Your Brain May Flush Out Toxins During Sleep

I know, I know. This is a cancer-oriented blog. But I couldn’t resist chatting about an innovative study that suggests that sleep allows the clearing (in the brain) of molecules associated with neurodegeneration.

A good night’s sleep may clear the mind. Literally.

Sleep appears to change the structure of the brain: The space between brain cells may increase during sleep, allowing the brain to flush out toxins that build up during waking hours. Investigators at the University of Rochester Medical Center (USA) found that during sleep, a plumbing (glymphatic) system may open, letting cerebrospinal fluid flow rapidly through the brain, potentially clearing out debris.

How They Did It: First, the researchers injected dye into the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of awake mice, watching it flow through their brains while monitoring electrical brain activity. The dye flowed rapidly when he mice were unconscious, either asleep or anesthetized. In contrast, the dye barely flowed while the mice were awake. Could the space between the neuron cells be changing during sleep? To test the idea, the researchers used electrodes inserted in the brain to directly measure the space between brain cells. They found that the space inside the brains increased by 60% when the mice were asleep or anesthetized.

My Take: Previous studies suggest that toxic molecules involved in neurodegenerative disorders accumulate in the space between the brain cells. These authors may have found a new way to target diseases such as Alzheimer’s dementia. As for you? We need sleep. Get it. We previously new it can help with storing memories. Now we are learning it may allow us to clean up our brains. I’m Dr. Michael Hunter, and that’s your amazing insight for the day!

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

Available now: Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Both can be found at the Apple Ibooks store. Coming Soon for iPad:  Understand Breast Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minute; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Thank you.

Reference: Xie L, Kang H, Chen MJ, Liao Y., et al. Science 2013;342(6156): 373 DOI: 10.1126/science.1241224

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Harvard AB Yale MD UPenn Radiation Oncology Radiation Oncologist, Seattle area

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