Scientists have discovered that a good night’s sleep, increasing heart rate through exercise and 25ml of wine per day can help stimulate the brain’s own cleaning system.
Previous studies have shown that Alzheimer’s disease is associated with the toxic build-up of proteins in the brain, which causes the neuron cells to die.
Studies are now focusing on the link between the brain’s self-cleaning, known as the glymphatic system, and the formation of proteins that leads to the cell death linked to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr Ian Harrison, from University College London, told the Cheltenham Science Festival that research was now focusing on finding ways of preventing the glymphatic system from failing.
He said studies on the cerebrospinal fluid of mice had shown that a combination of sleep, exercise and alcohol stimulated the brain’s self-cleaning.
“A paper came out a couple of years ago where the researchers studied the brains of mice when they are asleep and mice when they are awake,” he said.
“What the researchers did was inject a dye into the cerebrospinal fluid and see where it goes.
“In the mice that were awake, that cerebrospinal fluid starts to go into the brain but only resides on the surface and doesn’t go deep into the brain tissue.
“In the same animal when it fell asleep, that cerebrospinal fluid goes far deeper into the brain.
“When they quantified this in the animals that were asleep, this glymphatic system was far more active - 60% more active than in the animals that were awake.
“This is good evidence that the glymphatic system is active during sleep. If that is anything to go by we should all be sleeping a lot more than we are.
“That kind of makes sense because, if you think about it, when your brain is active during the day these brain cells are going to be actively producing all these waste products, so it is only at night when our brain switches off that it has the chance to switch on our glymphatic system and get rid of all these waste products.”
Dr Harrison said there were comparable results with exercise.
“In the sedentary animals, the cerebrospinal fluid penetrates the brain but when the animals have voluntary access to exercise there is massive increase in the amount of lymphatic function,” he said.
“The research has postulated that it is the increase in heart rate that drives this cerebrospinal fluid into the brain.”
They also treated mice with low-level, intermediate and high-level doses of alcohol for 30 days and looked at the impact upon the glymphatic function.
He said that with low-level doses of alcohol - the equivalent of a third of a unit a day - there was a 30% to 40% increase in the brain’s self-cleaning but a corresponding reduction following exposure to both intermediate and high-levels of alcohol.
“So 25ml of wine could actually increase your glymphatic system, according to this mouse study,” Dr Harrison said.
“But the intermediate dose of one unit of alcohol - a small dose of wine - suggests that if the mouse data can be extrapolated the lymphatic system can be lowered.
“So, sleep more, exercise and, as the data suggests, you can have a drink, but only a third of a unit of wine per day.”