Did you know that your brain has its own lymphatic system (called glymphatics) and that there are easy ways to keep it running smoothly?
I have written numerous articles on the newly discovered lymphatic vessels that drain toxins from the brain while you sleep (three pounds per year!). But this is just the tip of a massive health iceberg. I am super excited to share the latest developments regarding the best ways to detox your brain.
For me, the most exciting part is how the ancient practices of Yoga and Ayurveda, which directly address brain cleansing, are now supported by scientific studies linking cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) flow to glymphatic drainage.
Boosting CSF has been linked to improvement in cognitive function and reduction of cognitive concerns in the elderly.8 In one study, aging was associated with a 50% reduction in CSF production in otherwise healthy adults. 1
When we move and breathe, CSF is pumped inside the spine and brain like a brain washing fluid. It may not be a coincidence that the practice of yoga classically employed breathing, movement, and spinal flexibility—all of which directly impact CSF flow and healthy brain lymphatic drainage.
Let me start with a short overview of how the brain washes itself . . .
The Brain Cleansing Process
Cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) circulating inside the spinal canal and throughout the brain is a type of lymphatic fluid. This is not a closed system, as once believed. It dynamically interacts with the rest of the lymphatic system, draining into the lymph within the central nervous system (CNS) from the sinuses at the top of your brain to the tailbone.1
Lymph in the brain and spinal cord washes the brain and CNS while you sleep, as well as during certain CSF-moving, brain-cleansing activities.1, 2
CSF is believed to be primarily created by a concentration of blood vessels at the base of the brain, called the choroid plexus. Blood vessel pressure causes CSF to filtrate out of these vessels, similarly to the way lymphatic fluid is created from blood vessels and circulates throughout the rest of the body.
As this fluid is created in the center-base of the brain, it literally washes the brain of toxins, moving through brain circulation pathways called ventricles. Most CSF is rinsed through the brain, directed to the brain’s outer areas and into lymph-carrying vessels in the superior and transverse sagittal sinuses. Along the way, CSF is cleansing the brain of toxins and delivering nutrients, much like the function of the lymphatic system.1
Glymphatic vessels wrap like a sleeve around the veins in the sagittal sinus, just beneath the skull, in a pattern like a mohawk haircut. (This is exactly where Ayurveda described these lymph channels thousands of years ago!)
Glymphatics absorb old CSF and toxins and direct them into either the cervical lymphatics in the neck or the nasal mucosa vessels.
The Best Ways to Detox the Brain, Boosting CSF and Brain Lymph Flow
There is an ancient Ayurvedic technique called nasya, where herbalized oils are sniffed into the nasal mucosa. This technique was designed to cleanse brain lymphatics, called rasa, as well as brain ventricles and sinuses, called tarpaka.
The brain’s glymphatic system drains into two major locations: the cervical lymphatic vessels in the neck and in the nose.9
“In particular, extensions of the subarachnoid space that follow the olfactory tracts, cross the cribiform plate, and project into the nasal submucosa alongside olfactory nerves, have been shown to be responsible for 15–30% of the removal of CSF solute. There is a dense lymphatic network within the nasal submucosa that then drains this CSF and solute to the deep cervical lymph nodes. Up to 50% of radioiodinated serum albumin (RISA) injected to the caudate nucleus drains via the olfactory-nasal submucosa.”10
I have used nasya techniques in my practice for 30 years and have witnessed how nasya supports mental clarity, memory, and flushing of old toxic emotions. Thousands of years ago, ancient Ayurvedic texts suggested that such brain congestion is directly linked to neurological and emotional concerns.
Today’s science has linked optimal glymphatic function to cognitive health, restful sleep, stable mood, and immunity.3-5 Pretty fascinating stuff!
Nasya can be as simple as sniffing a few drops of sesame oil to lubricate the sinuses or it can be a much more elaborate Ayurvedic therapy directed at supporting healthy brain lymphatic drainage. I have detailed articles and videos on how to do this technique at home.
Science on the glymphatic system saw a significant increase in drainage during sleep that was more efficient when sleeping on one’s side.3 So make sure you are getting enough sleep on your side, and also getting it at the right time. It may be old-fashioned, but early-to-bed and early-to-rise has been linked to some emerging health benefits.
In one study, those who got to bed early and woke up early had healthier weight and lower body mass index than those who went to bed late and slept in.6
Breathing / Pranayama
Significant CSF flow or brain cleansing has also been linked to deep breathing exercises. Studies show a specific boost in CSF flow during inspiration (inhalation), and even more during forced inspiration.1
This research supports the predicted benefits of pranayama or yogic breathing exercises. Nose breathing exercise research I did years ago (see Body, Mind, and Sport) saw a significant increase in meditative (alpha) brain wave activity during nose breathing versus mouth breathing. Mouth breathing was linked to increased fight-or-flight sympathetic nervous system activity, while nose breathing was linked to increased parasympathetic nervous system activity, also known as the rest-repair-digest nervous system.7
Fight-or-flight stress is linked to a reduction of CSF flow, while parasympathetic activation is linked to a boost in CSF flow, making nose breathing exercise and yoga critical practices for better CSF and brain lymph flow.2
Yoga, nasal-breathing exercise, and meditation are all linked to better CSF flow, which means better brain drainage. In fact, my One-Minute Meditation (a breathing meditation) is a double boost of CSF flow, as it employs forced inspiration followed by meditation (for parasympathetic activity).
We RecommendOne Minute Meditation
Optimal brain health is just a breath away—and you breathe 26,000 times a day. What could be easier?
How to Boost CSF Flow1
- Chiropractic spinal adjustments
- Osteopathic Therapy / Cranial Sacral therapy
- Breathing Exercises
- Lymphatic Massage
- Nose-Breathing Exercise
- Nose-Breathing Sleeping / Mouth Taping
There are so many easy and pleasurable glymphatic supports to make sure your brain stays healthy and detoxing—I hope you take advantage of them!