The Lymphatic system is our second circulatory system made up of an interconnected network of lymph vessels, lymph nodes, and organs, such as the spleen and thymus, that span throughout the body. Most research and attention from the medical community focuses on our cardiovascular system. Of course, this is important and necessary, but by ignoring the lymphatic system, we are missing opportunities to support drainage, detoxification, the immune system, the gut, and overall health.
Overview of the Lymphatic System
Intricate networks of lymphatic vessels line tissues and organs in the body. In these areas, fluid seeps out of the blood capillaries into the space between cells. The small lymphatic vessels, also known as lymphatic capillaries, absorb any excess fluid, called lymph, to prevent fluid retention and swelling. The lymph capillaries are also able to absorb particles, such as toxins, cellular waste, and pathogenic microbes. Once absorbed into the lymphatic capillaries, the lymph fluid flows towards the heart, passing through lymph nodes on its way. The lymph nodes filter and cleanse the fluid. These filtration stations are also an important part of the immune system. Lymph nodes contain macrophages to kill bacteria in addition to T and B lymphocytes, which are immune cells programmed to find and kill off specific invading pathogens via their antigens. B cells also secrete antibodies that target specific bacteria and viruses. The filtered lymph fluid containing antibodies eventually drains into the blood via the subclavian veins, located near the collarbones. The antibodies will then be delivered to various organs via the bloodstream in order to fight off infection. The toxins that were filtered out of the lymph leave the body via sweat, stool, and urine.
Beyond the important immune and detoxification functions of the lymphatic system, the lymphatic system is also beneficial regarding digestion. Most nutrients, like sugars, amino acids from proteins, and almost all vitamins and minerals are absorbed from the gut directly into the bloodstream. However, dietary fat takes a different route, entering lymph lacteals located just on the other side of the gut lining. The digested fat molecules from food are coated in a substance that allows for them to be carried in water-based liquids. The lymph system absorbs them and carries these fats from the gut to the bloodstream where they are then distributed around the body to make hormones, cell membranes, and energy.
Inflammation in the gut, and specifically the gut lining, can impair the digestive process and make it difficult to absorb fat. For example, patients with Chron’s/Colitis, IBS, Celiac Disease, or any degree of leaky gut may find that a high-fat diet may be difficult to tolerate. This can be improved by focusing on healing the gut with probiotics and supporting the lymphatic system.
Signs you may have a backup in your lymphatic system:
- Swelling, puffiness
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Frequent colds or sicknesses
- Breast swelling with the menstrual cycle
- Skin issues, like acne or eczema
- Trouble digesting fats
- Excess mucus production
- Inability to lose weight
- Sluggish bowel movements
How to support your lymphatic system
1) Dry brushing
Dry Brushing is an Ayurvedic ritual that uses a coarse brush to manually stimulate lymphatic flow throughout the body. Starting with dry skin, brush in short, firm, counterclockwise strokes towards the heart. It should act as a gentle skin exfoliant, without irritating the skin. Many notice a boost in energy after dry brushing. It also may have a beneficial effect on cellulite. Dry brushing can be done 1-2 times per day.
Some herbal products can help to support lymph flow, drainage, and fluid circulation. For example, burdock root is often used to help support lymph and blood cleansing.
The following products both contain burdock and would be a great addition to your dry brushing routine!
Scrophulara Comp by Natural Creations
Lymph Activ By Cell Core
Hydration is key for optimal fluid balance. The more hydrated the body is, the less likely that fluid will be stuck between cells, thus decreasing the chance of swelling. To ensure that water gets to the cell, and that your minerals are replenished after sweating, adding some electrolytes or liquid minerals may prove helpful. For example, add some lemon juice and a pinch of sea salt to your water, or check out these other electrolyte options:
Superieur Electrolytes –
Deep Sea Minerals by Whole Earth and Sea
Deep, diaphragmatic breaths put pressure on the thoracic cavity that forces the lymph upward towards the junction of lymph and blood vessels. Take time for your yoga breathing, downward dogs, and be mindful that when taking deep breaths, that your ribs, not belly, are expanding.
Think your lymph may be sluggish? Feel free to contact me with any questions at Tamara@naturalcompounder.com or 781-893-3970 x149
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