Detoxification of the body is a controversial subject. Expert opinion is mixed on whether you should or shouldn’t undertake a detoxification program. We’ve written about the pros and cons of detoxification in past articles, as well as how to detoxify your body safely.

And by the way, the programs for such general detoxification are often dubious, and if they work at all it’s not clear they do much for the brain, which is more or less in its own little world apart from the rest of the body.

All of which means it’s good news that now scientists are investigating this new area of detoxification.

They’re focusing on your brain’s natural detoxification system called the glymphatic system. What they’re learning could help you sharpen your memory and fight Alzheimer’s disease.

Your brain’s glymphatic system has one extremely important purpose: to remove the metabolic waste that builds up in the brain and nervous system.

MaikenNedergaard, a Danish neuroscientist, discovered the system in 2013. She explained the discovery in a press release, writing, “The highly organized system acts like a series of pipes that piggyback on the brain’s blood vessels, sort of a shadow plumbing system that seems to serve much the same function in the brain as the lymph system does in the rest of the body – to drain away waste products.”1

What happens when this system falters due to normal aging? Damaging waste begins to accumulate in the brain.

Dr. Nedergaard suggested that if you increase the activity of the glymphatic system it might help prevent amyloid deposition from building up; and it could even offer a new way to clean out buildups of the material in the brains of established Alzheimer’s disease patients.

Jumpstart Your Brain’s Detox System with Sleep

After the initial discovery of the glymphatic system, a flurry of research followed. The researchers found that the glymphatic system does the lion’s share of its work while you’re sleeping.

During sleep, your body’s other processes are taking a siesta, allowing glymphatic activity to take precedence.

A study suggests that when you’re asleep there’s a higher volume of open space between the cells. This provides more real estate for your brain to clean up the toxic debris, including protein β-amyloid (beta-amyloid), which research shows plays a part in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.2

Dreamland or Bust… Your Brain Will Thank You!

We’ve covered the importance of sleep in countless articles, but it bears repeating in light of Dr. Nedergaard’s findings. So, what do you do if sleep eludes you night after night? Here are some tips:

  • Maintain a regular bedtime.
  • Avoid large, heavy or spicy meals before bedtime.
  • Limit your caffeine and alcohol intake.
  • Create a comfortable sleeping environment and ditch the electronics some hours before bedtime.
  • Start winding down an hour before bedtime with a warm bath, yoga or deep breathing exercises.

Sleep is not the only way to boost your glymphatic system. It turns out that exercise plays a big role, too.

Tie Up Your Sneakers to Boost Brain Detoxing

Remember the last time you returned from a brisk walk? Chances are you experienced a refreshed, focused feeling. That’s your glymphatic system doing its thing.

Animal research published in 2018 suggests that exercise can have a significant effect on waste disposal in the brain.3

Researchers found that mice who were running on a wheel displayed twice the glymphatic activity observed in their non-exercising counterparts.

Like getting good sleep, it bears repeating that exercise has critical health benefits. Besides good brain health, exercise helps lower the risk of many health conditions, reduces anxiety, decreases stress and improves mood.

Aim for at least two-and-a-half hours of moderate aerobic exercise each week. Short on time? If your health permits, ramp up the intensity and you’ll see similar benefits with just one hour and 15 minutes of more vigorous exercise – half as much.

I suggest squeezing in at least 30 minutes of exercise each day. That’s what I do. It doesn’t come naturally to me, but it’s so important I make it one of the things I MUST do every day, come what may.

Sleep and exercise: It’s amazing how simple good health really is. And it’s a mark of what our civilized life has done to us that these normal, basic activities now pose a challenge.

Other Glymphatic Boosters

Sleep and exercise are important, but there are other simple ways to boost glymphatic system function. You can probably guess what I’m about to say: eat right.

Stock up on brain-boosting foods rich in healthy proteins, fats, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. And make sure you drink plenty of water — dehydration can do a number on cognitive functions.

Of course, scientists are still learning about the glymphatic system and how to support it, but because it cleanses our most complex and vital organ, I believe it’s likely to influence our overall health to some degree. I look forward to reading the results of future research into this natural detox system and sharing it with you.


  1. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/news/story/3584/scientists-discover-previously-unknown-
    cleansing-system-in-brain.aspx
  2. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/brain-may-flush-out-toxins-during-sleep
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5696653/

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