The health of our brain tissue is critical but often overlooked. Stress is the biggest cause of neurotoxicity and a lifetime of high pressure, injuries, medication and trauma can take its toll on the brain, especially in older age. Conditions such as Alzheimer's are now increasingly in the media spotlight because of their prevalence in our ageing population.
In this article I talk about the importance of the body's glymphatic system in conditions such as Alzheimer's and how craniosacral therapy can help by facilitating drainage and therefore reducing neurotoxin build up in the brain and more importantly by resolving the root cause of underlying structural and emotional imbalances in the body and mind.
Alzheimer's prevalence in the UK is growing
The rate of dementia is set to double within the next thirty years in Europe. In the UK alone, the number of people with Alzheimer’s is forecast to increase to over 1 million by 2021 and over 2 million by 2051, according to The Alzheimer's Society. The graph below shows the expected rise in cases of Dementia in the UK (Source:BBC News, Alzheimer's Society)
If you've been through this with family or loved ones you'll know it's a slow, elusive, messy decline. It's often difficult to get the support you really need and nobody seems to have the answers for your questions. At first, perhaps a decade before the tangible and visible onset, symptoms tend to go unnoticed. The person might just seem a little forgetful, asking questions that they've already asked, or misplacing their things. We often put it down to 'oh they're old now' and shrug our shoulders. It can take a decade of being left untreated, before neurons in the brain start to die and become unable to rejuvenate themselves. Speech, memory and social skills are noticeably impaired by this point. Usually it becomes very obvious that something is wrong. And that's when people go to the doctors to get their diagnosis. The whole issue with diagnosing Alzheimer's is the only conclusive findings are post mortem, otherwise it's just about matching a catalogue of symptoms and their severity to a list of known presentations. It's subjective, confusing for patients and their families and still a frontier area for many medical professionals. Let's be clear on the fact we are not yet clear on much.
There's currently no known cause and no agreed upon treatment which makes it incredibly challenging for patients, their families and practitioners but also for communities and the wider society we will in.
Alzheimer's needs to be discussed within the framework of it being polygenic and multifactorial. There is still research to be done with regards to the epigenetic phenomena and amyloid beta deposits, for example. Any attempts to pin down a single cause in my opinion, are going to be futile at best and dangerous at worse. It is a classic layer cake condition, the result of lifetimes of physical and emotional neglect.
What is Amyloid beta?
The latest scientific research has found that the brains of patients with Alzheimer's have an accumulation of amyloid beta. Amyloid beta is a soluble peptide of 40 or 42 amino acids produced by a large transmembrane protein that appears to be involved in synaptic plasticity and learning.
Amyloid beta is is not just a waste product though, it actually serves to protect the body from infections, repair leaks in the blood-brain barrier, promote recovery from injury, and regulate synaptic function. It has antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties.
However, when it builds up in the brain it forms a plaque layer which prevents neurons from effectively transmitting messages. If neurons no longer have their primary function, they die. Over time, as communication is disrupted immune cells are activated which triggers an inflammatory response in the brain. You can imagine the plaque gradually building up as limescale does in a kettle. At first you can still boil water but if left untreated, function is compromised. This in turn affects vascular health of the brain.
Below are brain scans: of A) Healthy brain B) Alzheimer's brain. Blue shows areas of decreased blood flow due to cell degeneration and decreased brain activity. (Source:BBC)
A - Healthy brain
B- Alzheimers brain
What is the glymphatic system?
The glymphatic system was only discovered 5 years ago when scientists at the University of Virginia proved that lymphatic vessels did indeed exist in the central nervous system. Previously, this was not known to exist and doctors were taught that lymphatic channels did not run through the CNS. Research now shows the lymphatic system extends into dura mater, the thickest meningeal membrane that envelopes the brain and spinal cord. This is what craniosacral therapists work with directly through touch and energetic attunement.
The glymphatic system is an intelligent 'sewage network' deep within the brain that collects and removes toxins and dead cells but more importantly, it also removes amyloid β. It is active at night whilst we sleep - click here to watch a video of the brain being 'washed' at night. When there is high toxicity there is more pressure on the glymphatic system because of the toxins in the brain that it starts to become compromised, unable to keep up with the rate of toxin build up. To read more about how the lymphatic system affects our mental health read my post 'Lymphatic system as our inner sewage system'
How can the glymphatic system become compromised?
The body is a unified system of systems - this is important because we simply cannot talk about the glymphatic system in the brain without also talking about the lymphatic system of the body, the nervous system and our immunology. We cannot talk about the nervous system without talking about the autonomic (fight /flight vs rest and digest - organs-involuntary) and somatic (movement - skeletal and muscular- voluntary) and without accounting for the emotional life of a human being.
So, what impairs the glymphatic system? Everything! Everything that puts overdue stress on the body and floods toxins into the blood persistently, will be a contributing factor. Studies have shown that vascular risk is linked to worsened brain structure and diminished grey matter. The point is, your lifestyle matters. For more on this, read my blog post called 'The Battle Within -How Immunity and Mental Health are an Inseparable Whole'
These factors include:
- strokes, hemorrhages
- unresolved emotional trauma (not being able to let go)
- holding in tissues particularly in spinal muscles
- injury or misalignment in cervical spine
- impaired mobility in sacrum due to injury / surgery / trauma
- poor diet, obesity, diabetes
- heavy prolonged use of medication
- lack of movement
- disrupted sleep cycles
- heavy compression in lumbar spine
Lifestyle factors that affect our ability to move and to rest are key too. Sleep plays a very important role, neurons shrink (about 60 percent) and the channels between them fill with fluid as glial cells flush out intracellular waste. This waste is carried to the liver to be removed from the body. For more on the importance of the liver read my post entitled 'Your Inner Warrior: Why the liver is associated with anger'
Diagram showing how important sleep is to clear toxins in the brain (Source:Science Direct)
The glymphatic system is active at night, draining toxins from the brain. This means insomnia, stress, anxiety, mood imbalances, diet etc that affect the sleep cycle will impact neurotoxicity in the brain
How Alzheimer's is advancing our model of health?
As conditions such as Alzheimer's become more prevalent and also more researched, they are challenging our current conventional medical model that likes to map symptoms to causes in a relatively linear and basic way.
They are challenging us to re-think our relationship with health at all levels, because we will not find a simple cause-effect to latch onto when it comes to our neurological health and well being. In a way, we are facing a new era of having to admit that there are multiple layers and dynamics occurring all the time, and that lifestyle, emotions and buried traumas are having a very real physiological impact on the body.
The generation of suffers of alzheimer's didn't live in an era when mental health was so accommodated and aware of. They didn't have the support services we do now, and the trauma of war, displacement, environmental disasters and much more, lived in their body and minds with nowhere to go. Now, more and more medical professionals are advocating lifestyle and preventative and functional medicine - we know how important diet and exercise is, mindfulness too has become something of a buzzword. 50 years ago this is a shade in the dark. Times are changing, because the physical level of our being simply isn't deep enough to find all the answers to.
How can craniosacral therapy help?
Craniosacral techniques restore and enhance fluid movement within the brain and spinal cord and throughout the whole body. This fluid movement is key to removing neurotoxicity- an Alzheimer's patient will on average have 75% less flow of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain than a healthy person. A whole body approach, addressing underlying grief and emotional holding, fluid flow facilitation, space and stillness are key. For more about what craniosacral therapy is read my blog post entitled '6 Principles of Craniosacral therapy'
Whilst MRI measurements of glymphatic system have exhibited a great potential for non-invasive evaluation of whole brain glymphatic functions although properly modelling this newly discovered system has its challenges.
With Alzheimer's a craniosacral therapist can lightly hold the patient's head, feeling for layers of dura to identify blockages, structural, fluidic and also energetic. They will sense for the way fluids flow (or don't) throughout the whole body and can gently stimulate lymphatic nodes and activate channels. Working directly with cranium makes it possible to attune to the glymphatic system in the brain and start to facilitate the drainage of toxins. By addressing the underlying holding patterns that the body has learned through usually decades of stress, body-mind disconnection, or illness and injury and trauma is also an inherent part of the healing process. In work done by Michael Morgan in the US using Craniosacral therapy, he found in patients with mid to late stage dementia, their memory and awareness returned. You can read more about craniosacral therapy on my blog post entitled 'Why Craniosacral Therapy?'
Whilst I work biodynamically, there are particular touch points and areas that often call for a deeper engagement that i've listed below. The major aspect of treatment is introducing space into the whole body and at a cellular level. CSF drains in subarachnoid cisterns (space) and as the brain shrinks it compresses. Also, the glymphatic system is most active at night when the body is at rest, so there is a big case for facilitating stillness and inducing a sleep like state for the body to activate itself in.
Particular cranial touch points:
- Upper cervical spine
- Sub occipital
- Occipital protuberance
- Third and fourth ventricles - Frontal- attuning to frontal cortex
- Major lymphatic channels and nodes
Whatever areas the body calls us to focus on, it is vital to work with the whole system. This means the liver, the gut and underlying spinal alignment, particularly cervical spine.
CVST is a contradiction (thrombosis) and some people would also say not to treat if there is active cancer / infection in the body / high fever . If subclavian and lymph nodes and channels and liver are not cleared / clearer and are really shut down and heavy it can lead to back flow.
All the factors that have played in to the current condition need to be 'unwound' in therapy sessions. This can take time, but to resolve the root cause this is what is required.
It's important to work with the whole body - it is not just the lymphatic and glymphatic system but also the liver, usually the gut as well, and underlying spinal alignment - as well as emotional trauma
Address underlying emotional traumas, grief and early life losses
A major contributing factor that i've noticed in my work with people whose lymphatic and glymphatic system has come under immense strain and has started to shut down is this sense of not being able to fully process the past and move on. They have not been able to get to the bottom of the barrel as I like to call it, and really remove the heavy sludge that has kept them stuck in a particular mindset. This stagnation or stuckness, and not wanting to process information about their past is reflected in the way their fluids flow and their brain works. This is often because there has been a big and deep loss, of identity or caregiver or partner or both, and that grief has not fully been healed. The holding on is often unconscious, because it is at such a deep level it can sometimes be unbearable to go there emotionally. For more on how craniosacral therapy can resolve underlying trauma read my blog post here called 'Craniosacral therapy and Trauma'
A major factor with people whose lymphatic and glymphatic system is compromised is a deep grief and inability to fully and completely process the past and move on. Stagnation, and not wanting to process information is reflected in the body
Working at the root cause is not 'easy' or 'quick' but it is worthwhile and purposeful. You make the choice about how much your health and wellbeing matters by deciding how deeply you want to heal. Getting to the WHY behind your body's presenting conditions and functioning and re-establishing a new relationship with your body and emotions is the key to healing.
How can you help yourself?
Other ways you can facilitate drainage of neurotoxins in the body yourself are:
- learn to breathe deeply to stimulate your own fluid flow
- pay attention to your posture and spine especially if you are sitting alot
- purify your diet, what you put into your body is not without consequence
- liver and gut health are priority!
- detox from heavy metals - cilantro/garlic/lemon
- clear and detox your liver regularly
- reduce or eliminate alcohol
- keep well hydrated
- move and exercise, if you stagnante so will your fluids
- yoga (particularly inversions but even a simple childs pose)
-heal your traumas. if your body cannot relax easily because it is holding, your fluids will not flow freely
- sweat (infrared saunas are helpful)
- cannabis (no, really -THC has been found to promote the removal of amyloid beta. Cannabidiol exerts a combination of neuroprotective, anti-oxidative and anti-apoptotic effects against b-amyloid peptide toxicity.
- This is a book written by a Craniosacral therapist called Michael Morgan who specialises in working with clients with Alzheimers
If you're interested to know more or book a session to help you or a loved one with Alzheimer's please contact me firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read more about craniosacral therapy on my blog post entitled 'Why Craniosacral Therapy?'
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YSh4oR8xc0 Michael Morgan's CST for Alzheimers