The Glymphatic System: The Microscopic Cleaning System for your Brain Works While You Sleep
Headaches and brain fog, along with memory problems and tremors, appear to be the most debilitating symptoms of mold sensitivity and truly scare patients. Cognitive symptoms and neurological motor function issues impact our ability to function as a family member, friend, or coworker. The inability to function scares patients the most. The thought that these symptoms resemble or could be the beginning of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s can change a person’s entire perspective on life. They impact every aspect of who we are. This topic deserves to be treated separately and it turns out that there are relatively new and exciting discoveries on the brain and how it detoxifies.
Brain toxicity refers to impaired brain function due to the brain’s exposure, absorption, and reaction to toxins. Toxins are generally classified as solvents, chemicals, heavy metals (like mercury and lead, among others), and neurotoxins, such as the mycotoxins produced by mold. Inhalation is the primary method of delivery of toxins to the brain as it is difficult for molecules absorbed in our bodies to penetrate the blood-brain barrier. There are many everyday items that we are exposed to that contain toxins in one form or another. We inhale toxic chemicals from common house cleaners, air fresheners, perfumes, paints, gases, and pesticides used on crops. Fungal mycotoxins are ingested with our food and inhaled when airborne, commonly while attached to dust. Heavy metals can be found in some foods, water, household cleaners, and solvents to which we expose ourselves. Heavy metals are particularly toxic to our brains. The most common heavy metal exposure that we see, which often goes unrecognized, is the off-gassing of mercury from silver dental fillings. Inhaled mercury is readily absorbed by the body and is extremely toxic.
Critical to the understanding of brain toxicity is the recognition that inhalation is the primary delivery method for environmental toxins. Last week’s article, The Toxic Mold Journey: The Body’s “Toxic Load” Part 2 described the ultra-sensitive patient and the role of our olfactory nerve systems in delivering toxins directly into our sinus tissue, where they are microns away from cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) access to the brain. Unfortunately, 60% of the brain is composed of fat. Fat can absorb and retain lipophilic (fat-soluble) toxins. This can lead to inflammation that causes numerous problems throughout the body. When ignored, toxins can build up and damage the brain, causing life-altering symptoms that include personality changes, memory loss, headaches and brain fog, physical tics, fatigue, seizures, and depression.
Neurotoxicity, poisoning of the brain and neurological system, is a well-documented effect from exposure to toxins; however, it is often missed or misdiagnosed by physicians because the symptoms tend to overlap with many different chronic illnesses of the brain and central nervous system. Motor function, pain, numbness, loss of bodily function, and headache may be referred to a neurologist. Behavior symptoms are often referred to a psychiatrist. It is important to note that severe symptoms and fear of what is occurring within the body can lead to, or become, the cause of depression and anxiety.
When patients are referred to psychiatrists and neurologists, they may still not receive a definitive diagnosis. Expensive imaging, like MRIs or CT scans, psychotherapy, and mental health questionnaires are utilized, but may not reveal the specific cause of the dysfunction. With traditional empirical medicine, physicians, including neurologists and psychiatrists, focus primarily on the symptoms and diagnostic scans. Few of these physicians have the training or knowledge to seek information about the patient’s environment and potential toxins in the brain. As a result of identifying symptoms without a definitive diagnosis, patients can be diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Physicians commonly prescribe medicines such as antidepressants or other psychotropic drugs with the hope of alleviating symptoms. In many of these cases, a treating physician can add complexity over complexity, making a diagnosis more difficult for the next physician referral if the patient’s condition improves. I use the word ‘improved’ because wellness may be too ambitious for the patient at this stage. Finally, heavy use of alcohol or illegal drugs can also lead to brain toxicity.
MRI, CT Scan, PET Scans of Brain
Conducting an Effective Environmental Medical History
A proper medical history and detailed discussion about the home and work environments can provide circumstantial evidence of exposure to mold and other toxins. Searching your memory of water damage from a storm, flood, or leak is often remembered because of the repairs required and the money spent. Often, DIY testing for mold can quickly and inexpensively indicate if there is an ongoing problem. I recommend ImmunoLytics Mold Test Kits be used. The test kits are part of a mold testing system that can include visual-only plates with a detailed analysis that can be purchased for $33 per sample. The system comes with clear directions and an easy to understand analytic report. ImmunoLytics also provides phone consultations free of charge and access to experts when needed. You can also order swabs (at the same price) that can be used to test visible mold or questionable dust samples found around the home, including around the ventilation system. No other mold tests that are available at hardware stores or online can match the combination of clear instructions, analysis, and free consultation.
It is helpful to ask yourself a series of questions regarding your personal health and home history that will provide clues to be shared with your physicians. Has there been any flooding in the home? Storm damage? Leaks? High humidity? Is there any wood rot around doors, windows, registers? How about water-stained drywall? If the physician is not responsive to observations about potential environmental issues, it is important to find a physician who treats environmental medicine (we suggest searching for a physician at the website for the International Society of Environmentally Acquired Illness – ISEAI). A physician who does not look for environmental issues will never diagnose environmental illness or utilize treatments to help the patients get well.
A physician or Naturopathic Doctor who treats environmental illness will make suggestions to get the patient into a safe environment. They may suggest the patient exit the toxic environment for several days to see if they feel better in another environment. Removing the patient from the environment is often the first step. Identifying and fixing the cause of moisture is always the most important step. Remediating mold and toxins from the environment, including the ventilation system, is a critical step in creating an environment that allows the body’s systems to detoxify and heal.
Neurological symptoms can include cognitive dysfunction such as confusion or brain fog, dizziness, memory loss, and concentration problems. Other physical symptoms such as headaches, pain, and motor function problems may also be present. These include impaired control of the limbs, bladder, and bowels, sleep disorders, eye and vision problems, balance, and hearing problems, tinnitus, vertigo, and muscle weakness. Psychiatric symptoms include anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. These symptoms are often associated with diseases of exclusion. More specifically, a patient is diagnosed with a syndrome such as fibromyalgia, Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue, and other difficult to diagnose disorders
The Brain Cleanse Process
The brain, like the rest of our body, is resilient and has its own ability to heal and clear itself to dispose of toxins. Circulating inside the spinal canal and throughout the brain is cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). The key element is the fluid (Cerebral Spinal Fluid) that circulates throughout the brain.
The CSF highlighting the brain’s ventricular system.
The Glymphatic System
In 2012, researchers from the University of Rochester identified this new maintenance system called the glymphatic system, which uses the cells’ mitochondria to remove cellular waste from the brain. It found that the clear cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the brain is what is responsible for draining toxins from the brain, similar to how the lymphatic system is what removes waste from other cells in our bodies to the kidneys and liver. But the brain has no lymph – the cerebral spinal fluid performs this activity instead.
Sleep is Critical
The Glymphatic system clears waste most effectively during slow-wave sleep. Sleep plays a crucial role in our brain’s physiological maintenance. This is a very critical element. There are countless publications that state that adequate sleep is the number one missing element for wellness for a variety of reasons. Brain detoxification makes sleep one of the top priorities for the environmentally ill.
Research has shown that the brain uses sleep to wash away the waste toxins built up.
Consider the notion of a car running inside a closed garage. Carbon monoxide will gradually accumulate to unsafe levels. When we sleep, it is as though the engine is turned off and the garage door is opened. The contaminated air escapes and becomes very diluted with fresh air almost immediately.
It is also important to note that any airborne mold or toxins that are inhaled while we sleep may put our immune system to work. If that is the case, the body not only does not employ the glymphatic system, but it also prevents the body’s other natural healing capabilities from happening. Illness can be prolonged indefinitely without the healing we do while sleeping.
Diet and Nutrition
Eating a diet rich in nutrients conducive to brain detoxification is important. Make sure you eat a diet rich in Omega 3 fatty acids and DHA. Eat as much fresh fruit as possible. Fruit holds large amounts of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, which play important roles in fueling mental processes. All fruits contain over 50% content of essential and non-essential amino acids. Eat organic foods. Avoid foods that may have exposure to pesticides or mycotoxins (fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts). Drink plenty of purified water. Water is more abundant in brain tissue (the brain is 70% water) than any other substance. Replacing other drinks with water should become habit. Avoid caffeine-based and stimulatory energy drinks. Caffeinated drinks on a continuous basis dehydrate the body. Avoiding caffeine and stimulants is most important when you are trying to enhance the brain cleansing process. It is equally important to avoid eating toxic foods! These include processed foods, seed or vegetable oils, high fructose corn syrup/sugars, soy, gluten, or grains.
Regular exercise is an effective detoxification method for the entire body. In addition, there are activities that influence the way cerebral spinal fluid enters the brain’s glymphatic system. Low-intensity exercise that burns fat helps eliminate toxins from the body (Many toxins are stored in fat).
Detoxifying other organs is important as toxins are distributed throughout the body, in addition to the brain. Regular exercise also helps the digestive process and sleep patterns. Yoga and similar activities are particularly helpful with cerebral spinal fluid movement.
Standing instead of sitting while working during the day moves CSF. Breathing exercises and mindfulness activities increase blood flow, circulation, and body awareness, which all enhance detoxification. Massage and or chiropractic care are excellent complements to proper and efficient lymphatic drainage.
Consult a Physician or Integrative Medicine Specialist
Our bodies are very complex systems, and the brain is perhaps the most complex. A significant nutritional imbalance may be an important contributor to any brain malfunction. A physician can perform the proper diagnostic tests to identify specific nutritional needs. Physicians can also prescribe binders to aid in the removal of toxins from the body.
There are numerous, non-regulated supplements with claims that they enhance the brain’s function and detoxification, so it is important to follow a physician’s advice to avoid ineffective products and adverse reactions.
Keep Your Sinuses Clear
The glymphatic system is also thought to play an important role in neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS, Alzheimer’s Disease, Huntington’s Disease, and Dementia. A significant amount of research is underway at research universities and pharmaceutical companies.
Next Time on the Toxic Mold Journey Series
In the next Toxic Mold Journey article we will address some realities of our medical system and discuss limitations that can prevent environmental illness, diagnosis, and treatment.