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Cleansing the Brain to Optimize Cognitive Function

brain.jpgYou have heard of colon cleanses, blood purifiers, liver flushes and skin cleansers, but who ever talks about doing a brain cleanse? And yet, with the growing prevalence of “brain fog” and other cognitive challenges that people experience, isn’t it about time that we address the fine art of detoxing our grey matter?

Lets first look at what needs to be cleaned out of the brain, then at how it is to be cleaned, and finally, at all the ways that we can support this process with wonderful botanical allies like Tulsi, Brahmi, Turmeric and Katuki.

The Brain has No Lymphatic System

For most of the cells in the body the lymph system is primarily responsible for transporting this waste from the cells to the liver, lungs and kidney. However, there is no network of lymph channels in the brain to cleanse it! If we knew how the brain does cleanse itself then we would know how to assist this process, and move away from the congestive terrains that support deep dysfunction and proceed toward a bright clear functional brain and mind.

Enter the Glymphatic System

The question about how wastes and toxins are removed from the brain has generated a search for the channels that support a flow from the brain’s cells to the cerebral spinal fluid. Recently, in a remarkable landmark study, the channels were found to simply be the space between the brain’s vascular system and those cells that surround and support our nerve cells, the glial cells.1

Knowing, via the lens of Western bioscience, how the process works confirms traditional therapies used for thousands of years to enhance cognitive function. As these therapies are focused on wellness and not disease there is a strong element of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and so the first step is to minimize the waste and toxins that need to be excreted. Then the therapies focus on opening these channels and increasing the flows of the fluids involved.

Brain Beats: Optimize the Pulsations of the Cerebral Spinal Fluid

Sutherland, a renown osteopathic doctor, referred to cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) as “the breath of life” and “liquid light.” Randolph Stone, the founder of Polarity Therapy, called CSF “the liquid medium for the Breath of Life.”

Clearly, we want to keep the CSF flowing. The pulsations and flows of the CSF are a function of several factors including the blood’s arterial pulse, the mobility of the skull’s sutures, and the depth and patterns of pulmonary respiration rhythms. So some of the ways we can keep the CSF flowing and ensure our brain is cleansed include:

  • Exercise and stretching, especially yoga, and especially inversions, twists and backbends, even if done in a chair at your work, as movement is a CSF “pump”
  • Breathing, especially pranayama, and especially strong pranayama like bhastrika and kapalabati
  • Body therapies including craniosacral, chiropractic, osteopathic and massage
  • Herbal protocols
  • Drink enough liquids, especially pure water and herbal teas

Increase Oxygen in the Cells: Minimize Metabolic Wastes

Metabolism is like a cellular chemical fire, and as with most fires you need oxygen. When we have sufficient oxygen the fire burns properly, making the products that are required and also generating predictable waste products. However, because there is less oxygen in our air today as compared to the world in which we evolved, and the oxygen we get is thwarted by congestion produced by our modern diets, these metabolic fires often do not get the oxygen they need to burn properly, and thus can generate much more waste. So in many ways the cleansing of the brain and its cells all starts with ensuring that you have enough oxygen to optimize metabolism and thus to “run clean.”

Tulsi is a first reach herb to support the lungs as it has numerous mechanisms to optimize lung function.

Pushkarmool, a rare high Himalyan herb, is one of the best herbs to help optimize respiration at both the lung and cellular levels. Because they require the strategy of living with less oxygen, high altitude herbs can lend us their ability to optimize respiration at the level of both the lungs and the cells.

Pippilli and Bibhitaki both have a long history of supporting the lungs.

Open Channels in the Brain: Ensure a Clear Path to Drain Wastes/Toxins

Brahmi, both Centella and Bacopa, are known to many only as one of the “energy” herbs. Of course people then assume it must have caffeine, which it doesn’t. One of the ways that Brahmi gives you more energy is by removing both the congestion and the constriction of the channels in the brain thereby allowing your own innate energy to flow more efficiently. Brahmi is famous for this, and you do not even have to choose which Brahmi to take as the Memory Formula contains both of them. Gingko, DHA and Arginine also support the opening of channels in the brain.

Clear Blocks and Congestion: Dismantle the Dysfunctional

Too often the congestion in the brain has coalesced from single molecules into more complex structures, structures that can be devastating to our wellbeing as they interfere with all the flows, including the nerve impulses, the blood, and the CSF. In these cases the dysfunctional webs have been shown to be dismantled by both Katuki and Turmeric.

Katuki, Picrorhiza kurroa, is a rare High Himalayan herb that is one of the world’s greatest herbs for invoking balanced cleansing processes, especially in the liver, but also very much in the brain. It can be found in the Liver-Kidney Formula and the Immunity Formula.

Turmeric is one of the all-time great herbs in many different categories, for instance, just its ability to build, move and clean blood and lymph is remarkable. Many of its actions are based on the fact that it is one of the best herbs to support a healthy response to occasional inflammation.

Deep Restorative Sleep is Key to Cleansing the Brain

Since the glymphatic system was proposed many scientists have been vigorously investigating it. In results published just weeks ago, a team in Sunnyvale describes a discovery that is both astounding and sensible:

"The glymphatic system drains twice as fast during deep sleep than during waking hours."2

Recall that the glymphatic system runs in the space between the vascular system and the glial cells that surround and protect the nerves. When we are awake those guardian glial cells swell up to enhance the nerve’s protection, and when we sleep, they relax and significantly constrict. This constriction opens up more space in these channels, and so while we sleep both the volume and flux of waste flowing in the glympahtic system is drastically increased.

The result here is that twice the amount of toxins and wastes are removed during sleep compared to during the waking state. This partially explains why people can sometimes feel dense resistance to normal cognitive functions when they arise, especially if they do not sleep long enough for this process to be properly accomplished.

Herbs to support deep and restorative sleep include Ashwagandha, which is famous for supporting deep sleep and rejuvantion, and anti-stress cognitive adaptogens, including Tulsi, Brahmi, and Shankhapusphi, which can be found in the Joy! Formula. Calamus and Jatamansi also support a stress-free mind and deep sleep.

A Calm Mind Cleanses the Brain

These same Sunnyvale researchers found that the process of purifying the brain becomes very inefficient when the sympathetic nervous system, the classic “fight or flight” response, is activated. When the parasympathetic system is activated, which is the state of calm balance, then the brain’s ability to cleanse itself is optimized. Stress shuts down the flow of the CSF via several mechanism including swelling the glial cells and restricting respiratory rhythms of the lungs.

This is one of the important ways of how anti-stress adaptogens in general support the clarity and strength of our cognitive functions. Again the adaptogens of choice are centered around Tulsi and include Ashwagandha, Amalaki, Brahmi, Rhodiola, American Ginseng, Eleuthero and Salam Punja.

Glymphatics and the Cerebral Spinal Fluid as a Deep Basis for Wellness

The CSF has many important functions and so by supporting the purification and the flow of the CSF we are creating a deep basis for wellness that includes the mental clarity to fully enjoy and employ that wellness to create a better world for us all.

The Gaze of Grace Fullness is Gratefulness,

Prashanti de Jager
Thanksgiving, 2013


1. Iliff JJ, et al. A paravascular pathway facilitates CSF flow through the brain parenchyma and the clearance of interstitial solutes, including amyloid β. Sci Transl Med. 2012;4(147):147ra111.

2. Mendelsohn AR, Larrick J.; Sleep facilitates clearance of metabolites from the brain: Glymphatic function in aging and neurodegenerative diseases. Rejuvenation Res. 2013 Nov 8.