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Brain Grease

Updated: Jan 29, 2020


For anyone who knows me personally, you know that I can’t wait for cycling season to come around each year so that I can hop on my bike and get moving. And for those of you who know me really well, you also know that I have a history of this bike falling apart on me. I have had my fair share of flat tires, broken chains, and loose breaks – all of which typically happen when I am out in the middle of nowhere. I am now committed to performing regular maintenance checks on my bike, consisting of tire and lubrication checks and cleaning out dirt build up. This helps ensure I can enjoy a nice, smooth ride.



Similar to a smooth-running bike, your body is made up of an intricate network of different moving parts and hydraulic systems that, together, act as lubrication and function to deliver nutrients, remove waste, and enable proper communication between different cells and tissues. In your nervous system, these functions are carried out by the flow of your cerebral spinal fluid (CSF). Your CSF is a nutrient rich clear fluid that is produced by deep structures in your brain and bathes your entire brain and spinal cord. You can think of CSF as brain grease as it acts a little like motor fuel for your brain and plays a vital role in the smooth functioning of your brain cells. When you have too much CSF (hydrocephalus), too little CSF (CSF leak), or a disruption in the flow of your CSF, changes in how your brain, and thus how your body, functions can occur.


Your Brain is not a Pump


Proper flow of your CSF around your brain and spinal cord is crucial for maintaining the environment in which your brain cells live. These cells are very sensitive to any sort of biochemical or physical change. It is hypothesized that prolonged stagnation in CSF flow may begin to alter the function of your brain cells. One complicating factor to achieving this proper flow is that your brain is not a pump. Unlike muscles, which can contract and relax and push fluids along, your brain cannot produce the contractile forces it requires to pump CSF. It must rely on other body systems to do the job for it (anyone ever tell you everything is all connected in your body?). Of particular importance is your cardiovascular system (heart beats) and respiratory system (breathing).


The Systemic Duo


Studies have demonstrated that with every heart beat and every breath you take, a pulsing motion of the CSF is produced. When your heart contracts, there is a pulse wave that pushes your CSF from your head down around your spinal cord. Conversely, when you inhale, changes in pressure cause your CSF to move from your spinal cord in an upward direction towards your head. Through the complementary actions of your cardiac and respiratory systems, CSF is pumped around your brain and spinal cord, acting as a lubricant, bringing nutrients to the cells and removing waste.



A Third Player

In addition, postural alignment may also play a role in the smooth flow of CSF. Boney joints, muscles and connective tissue all surround your brain and spinal cord and work to protect your sensitive nervous system. Anatomical asymmetries or trauma from accidents and injuries can create mechanical impedence the flow of your CSF, which over time may contribute to other illnesses or dysfunction.


Similar to a bike, your body benefits from regular maintenance check-ups to ensure all pieces are working together to optimize your function. Body movement, such as yoga and breathing exercises, and body work, such as craniosacral therapy, osteopathic therapy, and chiropractic therapy can be beneficial in restoring and maintaining this proper fluid dynamic and will be discussed in more detail in my next blog.




References


Whedon J., Glassey D. Cerebrospinal Fluid Stasis and Its Clinical Significance.Altern Ther Health Med. 2009 ; 15(3): 54–60.


Xu Q., et al.Head Movement, an Important Contributor to Human Cerebrospinal Fluid Circulation.Scientific Reports | 6:31787 | DOI: 10.1038/srep31787

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