The Lymphatic System; Its Role in Wellness
Your lymphatic system plays a huge role in protecting you from disease.
We will take a look from a general perspective on what exactly the lymphatic system does and why its important.
The Internet is full of questionable information about the body and how to care for its various systems and organs—and the lymphatic system is no exception. A quick Google search brings up articles claiming it needs to be detoxed for optimal body function and better overall health and wellness. Bloggers advise doing things like taking special herbs, dry brushing your skin, ditching your underwire bra, and yes, even hanging upside down on an "inversion table" to flush your system of toxins—and they claim if you neglect your lymph system, you risk eczema, arthritis, chronic sinusitis, chronic pain, cancer and other health issues with varying degrees of severity.
The lymphatic system is a nexus, or series, of vessels similar to that of the circulatory system—the branching vessels move vital bodily fluid throughout the body. The lymphatic system is comprised of tissues and organs — vessels, ducts, lymph nodes, the spleen, the thymus, the adenoids and the tonsils — that help to store, produce and carry white blood cells also known as lymphocytes.
The lymphatic vessels that run throughout the body (with the largest vessel being the thoracic duct, which collects a large portion of the body's lymph); lymph nodes, located in the neck, armpit, groin, and inside the center of the chest and abdomen; the tonsils and adenoids, which are collections of lymphoid tissue similar to lymph nodes; and the spleen and thymus, which are lymphoid organs are an integral part of the immune system, helping the body fight infections. Simply put, it’s our body’s sanitation system.
If the lymph or white blood cells don’t flow freely through the body, the waste and toxins build up, causing a severely weakened immune system, chronic disease and severe health complications. When the lymphatic system becomes compromised (your lymphatic system is not working properly) toxic liquid fails to filtrate properly. The liquid congeals until it becomes thick, creamy and poisonous. This means toxic cells, which could potentially include cancer cells, get stuck in your body because the body doesn’t have a pump to loosen the congealed substance. Symptoms can include brain fog, poor bowel function, bloating, dry skin, acne breakouts, fatigue, water retention, chronic pain, stiffness, swelling, chronic colds, sore throats, weight gain and even cellulite.
How does the lymphatic system work?
When your heart pumps blood to the capillaries, the lymph fluid—the watery, nutritious fluid in the blood—needs to go outside the blood vessels into the soft tissues of the body to “feed” them. Once that fluid is there, it can’t return through the veins to the heart; it’s up to the lymph system to move the fluid back through the body. The lymph fluid filters through lymph nodes. If the lymph nodes detect foreign bodies like bacteria and viruses in the lymph fluid, the nodes trap the intruders and produce more infection-fighting white blood cells to destroy them. From there, the lymph travels through the thoracic duct in the chest or the right lymphatic duct, and then to an area on the side of the neck near the jugular vein, where it joins the blood system again. Some lymph also transports fats from your GI tract to your bloodstream. In other words, the lymph system is a powerful tool for nourishing our tissues and helping our immune system by cleaning up bacteria and pathogens.
When functioning optimally, the lymphatic system defends our bodies against infection and helps maintain homeostasis, which is the body’s way of managing a continual internal environment when dealing with changes. To sustain homeostasis, the body has two types of immunity—innate immunity and adaptive immunity. Innate immunity consists of alert immune cells ready to fight microbes, and the body’s adaptive immunity gets called into action when the innate immune system is overwhelmed. When the adaptive immune system encounters a pathogen, it remembers it to prevent future encounters of the same bacteria and viruses from becoming problematic. When functioning properly lymph vessels and lymph nodes are the transport system for extracellular fluid that doesn’t return with the blood through the venous circulation. Extracellular fluid is the fluid that flows between cells in the interstitial spaces of bodily tissues—it contains white blood cells (WBCs), lipids (fats), proteins, salts, and water. The interstitial spaces are the narrow areas between tissues and organs.
The lymphatic system is often mentioned, but its importance is not always understood. This unique system is absolutely pivotal for optimal health. Additionally, if your diet contains a lot of processed foods, sugar, and chemicals, this adds more for the system to detoxify and can make you nutrient deficient. However, remember if you are not leading an active lifestyle, it is harder for the lymph to move. If the lymph becomes overloaded it can lead to more stagnation and chronic disease.
When treating the lymphatic system, it is important to address it from many different angles. Diet and exercise are the two major keys to proper drainage and a healthy lymphatic system. Consuming an organic diet whenever possible and incorporating lots of anti-inflammatory leafy greens along with antioxidant rich foods (like berries) can be very helpful. When choosing your diet, make sure to incorporate omega-rich food like wild salmon, free radical scavengers, fiber rich foods like flax and chia, as well as cherries and colorful foods such as beets and pomegranates. Traditional Family Medical Center can offer many dietary suggestions to help you on your way.
Exercise plays a vital role in lymphatic health.
Movement acts as a natural pump to help stimulate the lymphatic system. The system depends largely on large muscle activity in the body for its circulation. Therefore, stagnation from sitting all day can become a major problem. People who sit at their computers without taking breaks develop a sluggish lymph system because they do not move. The good news is any exercise helps – move around for one to two minutes every 15 – 20 minutes. Small strides such as knee bends, going for a walk during lunch, and stretching throughout the day can help you develop a regular exercise routine. You can also apply gentle exercises like walking, yoga, Pilates, and swimming are great for getting your lymph moving. Overall, exercise is pivotal for moving lymph stagnation.
What can I do to help with my “sluggish” lymphatic system?
1 | Lymphatic drainage massage and lymphatic facials —
The power of a simple lymph massage must not be overlooked. They do for the entire body what facials do for the face. Manual lymph drainage uses gentle, rhythmic strokes, creating a wave-like sensation in the body that follows the paths towards the lymph nodes where toxins are then filtered out. The specific pumping strokes circulate immune cells through the body and can reduce inflammation. A simple lymphatic self-massage sequence a few nights a week can help reduce breast tenderness and improve digestion.
2 | Movement —
The lymph system depends on muscle movement to pump and decongest stagnant lymph fluid, acting as a natural lymph flush. In other words: exercise is key to lymphatic health. Yoga is a great way to get your movement on because it utilizes your entire muscle network, which pumps lymph through the one-way vessels.
3 | Use clean skincare, and reduce environmental and emotional toxins —
A large percentage of what you put on your body gets absorbed into the lymph system, and chemicals in household products and perfumes should be avoided whenever possible. You can lighten the lymphatic processing load by choosing non-toxic, clean beauty products for your body and home.
4 | Make healthy food choices —
Gut health = lymph health! Eating an anti-inflammatory diet rich in antioxidants and vegetables is optimal. Reduce salt and alcohol intake, find a healthy food plan you can maintain, avoid chemicals in diet foods, and consult with an herbalist about herbs and probiotics to boost your gut health and immunity.
5 | Hydrate —
WATER WATER WATER. You can increase fluid flow and flush out toxins and pathogens by bathing fluids in antioxidants. Additionally, drinking plenty of water with lemon and electrolytes throughout the day will help circulate and nourish your lymph cells. Simples Tonics in Los Angeles has a gently brewed tea that’s specifically designed to support immunity and is super hydrating.
7 | Dry brushing —
Dry brushing is an excellent way to remove dead cells from the surface of your skin so your lymph system doesn’t have to process the extra cellular waste. Brush lightly and towards your heart, but if you have radiated skin or open wounds, avoid the area completely until you’ve consulted with a trained lymphatic practitioner.
8 | Herbs for Lymph Stimulation –
Herbs that can help stimulate the lymphatic system include: Chickweed (yes like the weed you have in your yard), bayberry, black walnut, cleavers (also often found in your yard), Echinacea, Fennel and many others. Many of these can be found as an herbal supplement in your health food store or teas in your local Remedy Room.
There are many tools that can help to clean up the complicated lymph system. With our partners at Salt On The Rocks Wellness Spa & Remedies
we use a combination of lymphatic drainage massage and facials, vibration therapy, and a machine designed specifically for lymphatic drainage called the Vacuu Lift. Our detox services help your body to drain harmful toxins, assist with inch-loss, and to contour the body using its own natural drainage processes. Clients immediately see drastic results in the shape of their body and the overall condition of health. To learn more about these or our other new wellness spa services contact 256.210-3342.
The information in this article is intended for educational use only; it’s not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with questions you have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.