The Glymphatic System Cleans the Brain and Promotes Well-Being

The glymphatic system is responsible for removing waste from the central nervous system (CNS). Would you like to know how to promote its functioning for better brain health? We give you the keys below.
The Glymphatic System Cleans the Brain and Promotes Well-Being
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

The glymphatic system removes waste and toxic particles from your brain. In fact, its function is essential for adequate cardiovascular, immune, and vascular health. However, these complex macroscopic channels formed by astroglial cells also have another advantage: they promote mental well-being.

This elimination of soluble proteins, waste products, and excess extracellular fluid that runs through the central nervous system, brain, and spinal cord reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. It also protects against neurovascular, hemorrhagic, and ischemic disorders. It even promotes a good night’s sleep.

The glymphatic system was discovered in 2012 by a group of researchers from the University of Rochester. Dr. M. Nedergaard and his colleagues, after using fluorescent markers to monitor the flow of cerebrospinal fluid from the subarachnoid area to the brain, noticed something that caught their attention. Something that, until then, many had denied.

Although there’s no conclusive evidence, it’s suspected that the glymphatic system could be involved in neurodegenerative and demyelinating diseases, hydrocephalus, strokes, and certain headaches.

Woman with illuminated brain representing the glymphatic system
There are strategies that can allow us to take better care of the glymphatic system.

The glymphatic system cleanses your brain

Until recently, it was assumed that the central nervous system lacked lymphatic vessels. However, as we mentioned earlier, a study by Dr. Nedargaard and colleagues was published in 2012. It reformulated this idea. Consequently, we now know how the brain cleanses itself. More particularly, the glymphatic system cleanses the waste-laden interstitial fluid of the central nervous system (CNS).

The glymphatic system not only destroys all those harmful and unhelpful elements but also helps redirect elements such as glucose, amino acids, lipids, and some neurotransmitters. The importance of this set of pathways, channels, and groups of cells even favors the regulation of intracranial fluid volume and the immune health of the central nervous system.

It seems almost impossible that we didn’t know about this system earlier. However, thanks to new neuroimaging techniques, we’re now unraveling some of the most intimate mysteries of the brain. Knowing that it has its own waste disposal system demonstrates the implication that the glymphatic system has for neurological and psychological health.

The glymphatic network protects your brain and promotes well-being

Since the presence of the glymphatic system in the brain was discovered, research on the subject has steadily increased. For example, the Yale School of Medicine published an interesting study in 2019. In fact, they confirmed that  the correct elimination of brain waste prevents cognitive deterioration and maintains healthy aging.

In addition, other experts claim that more should be done in-depth on this topic for a specific reason. This is the fact that it’s suspected that the glymphatic system could be key to understanding the presence of neurodegenerative and demyelinating diseases. Also, hydrocephalus and certain headaches.

The glymphatic network runs through the dura mater that covers the brain, as well as through the cranial nerves and the great vessels in the exits of the skull. The good or poor circulation of this system can be crucial for your mental well-being and for your brain health.

Memory and concentration problems, headaches, agility in the establishment of new learning as well as managing stress and anxiety. The glymphatic system could be behind many of our most common mental and brain health problems.

Head of a woman with birds taking care of her glymphatic system
Taking care of nightly rest is the most crucial element for the glymphatic system to function optimally.

How can you take care of your glymphatic system?

The glymphatic system removes potentially neurotoxic waste products, such as β-amyloid, a precursor to Alzheimer’s. We want it to function optimally so that we can enjoy the potential of our executive functions, have good brain health, and feel good emotionally.

Here are some strategies to promote the correct activity of your glymphatic system.

1. Take care of your nightly rest

This is extremely important. The glymphatic system works mainly during sleep and shuts down during your waking hours. It means that having a deep and sustained sleep for seven to eight hours is essential to ‘clean’ your brain of debris. We already knew this fact, we just didn’t know the system that carried out the cleaning.

2. Stay hydrated: drinking water is important for your brain

Having an adequate volume of liquid not only helps you eliminate waste via the kidneys. It also ensures that your vessels maintain good cerebral blood flow. Therefore, make sure you drink at least 1.5 liters of water a day.

3. Foods rich in magnesium and fiber

Maintaining a healthy and varied diet is essential for your health. In fact, to promote the optimal functioning of your glymphatic system, you should consume foods rich in magnesium. This mineral takes care of the health both of your blood vessels and your brain.

Fiber is essential for cleaning your intestines. Furthermore, gastrointestinal health also supports glymphatic drainage.

There remains a great deal of data to be unraveled concerning the glymphatic network. At the moment, it’s considered to lie behind brain degeneration, cognition problems, and neurodegenerative diseases. As such, you should make sure you put the above strategies into practice. 

If you do, you’ll notice you have greater energy and well-being, suffer less anxiety and headaches, and will better protect your brain from the passage of time. Why not give these tips a try?

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Jessen NA, Munk AS, Lundgaard I, Nedergaard M. The Glymphatic System: A Beginner’s Guide. Neurochem Res. 2015 Dec;40(12):2583-99. doi: 10.1007/s11064-015-1581-6. Epub 2015 May 7. PMID: 25947369; PMCID: PMC4636982.
  • Natale G, Limanaqi F, Busceti CL, Mastroiacovo F, Nicoletti F, Puglisi-Allegra S, Fornai F. Glymphatic System as a Gateway to Connect Neurodegeneration From Periphery to CNS. Front Neurosci. 2021 Feb 9;15:639140. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2021.639140. PMID: 33633540; PMCID: PMC7900543.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.