Updated: Aug 31, 2022
Your liver and kidneys might normally get all the credit when it comes to detoxing, but did you know that your body also has another extensive system in place that helps detoxify your brain? If you’re wondering what a “brain detox” is all about — or “how can I clean my brain?” — you’ve come to the right shop!
Below we will cover what exactly a brain detox consists of, whether or not you really require one to maintain normal brain activity and tips for boosting your mental health.
What Is the Glymphatic System?
The glymphatic system refers to the system of blood vessels in the body that removes waste products from the brain and central nervous system. The glymphatic system is most active while you sleep, which is why getting a good night’s rest is crucial for feeling mentally keen.
How does the Glymphatic System work?
This system depends on cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which enters spaces next to smaller blood vessels that lead to the brain.
CSF networks with interstitial fluid, the fluid surrounding the brain cells. This aids in to form a glymphatic vasculature that “detoxifies” the brain by collecting waste, such as proteins (including the protein called beta-amyloid, which may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease), metabolites, toxins, etc. This system then carries this waste away from your brain and through your body so it can be eliminated.
While we’re sleeping, there is increased glymphatic activity due to greater availability of space between interstitial and cerebrospinal fluid. Did you know exercise can also boost glymphatic activity?
When the glymphatic system becomes disrupted, it’s thought that this can contribute to some diseases of the brain, as well as symptoms like brain fog and poor memory. A well-functioning system in the nervous system is critical for prevention of neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson's, Huntington’s disease and ALS.
Many experts believe that your brain’s glymphatic system may need to work harder if you’re exposed to many toxins, especially over a long period of time. Toxin exposure that affects the brain can be caused by:
Eating a highly processed diet with inflammatory foods
High intake of alcohol
Drug and tobacco use
Use of some medications
Exposure to foreign substances, such as heavy metals and environmental pollutants
While not a toxin, sleep deprivation is also linked to impaired mental capabilities.
Aging also disrupts glymphatic function, such as by decreasing CSF and blood flow to the brain/pulsing of the arteries, although healthy habits can help slow this down.
What Is a Brain Cleanse?
A brain cleanse is intended to help protect against neurodegenerative diseases and decrease symptoms related to poor brain function. Why do people try brain cleanses? Usually, to help manage symptoms such as:
Brain injury and stroke
This type of cleanse usually involves steps such as prioritizing sleep, taking certain supplements that may help support brain function, eating an anti-inflammatory diet, exercising and fasting.
While all of these habits can be beneficial for overall mental and physical well-being, most experts don’t believe that a strict “brain cleanse” is actually necessary to support healthy cognitive function. Instead, consistently leading a healthy lifestyle seems to offer the most benefits and protection against mental/cognitive health issues.
How to Detox Your Brain?
How do you do a mental detox? Here’s how to detox your brain according to research regarding mental health:
1. Get Enough Sleep
Getting enough sleep each night is one of the best ways to support your brain’s natural detoxification processes.
Most adults need about seven to nine hours of sleep per night to operate at their best. Here are tips for helping you get the best sleep you can:
Go to bed and wake up at approximately the same time every day, including on the weekends and your days off. This helps regulate your circadian rhythm, which controls your energy, motivation, appetite and more.
Sleep in a very dark and cool room.
Try white noise or a fan to help drown out disturbances.
Read something relaxing to calm your mind. If racing thoughts keep you up, try writing before bed.
Establish a bedtime routine that is calming, such as by taking a warm shower, stretching, lighting candles, dim lights, etc.
Exercise during the day to help you sleep better at night. An hour before bedtime, try gentler activities that won’t keep you awake, such as light yoga, meditation and deep breathing exercises, etc.
Spend time outdoors each day in the sun and in nature, which is beneficial for boosting vitamin D levels, relaxation and controlling stress.
Consider trying relaxing herbs like valerian root, kava and ashwagandha or try our herbal teas Unwind Tea or Vivid Dreams for those restless nights.
2. Eat an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Due to the gut-brain connection your diet plays a vital role in managing your cognitive health. Gut-related and intestinal problems, such as leaky gut syndrome can increase inflammation, which can alter how well your organs work, including the brain, and can contribute to issues such as depression, fatigue, anxiety and lack of concentration/focus.
Your brain needs a steady supply of nutrients — including protein, healthy fats, antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and essential vitamins and minerals — for you to feel your best. Highlight on these “brain food” in your diet in order to fight free radical damage and boost your nutrient intake:
Vegetables, such as leafy greens, beets, broccoli, bell peppers, carrots, etc. (fruits and veggies are both high in bioflavonoids, carotenes, polyphenols, thiols, anthocyanins, and other vitamins and minerals that fight free radical damage)
Fresh fruits, including berries, oranges, etc.
Herbs and spices, such as ginger, turmeric, garlic, rosemary, etc.
Nuts and seeds
Legumes and beans
Whole grains and sweet potatoes
Wild-caught fish, including salmon, sardines and mackerel
Foods high in copper, vitamin C and manganese, which are all important for their roles in detoxification, such as citrus fruits, berries, leafy greens, mushrooms, organ meats, spirulina and algae
Healthy fats, such as avocados, olive oil, coconut oil and grass-fed butter
Irish Moss (Chondrus Crispus)
You also want to drink plenty of water (spring or coconut water) throughout the day to stay hydrated, which is important for supporting your lymphatic system (helps escort toxins from the body, reduces puffiness and fluid retention) and keeping your energy up, in addition to green tea, herbal tea and coffee.
In addition to eating a diet that includes lots of foods with anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic effects, you want to avoid foods that can aggravate inflammation, autoimmune reactions and oxidative stress. These include processed meats, foods with processed vegetable oils and trans fats, added sugar (never use white sugar), and highly processed foods in general.
You may want to consider trying an elimination diet if you deal with digestive issues, brain fog or acid reflux/heartburn. If this sounds like you, it may help to avoid these aggravating foods:
Large and heavy meals, especially close to bedtime
Spicy and acidic foods, such as citrus fruits, vinegars and peppers
Caffeine from coffee and chocolate
There’s some evidence suggesting that exercise may increase glymphatic activity and also improve brain plasticity, which plays a role in learning and memory. Additionally, exercise can help you cope with stress, sleep more deeply and have more energy in general.
Most adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week, which can be divided into shorter sessions. High intensity exercise (HIIT workouts) can also benefit brain health in various ways, such as by increasing blood flow to the brain, supporting mitochondrial function and potentially staving off dementia.
Ideally try mixing up your workouts to keep things interesting and to challenge your body, such as by running, lighting weights, walking, hiking, cycling, doing tai chi or yoga, dancing, etc.
4. Intermittent Fast
Fasting seems to help protect the brain against neurological diseases by influencing certain proteins involved in brain aging and by decreasing oxidative stress/inflammation.
According to BrainFacts.org:
In lab animals, fasting, as well as exercise, stimulates the production of a protein in nerve cells called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF. This protein plays critical roles in learning, memory, and the generation of new nerve cells in the hippocampus.
Its effect on mitochondrial activity also positively affects the brain. Some research, mostly from animal studies, has demonstrated that fasting may help boost working memory, alertness, learning, and can also improve physical performance and energy.
5. Minimize Toxin Exposure
While avoiding all chemicals and toxins may not realistic, try to reduce exposure as much as you can, such as by avoiding smoking, drug use and unnecessary medications.
Cut back on exposure to contaminants by choosing natural/organic beauty and household products and buying organic food whenever possible. These limits the number of pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals you ingest.
If you suspect you’ve been exposed to heavy metal (such as due to eating farmed fish, contaminated water, dental fillings and household products), consider visiting a naturopathic doctor for testing and possible chelation therapy. Your doctor may also recommend detoxifying treatments, such as infrared sauna sessions.
6. Consider Supplements
You can help support your body’s natural ability to cleanse by taking certain nootropics, adaptogenic herbs and supplements that nourish the liver, kidneys, gut and brain.
Consider some of the following, based on your goals and current health:
Milk thistle for liver support
Dandelion for kidney support
Medicinal mushrooms (lion's mane, chaga, reishi, turkey tail, cordyceps, amadou) for general immune support
L-glutamine for gastrointestinal support
Irish Moss (Chondrus Crispus), Bladderwrack, and Burdock Root for full body trace elements and mineral support
Green tea extract for a boost in energy and antioxidant effects
Probiotics for gut support and maintaining a healthy microbiome