In previous studies, organizations like the American Heart Association affirmed that the only existing way for the brain to clean itself is during sleep. Meanwhile, a recent study published by the University of Rochester shows a different method.

The study explains that consuming a moderate amount of red wine can help decompress brain inflammation and disencumber toxins, including the ones related to Alzheimer and other brain diseases.

Nevertheless, Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, lead author of the said study, clarifies that the consumption of excessive amounts of alcohol causes dangerous effects on the central nervous system.

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The new study suggests a daily glass of wine might be good for the brain. Image credit: The Sun

The fount of cleansing

The glymphatic system, also called glymphatic clearance pathway, is a macroscopic waste clearance pathway, that utilizes a network of perivascular tunnels. These tunnels consist in immunological space between a vein, not capillaries, and an artery and the pia mater, delicate inner layer of the meninges surrounding the brain and spinal cord, that can be expanded by leukocytes.

These tunnels built by astroglial cells (star-shaped glial cells found in the brain and spinal cord) and the system uses these as a pathway to eliminate metabolites and soluble proteins from the central nervous system, according to the US National Institutes of Health.

Studies performed after, show how the glymphatic system works at its best during sleep and how it can be improved with exercise while being damaged by traumas or strokes.

In their former study made in 2012, Dr. Nedergaard’s team explained:

“Cerebral spinal fluid is pumped into brain tissue and flushes away waste, including the proteins beta amyloid and tau that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.”

The cerebral spinal fluid is a clear body liquid located in the brain and spinal cord that has the same consistency as water. It acts as a cushion that protects the brain and spine from damage.

The cerebral spinal fluid also represents an essential part of the lymphatic system, the one that includes circuitry of lymphatic vessels that carry the lymphatic fluid to the heart. This system is in charge of cleaning away the cellular waste in the rest of the human body, but it does not reach the brain.

Boozy mice had a better functioning cleansing system

The recent study made by Dr. Nedergaard’s team was conducted in mice, and it examines the impact that acute and chronic ethanol exposure occurs in the little animals’ brains. The mice exposed to a greater amount of alcohol consumption over a long period regarding time, showed high levels of inflammation, specifically in astrocytes cells, essential regulators of the glymphatic system.

Mice exposed to moderate levels of alcohol consumption, approximately two and a half drinks per day, revealed less inflammation in the brain. This translates into the Cerebral spinal fluid moving more efficiently through the brain and improving the performance of the glymphatic system when disposing of waste.

The discussion they open at the end of the publication, claims that low doses of ethanol are, overall, beneficial regarding health and mortality rate. Nonetheless, a more substantial level of consumption leads to detrimental effects on health.

“Studies have shown that low-to-moderate alcohol intake is associated with a lesser risk of dementia, while heavy drinking for many years confers an increased risk of cognitive decline. This study may help explain why this occurs. Specifically, low doses of alcohol appear to improve overall brain health”

The process that allows scientists to observe the clearing action performed on the brain is possible thanks to the recent imaging technology called two-photon microscopy. The method enables researchers to picture living tissue up to one millimeter in depth. It uses a laser to stimulate the fluorescent tag inside a sample and detectors to measure the released light.

This method is less phototoxic than others like confocal microscopy, it also penetrates more deeply into tissues and has a perfectly focused light overall that prevents the image from being blurry and affecting the results, therefore the interpretations, according to the Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley.

Remember to sleep as well

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The researchers noted a good night sleep is also essential for the brain. Image credit: A Dinner Guest

Dr. Nedergaard has also studied the effects that sleeping causes on the brain, found that it is a restorative process that cleanses away the products of neural activity accumulated during wakefulness.

The team found that while sleeping, brain’s cells reduce in size, which makes it easier for the glymphatic system to remove more efficiently the waste. This process is unique to the brain according to the researchers, who also explain the isolation of the brain from the lymphatic system stating:

“The brain maintains its own closed ‘ecosystem’ and is protected by a complex system molecular gateways – called the blood-brain barrier – that tightly control what enters and exits the brain.”

Since pumping cerebral spinal fluid requests a lot of energy, almost the same one as humans are awake, the energy spent by the brain does not decrease during sleep, which explains the efficiency of the glymphatic system through those hours.

Dr. Nedergaard in this study, says that understanding the activation of the glymphatic system is an essential step to modulate it and find ways to improve its work, just like his new study found.

Source: University of Rochester