the mint family is commonly used to soothe anxiety and help with sleep. Lemonbalm contains rosmarinic acid which supports cognitive health by inhibiting the enzyme acetylcholinesterase which degrades the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Studies have shown that age related cognitive deficits and Alzheimers may be related to low acetylcholine levels.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids - Composed of DHA and EPA, Omega 3 fatty acids ( found in fish oil) are necessary for optimizing glymphatic health. DHA and EPA have powerful anti- inflammatory functions within the body and have been found to be especially necessary for healthy brain function throughout life. These fatty acids are abundant in the cell membranes of brain cells, preserving cell membrane health and help facilitate communication between brain cells. There are volumes of studies link the use of fish oil supplementation with improvements in cognitive health.
Low levels of Omega 3 fatty acids are a contributing factor to deficits in brain function.
Most experts agree that a minimum of 1800-2500 mg of EPA and DHA is needed to achieve a daily therapeutic dose. /Source: NCBI
3. Craniosacral therapy
This bodywork technique is a gentle, hands-on body therapy that engages with the body’s craniosacral system, to restore and enhance fluid motion which improves glymphatic flushing of the brain tissues. Flushing is essential for brain detoxification, nutrition and normal range of function. Adequate flushing of the brain environment is essential for brain detoxification.
I recommend finding a therapist that has received specialized craniosacral certification from schools such as Upledger or Milne Institute.
4. Block the blue light
In this day and age our bodies are bombarded by EMF's. From computers, to cell phones to cell towers, EMF's are everywhere and the adverse heath effects from compounded exposures are only beginning to be understood. In terms of sleep, EMFS have been shown to disrupt the pineal gland and its melatonin production which can potentially be detrimental to a good nights sleep.
To properly prepare for restorative sleep, turn off all wireless routers and put cell phones in airplane mode while you are sleeping. This simple step can help facilitate a deeper brain cleaning session. /Source: NCBI
Research shows that an increase in heart rate drives cerebrospinal fluid to the brain. Exercise also promotes the use of mitochondria and increases critical brain factors including brain derived neurotropic factors (BDNF) which alleviates depression and anxiety. Exercise also creates endorphins or feel good chemicals in the body while raising neurotransmitter levels such as dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin which can help relieve pain and stress and improve sleep cycles. /Source: NCBI | NCBI
Healthy sleep habits can easily fall by the wayside as we move through different stages of life. However, the proof is in the pudding. If you are interested in maintaining a healthy vibrant brain while keeping neurological disease out of the picture, make sure to take steps that increase your quality of sleep. You spend 1/3 of your life asleep so you might as well make the most of it.
Wishing you a radiant reality!
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