Have you ever heard of the glymphatic system? Moreover, did you know that it has the potential to impact the health of your brain? So much so, in fact, that it may even affect your risk of developing Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease, in addition to ALS and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. This is everything you didn’t know you needed to know about your glymphatic system and your brain health.
Understanding the Glymphatic System
The glymphatic system is a recently discovered waste clearance system in the brain. Just like the lymphatic system helps to rid our bodies of toxins, the glymphatic system plays a vital role in removing waste products from the brain. It consists of a network of vessels surrounding the brain’s blood vessels and acts as a drainage system for the brain. This system allows cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to flow through the brain, carrying away waste products such as proteins and other toxins. It does this primarily during sleep and essentially disengages while we are awake. (1)
Connection to Brain Health
Maintaining a healthy glymphatic system is, therefore, crucial for optimal brain health. When the glymphatic system becomes impaired, it can lead to the build-up of toxic substances in the brain, which may contribute to the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Scientists also believe it may play a significant role in preventing and/or healing from traumatic brain injury and stroke. Therefore, supporting and enhancing the function of the glymphatic system can have significant implications for brain health and overall well-being. (2, 3)
Study by the University of Rochester
A study conducted by researchers at the University of Rochester provided valuable insights into the importance of the glymphatic system for brain health. The study involved mice and demonstrated that the glymphatic system is most active during sleep. During sleep, the brain’s waste clearance process is enhanced, allowing for the efficient removal of harmful substances. Moreover, the study showed that sleep deprivation can impair the function of the glymphatic system, leading to an accumulation of waste products in the brain. The research team wrote this in their press release on the research:
“Our team made its initial discovery by injecting fluorescent tracers into the brains of living mice, and then imaging the movement of those tracers, in real time, using two-photon microscopy. These techniques allowed us to visualize the path of different sized molecules as they traversed the cortical layers of the brain, in addition to quantifying the clearance rate. Following the tracers revealed a distinctive pathway: once injected into the subarachnoid cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), the tracers readily flowed into the brain along the outside of the penetrating blood vessels. Further investigation confirmed that small channels ‘piggybacking’ the blood vasculature allow the CSF to flow into the brain tissue along para-arterial spaces and exit via a para-venous route…(4)
Further characterization of the involvement of the glymphatic system in a number of neurological diseases and neurodegenerative disorders is underway. As an important further step to verify that the glymphatic system is functional in human brains, we are working in collaboration with researchers at the Stonybrook University to use contrast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to map regions of high and low volume solute exchange. Given that MRI is a commonly used clinical modality, it is our hope that this data may potentially enable the assessment of neurodegenerative disease risk and progression.“
Ways to Support the Glymphatic System and Brain Health
Now that we understand the significance of the glymphatic system for brain health, here are some strategies to support its function and promote overall brain health:
- Get Sufficient Sleep: The study by the University of Rochester highlights the importance of a good night’s sleep for optimal glymphatic system function. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night to ensure your brain’s waste clearance system is working efficiently.
- Stay Hydrated: Drinking an adequate amount of water is crucial for maintaining a healthy glymphatic system. Hydration helps to ensure the proper flow of cerebrospinal fluid, facilitating the removal of waste products from the brain.
- Exercise Regularly: Engaging in regular physical activity has numerous benefits for brain health, including enhancing the function of the glymphatic system. Exercise improves blood flow and promotes the efficient clearance of waste products from the brain.
- Follow a Healthy Diet: Consuming a diet rich in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins can support brain health and the glymphatic system. Include foods such as fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, and seeds in your diet.
- Reduce Stress: Chronic stress can negatively impact brain health and the glymphatic system. Incorporate stress-reducing practices such as mindfulness, meditation, and deep breathing exercises into your daily routine.
- Avoid Toxins: Minimize exposure to environmental toxins that could potentially harm the glymphatic system. Limit your use of chemicals in household products, choose organic produce, and avoid smoking or excessive alcohol consumption.
By implementing these strategies into your lifestyle, you can help support the glymphatic system’s function, promote brain health, and reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.
The Bottom Line
Remember, the glymphatic system is a vital component of brain health, and taking care of it should be a priority. Prioritizing sleep, hydration, exercise, a healthy diet, stress reduction, and minimizing toxin exposure will empower you to maintain a healthy glymphatic system and support long-term brain health.
Keep Reading: This is what sleeping on the left side does for our brain, stomach & glymphatic health
- “The glymphatic system.” Science Direct. Lauren M. Hablitz and Maiken Nedergaard. October 2021.
- “The Glymphatic System – A Beginner’s Guide.” NCBI. Nadia Aalling Jessen, et al. December 2016.
- “The glymphatic system’s role in traumatic brain injury-related neurodegeneration.” Nature. Matthew E. Peters and Constantine G. Lyketsos. April 25, 2025.
- “Glymphatic System.” URMC