You may have heard of the Lymphatic System. This system helps protect us from infection and disease. It is a part of our immune system. It is a connected network that a special performing fluid passes. This acts as a drainage system by moving dead cells into the bloodstream for disposal. It helps fight infection by transporting the white blood cells, that oppose infection, to the infected areas. It eliminates the waste that all cells make.
You can see that the Lymphatic System is a major player in keeping us well, but here’s the thing, the Lymphatic System is not in the brain!
As we know, the brain is about two per cent of the total bodies weight but uses around twenty per cent of the energy. This means that size for size, the brain burns more fuel and therefore must produce, more waste for its size than any other organ.
So, the question is: What happens to all this waste?
Let me introduce the brain’s cleaning service; The Glymphatic System.
It may look similar, some bright brain put a G in front, but this system is very different in truth!
Modern scanning techniques, which can be used on living brains, have now shown us that blood passes deep into and throughout the brain. No surprise there, but travelling along with the outer casing of the blood vessels, in greater volume is a fluid that seems to be removing waste products produced by the brain. This may be a system that is more appropriate due to the large amount of waste produced?
In the last ten years, scientists have been studying this fluid; it’s movement and function by injecting tracer molecules, which can be seen on the scan, into the brain and see what happens. This fluid appears to travel via pressure from the blood vessels, and it’s much faster and more efficient at carrying waste away.
Scientists think that any disruption in this Glymphatic System may lead to a build-up of waste, which would be harmful and detrimental to the brain’s function.
There is still more exciting stuff. When you are awake and generally functioning throughout your day, this Glympahtic System doesn’t seem to be anywhere as active! However, when you sleep, it seems to come into its own!
The brain appears to shrink, and the Glymphatic system goes into hyperdrive filling the new space with far more amounts of what I will call the cleaning fluid. Waste is removed. The Glymphatic System seems to be more of a Night Cleaning Service for the brain.
If this is the case, the importance of sleep is a growing area of interest. The brain does not sleep, it seems to do shift work and the night shift is just as important as the day shift.
The process of sleep is vital; it is not just about sedation; this does not seem to work for the Glymphatic System. So, how we sleep and the quality of it is paramount!
Dr Meghan Mott, who’s research paper I’ve been reading with interest, concludes:
“This work shows that the brain is cleansing itself in a more organized way and on a much larger scale than has been realized previously,” Nedergaard says. “We’re hopeful that these findings have implications for many conditions that involve the brain, such as traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and Parkinson’s disease.”
Are you interested? I know I am!
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