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The Importance of the Glymphatic System

by Emma Lane(more info)

listed in detoxification, originally published in issue 280 - August 2022


In February 2021 I looked at the importance of the lymphatic system for health and the extent to which lymphatics are still very much under recognised for their far-reaching health effects. In that article I very briefly mentioned the glymphatic system and as June is Alzheimer awareness month, it seems very relevant to understand the importance of supporting your neuro-lymphatic system known as the Glymphatic System.

The Lymphatic System in the Brain

Until 2015, we believed that the lymphatic system did not extend to the brain. The brain was considered an “immune-privileged” area of the body, and scientists puzzled over how waste products were cleared from the nervous system. In fact, accounts of brain lymphatics exist from over 200 years ago in the work of Italian anatomist Paolo Mascagni’s publication on the lymphatic system. And more recently, studies from 1948 to 1996 explored and described lymphatic function in the meninges area of the brain, specifically the dura mater.

This information was overlooked until 2015, when two un-associated labs published rodent studies showing evidence of lymphatic anatomy and action in the brain. Now, the rediscovered neurolymphatic system is being studied for its role in neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, along with our ability to learn, sleep and adjust to stress.

The function of the glymphatic and lymphatic systems are interconnected; the lymphatic system dominates fluid movement throughout the day and the glymphatic system takes over at night. This glymphatic-lymphatic tag team helps clear the dementia-associated protein amyloid-beta, as well as other proteins that may contribute to neurodegenerative diseases.

So, What does the Glymphatic System do?

Simply cerebrospinal fluid and the brain’s immune system make up the glymphatic system which filters out waste and harmful metabolites that play a role in disorders that affect the brain.  The researchers at the University of Rochester tracked the flow of fluid (cerebrospinal fluid) between brain cells and through the central nervous system and found that brain cells contract, finding that the space between the cells increased from 14% of brain volume to 23%.

This translates into a 60% increase in space between the cells. At night when we sleep this space plays a key role as it allows the cells to be bathed in larger amounts of cleansing fluid than during waking hours. When the brain is not able to clear out waste, it accumulates in the brain.  This waste is toxic, and can instigate mechanisms like inflammation and cell death.

Toxic Build Up in the Brain

Every single day we are exposed to a number of toxins in our daily environment. Every toxin that is in the environment will eventually be in our bodies. Neurotoxins are toxins that specifically target the nerves in our bodies. Once they reach their target they attack, and this is one of the biggest contributors to neurological disease.

Nerves are not just electric wires; they serve a number of vital purposes. One of these is axonal transport, a system that moves nutrients from the brain to the cells. The neurotoxins use this transport system to travel into cells and do damage. Symptoms of neurological diseases, like brain fog and impaired memory, can start presenting almost immediately after the cells have been attacked by these toxins.

A few of the more prevalent toxins in our environment include metals such as mercury, aluminium, lead, petrochemicals and pesticides.  Many toxins are bio-accumulating in our bodies, and there is evidence that all of these toxins contribute to the deterioration of brain health in various ways. While there’s no way to completely avoid them, there are things you can do to support and protect your brain, I will discuss these later.

Your glymphatic system is a very important waste clearance system for your brain. Our brain uses this system to drain the toxins away while we sleep. Each night, during deep sleep, the brain shrinks and gets washed with cerebrospinal fluid, and this waste is carried through the glymphatic system and gets moved into the peripheral lymph.

While this is happening, the system is also bringing nutrients to neurons and removing toxicity out of the brain. This system is how our body keeps neurological degeneration and disease at bay, and is one of the most underappreciated but vital systems in our bodies. It is also a system that is delicate, easily injured and upset.

A common way to incite problems in the glymphatic system is to have experienced brain injuries from car accidents, sports such as football, rugby and gymnastics where participants experienced concussions. However, unfortunately today you are much more likely to suffer injury to your glymphatic system through daily lifestyle choices such as improper sleeping habits and technology disrupting our sleep patterns.

It is also incredibly important to support proper glymphatic drainage. The less congested the cervical lymph nodes and the entire lymphatic system (see the previous article for guidance on creating better lymph drainage) the better able the glymphatic system will be to drain and protect the brain against environmental exposures. When your system is overloaded with toxins that are only building and not draining properly, the glymphatic system becomes compromised. There is only so much that can be done before the system is overwhelmed, and the toxins begin to attack your brain.

Brain Health

Support Your Brain Health 



Easy Daily Choices to Support Your Brain Health

Rehydrate and Move

Your brain shrinks over 60% every single night when you sleep. The brain shrinks to help the glymphatic system move toxins out, therefore you have to help the brain fill back up with healthy fluids. You can do this by drinking a large glass of filtered water with electrolytes to promote hydration as soon as you wake up. 

Not only is this vital to your glymphatic system and brain health, but you will also find yourself more awake and alert every morning. Fill a large glass or water bottle in the evening, and put it next to your bed so that you will be reminded to drink first thing in the morning. 

 It was thought that the glymphatic system was only effective at night during sleep and was the only way to flush toxins from the brain, however a new study shows that exercise can positively affect the function of the glymphatic system. In this study, one group of mice had access to a running wheel, the other group of mice had no access to exercise. After five weeks, the group of mice that had access to exercise showed a more than two-fold increase in glymphatic flow.

Therefore, moving regularly through the day is wise and remember movement also supports overall lymphatic activity so whether it is yoga, bouncing on a rebounder, walking, running, gardening or any other form of movement, it can help to increase glymphatic flow and support brain health.


Sleep Hygiene


Sleep Hygiene

Although movement supports glymphatic flow, the glymphatic system doesn’t get activated until you are asleep. Therefore, great flow doesn’t help your brain UNLESS it is paired with sleep.

The recommended amount of sleep for an adult is 7 to 9 hours. Our brain needs to be in a state of deep sleep for our glymphatic system to work.

It may feel like we do nothing while we sleep, however our bodies are working in overdrive to heal and maintain function. When you don’t get enough sleep the glymphatic flow is interrupted and toxins and infections can accumulate in the brain and lead to neural degenerative diseases or other brain symptoms.

Its well-known now that sitting for extended periods of time has very negative health effects. What many people do not realize is that sleeping on a flat surface has just as many negative impacts on your health! Interestingly most mammals choose to sleep with their heads uphill, Dr Günther W Amann-Jennson noted that “wild animals and domestic livestock all have a natural preference for sleeping on the ground with their heads slightly uphill.” With us humans there is no reason or logic as to why we sleep on a flat surface. Gravity inclined sleeping is much better for us! Many of the beds created for Egyptian royalty were crafted with a roughly five-degree incline.

Gravity inclined sleeping is exactly what it sounds like. Instead of sleeping on a flat surface, the bed is at a slight incline of 3.5 to 5 degrees. The main benefit with Gravity inclined sleeping is improved circulation of blood and lymph, simply by gravity. When you sleep, your brain detoxifies itself through the glymphatic system. Adding a 3.5-5-degree incline to your sleeping surface can greatly help the glymphatic system drain “downhill” to the gut to be excreted. This can help detoxify heavy metals, pathogens, and other harmful substances from the brain.

Disordered Breathing During Sleep

Snoring and obstructive sleep apnoea are major risk factors for many diseases due to a lack of oxygen during sleep. Sleeping on an incline helps to open the airway, alleviating snoring and restoring oxygen to the brain. The force of gravity from sleeping inclined also prevents acid reflux and heartburn.

What can I use to Elevate the Head of my Bed?

Most adjustable beds bend in the middle so that the top half rises and the lower half stays horizontal. With incline sleep the goal is to maintain a flatbed surface while creating a slope from the head-of-the bed downward to the foot of the bed.

Folding just the head of the bed up with an adjustable bed frame will not work, the entire bed has to be on a slope. For a standard bed, this works out to adding roughly 5-6 inches of height to the head of the bed. Adding 3 inches of support to the middle of the bed frame may also be needed for stability. You can buy 3- and 6-inch risers online, or use books, bricks, or wood. Alternatively, Mattress Elevator – Made with CertiPUR foam, these wedges slide under the whole mattress so that it slopes gently. 

Sleeping on an incline may feel weird at first, although some people adjust with ease because it is only a modest incline. Some people may need to start with just a few inches and increase every week or two as they get used to it. Since it does increase detoxification from the brain, taking a toxin binder before bed is recommended. It can take weeks of sleeping on an incline to start noticing improvements. 


Side Sleeping


Slide Sleeping

Researchers have also found that side sleeping – especially on our right side – increases glymphatic waste clearance when compared to sleeping on your back or stomach.  Gravity and intracranial pressure both influences how cerebrospinal fluid and blood move through the brain, and both intracranial pressure and cerebral hemodynamics are influenced by body posture. Though some of the exact mechanisms are still being sorted out, it seems that how nerves and veins stretch in each position impacts venous drainage of the carotid veins.

To produce the best results, sleep on the right side, as the pressure gravity exerts pushes toward our chest cavity instead of into our rib cage, which reduces pressure on the heart and optimizes output.

Harmful Electromagnetic Fields

In this day and age our bodies are bombarded by EMFs. From computers, to mobile phones to cell towers, EMFs are everywhere and the adverse health 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 be detrimental to a good night’s sleep.

To properly prepare for restorative sleep, turn off all wireless routers and turn mobile phones off or put in airplane mode while you are sleeping. This simple step can help facilitate a deeper brain cleaning session.

Drainage and Detox Support

The importance of drainage support is covered in the previous lymphatic article. In summary, drainage can be stimulated through the use of certain homeopathic remedies , and through the improvement of the biochemical terrain of the body using targeted nutritional cofactors.

Binders are a Must in Today’s Toxic Environment

Heavy metal and toxin build-up is a huge problem when it comes to brain health. Many conditions we’ve been taught to think of as a normal part of ageing (like brain fog and age-related brain degeneration) are often due to your body’s accumulation of heavy metals and other toxins. Aluminium, in particular, is one of the main reasons our brains are in trouble. There are statistically more significant amounts of aluminium in the brains of dementia patients. Therefore, taking a binder will help the body remove and therefore reduce the toxin load you, your body and brain are under.

Here are the binders I find are the most effective that I use in practice with patients. These are practitioner only products. To register an account or to place an order please call 01924 242851.

Citri Cleanse

GI Detox +


Supplements to Support the Glymphatic System and Brain Health

Blood flow and lymph drainage go hand in hand because your lymph and glymphatic systems use blood flow to drain toxins out of your brain and allow it to heal. Here are the best recommended supplements to assist in optimal blood flow, lymph drainage, and overall brain detox:

  • Magnesium - People with low magnesium often experience restless sleep and wake 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 and avocados.


  • Zinc - Is the second most abundant trace metal in the human body and is essential for many biological processes and is 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.


  • L-Theanine – An amino acid found in green tea has been found to 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.
  • GABA– is critically important to brain detox, GABA is known for its crucial role in reducing stress and anxiety, reducing pain, and promoting better sleep. It also plays a role in keeping your immune and endocrine systems balanced and controlling inflammation. GABA is also responsible for regulating your memory and mood, but most importantly, it moves your body into a calmer state, allowing you to relax into a full night of rejuvenating sleep. GABA levels are in fact, about 30% lower in people with insomnia and deep sleep and REM is critical for brain detox.
  • Your body produces GABA naturally, but chronic stress and nutrient deficiencies may inhibit GABA production therefore a liposomal GABA is very helpful.
  • Lemonbalm – 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 Alzheimer’s 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. Low levels of Omega 3 fatty acids are a contributing factor to deficits in brain function. Take a minimum of 1800-2500 mg of EPA and DHA to achieve a daily therapeutic dose.

Fatty Acids

There is a growing body of research demonstrating how certain supplements will support glymphatic clearance, particularly in people with reduced function due to sleep disturbances or genetic variations that inhibit its optimum potential. Examples of these:

  • Phosphatidylserine: A phospholipid that when paired with Omega-3 can reduce cortisol, regulate sleep quality, and preserve or enhance brain function.
  • Bacopa: Traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat neurological defects, may reduce oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction.
  • Gotu Kola: has the ability to enhance memory and nerve function, which gives it potential in treating Alzheimer’s disease. A 2012 study on mice found that Gotu kola extract had a positive effect on behavioural abnormalities in Alzheimer’s disease. Gotu kola also has an anti-anxiety affect, helps with insomnia and can improve circulation.
  • Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ): Improves concentration, focus, and longevity.
  • Rosemary: Protects neurons from inflammation and Aβ plaque formation as well as inhibit neuronal apoptosis.
  • Vitamin D: Neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties, including inhibition of amyloid formation and enhancement of amyloid clearance.


Supplementing with these and eating a diet rich in DHA and EPA omega-fatty acids as well as low in saturated fats can make a significant impact on the function of your glymphatic-meningeal lymphatic system.

  • Brain Tincture

One of my favourite products and something I use every day is Nose-to-brain-oil. The Brain Tincture consists of herbs that increase blood flow in your brain including Gotu kola, Bacopa, Rosemary and many others and these herbs not only help with your memory and recall, but the bacopa and Ashwagandha also helps nourish your adrenal system. When your adrenals are struggling, your sleep-wake cycle and stress response are affected, both of which affect brain detox. 

There are many combined products that support sleep and / or brain health. Here are my favourites:

Full Focus

Optimal Sleep

Though these supplements are important for toxicant elimination and brain health, it is however most important to avoid or lessen your toxic load and stressors whenever you can. If you lower the amount of exposure, you lower the amount of toxins your brain has to deal with. I always recommend to patients, natural ways to protect and support the pineal gland and produce melatonin for proper sleep hygiene. This includes blue light blocking glasses at night and creating a safe sleep environment free from EMFs.

Life has many challenges, supporting your Lymphatic and glymphatic system on a regular basis will help you navigate the day-to-day challenges you face with clearer and functional healthy minds, protecting the brain from degeneration and reducing the potential expression of dementia and Alzheimer’s in the future.


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About Emma Lane

Emma Lane ND Dip NT CMTA C.H.E.K IV HLC3 PEA RSA – Founder and Director of the Lane Wellness Group – has more than 30 years’ experience in the industry, working as a Naturopath, Naturopathic Nutritionist and Functional Medicine Practitioner. She is a registered practitioner of ISEAI (The International Society for Environmentally Acquired Illness). Emma has two busy practices in the north of England and central London and is also the Founder and Director of Integrative Health Education and PCI Europe. Emma regularly lectures around the world and is passionate about sharing her knowledge with other practitioners. She works closely with Dr Omar Amin, a world-renowned professor of parasitology. Emma is qualified to practise across a wide range of natural health sciences including Naturopathy, Naturopathic Nutrition, Functional Medicine, FSM (frequency specific microcurrent) Neuro-linguistic Programming, Timeline Therapy, Hypnotherapy, Auricular Acupuncture, Functional Corrective Exercise, Sound Therapy and Energy Healing. For further information please contact Emma on Tel: 01924 242 851 and via Energize, Mind, Body;    Holistics Online,    Parasite Testing,    Integrative Health Education ,   Lane Wellness Group


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