Baby Boomers: We’re Always Busy!

hand with glove draws brain as medical concept

Now with the onset of fall in the United States, my husband and I are usually hiking every weekend.  Even though I appreciate the special things about every season, I truly love the Fall!  We live in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia where “leaf peeping” in the fall to enjoy the fall foliage is a sport and something that everyone should see at least once!

We are fortunate to live right in the “View”,so hiking this time of the year is very special.  Now that Shenandoah National Park is open again, we are hiking our favorite trails to enjoy Nature’s splendor!  I’ve just discovered that there is another benefit to our hiking, it makes us sleep extremely well!  Getting a good night’s sleep is not only a great restorative, it is also, according to recent research, the period when our brains are doing some of their best work.

A study by neurosurgeon, Maiken Nedergaard from the University of Rockester found the cleanup system in the brain, responsible for flushing out toxic waste products that cells produce with daily use, goes into overdrive in mice that are asleep. The cells even shrink in size to make for easier cleaning of the spaces around them.

What this means for humans is this nightly self-clean by the brain provides a compelling biological reason for the restorative power of sleep.  “Sleep puts the brain in another state where we clean out all the byproducts of activity during the daytime,” said Nedergaard. Those byproducts include beta-amyloid protein, clumps of which form plaques found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

Evidently, the network that drains waste from the brain, named the glymphatic system by Nedergaard and her associates, works by circulating cerebrospinal fluid throughout the brain tissue and flushing any resulting waste into the bloodstream, which then carries it to the liver for detoxification.

When we sleep the cerebrospinal fluid flushes through the brain very quickly and broadly .  Another experiment revealed that sleep causes the space between cells to increase by 60 percent, allowing the flow to increase.  “Brain cells shrink when we sleep, allowing fluid to enter and flush out the brain,” Nedergaard said. “It’s like opening and closing a faucet.”

The researchers also found that the harmful beta-amyloid protein clears out of the brain twice as fast in a sleeping rodent as in an up-and-about one. The study was published in the journal Science on Thursday.

According to New York University cell biologist and Alzheimer’s specialist Ralph A. Nixon, this study could have special importance in Alzheimer’s research.  For instance, researchers have linked the development of Alzheimer’s Disease to the overproduction of beta-amyloid, but Nixon believes these new findings hint that the lack of clearing it out might be the bigger problem.

Nixon also said that other neurodegenerative disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, are associated with a backup of too much cell waste in the brain.  “Clearance mechanisms may be very relevant to keeping these proteins at a level that isn’t disease-causing,” Nixon said.

Nedergaard and her colleagues are working on an MRI diagnostic test for glymphatic clearance.  She also believes that a drug could be developed to force a cleanup if necessary, perhaps by mimicking the sleep-wake cycle.

This research is very promising to the future treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease, as well as other neurodegenerative diseases.  It also demonstrates just how incredible the human body is in repairing itself!

This research is yet more proof that getting up and getting moving are vital to staying healthy and aging well!  Exercise helps with sleep and sleep helps maintain a healthy brain!  So, let’s move and LIVE OUT LOUD!!


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