Written by Emma Lane
The importance of lymphatics
Many people are not aware of the importance of the lymphatics system, actually many are unaware they have a lymphatic system and that if it is not taken care of may cause a myriad of symptoms. Frequently these symptoms may not be recognised as an ongoing dysfunction in the lymphatic system even by practitioners.
Lymph dysfunction leading to congestion can affect the entire body.
Symptoms of lymph congestion may include
Form and function
- Muscle and joint pain
- Holding onto water
- Breast swelling during your cycle
- Itchy and dry skin
- Brain fog
- Weight gain
- Swollen glands
- Cold hands and feet
- Chronic sinusitis, colds, sore throats or ear issues
- Food or chemical sensitivities
- Toxic loading
- Frequent viruses or infections
- Skin problems
While the lymphatic system is similar to the circulatory system, unlike blood, lymph does not have a pump, therefore it is reliant on the contraction and relaxation of muscles to move the lymph around.
The lymphatic system acts as the drainage route for the body’s cells, carrying away excess fluid, waste materials, immune cells and proteins from the tissues. The fluid that leaves the cells and enters the lymphatic system is called lymph and the system itself is made up of a network of lymph vessels and glands (nodes). We have over 450 lymph nodes in our body. 60-70 of them are found in our head and neck, and around 100 in our mid body with around 250 in our abdomen and pelvis. The lymph nodes are an important part of the lymph system. They are found in a variety of areas of your body, including the throat, groin, armpits, chest and abdomen. The lymph nodes play a critical role in fighting infection, when recovering from illness and healing wounds, because the immune cells are created within them. They can recognize harmful organisms and trigger the creation of infection-fighting white blood cells called lymphocytes.
The lymphatic system is a critical part of the immune system that is essential for protecting you from inflammation and illness. The main role of the lymphatic system is to keep your fluid levels in balance while protecting you from infections, bacteria, viruses and other potential threats.
The lymphatic system plays a key role in keeping the body fluids in balance, therefore if the lymph system is well-functioning, you are unlikely to experience abnormal water retention or painful swelling. The lymphatic system takes care of any fluid build-up or swelling due to injury or health issues.
Movement is vital
The movements we make during everyday activities involves the contraction and expansion of various muscles in the body. These muscle movements in turn serve to massage and squeeze the tissues around them, forcing excess fluid out of the tissues and into the lymph vessels. The vessels are tiny initially, however they become larger and these slightly larger vessels split into segments that are separated by one way valves. As one section contracts, the lymph is pumped through the open valve into the next section with the valve preventing reverse flow so the lymph always moves in one direction. Valves function as ‘stops’ to ensure fluids are carried to the right place and do not move in the wrong direction. Besides your lymph vessels and nodes, your lymph system includes several organs such as your tonsils, spleen, thymus and adenoids.
Problems can occur when the lymph system becomes congested. Lymph vessels can get blocked or close down at some point along the drainage route. Valves can fail allowing the lymph to flow backwards towards the tissues and the ability of the lymph vessels to contract can fail in which case lymph is not pumped towards the glands. Unfortunately today with the way we chose to live, lymphatic congestion is a common problem and as mentioned before it is frequently overlooked as a cause for many symptoms that you may be experiencing.
How does it get congested?
There are many reasons why the lymphatic system can run into problems. One obvious reason is lack of movement. Regular exercise has many health benefits, including clearing lymph congestion. It is one of the easiest and most effective ways to support healthy lymph flow. It doesn’t need to be a specific exercise format such as going to the gym or running you just need to move regularly throughout the day. Going for a walk, rebounding, housework, walking up and down the stairs a few times can all benefit your lymphatic system and improve your immune function.
In general regular movements and specific exercise can increase the oxygen supply to your tissues, stimulate blood circulation, help the transportation of oxygen to your tissues and cells and reduce toxic build up.
Chronic stress is a main cause of many chronic health problems. It can also lead to lymph congestion. When you are under stress, your body creates stress-fighting hormones which result in free radical waste products that can lead to a variety of health problems, therefore managing your stress levels would be very helpful.
Lymph is about 95 percent water, so it will not be a surprise that optimal hydration is very important for the proper health and functioning of the lymphatic system. Without enough water, the lymphatic fluid cannot flow properly, which can lead to lymph congestion and dehydration. Drinking the appropriate amount of clean water and other supportive fluids such as lemon or lime water, coconut water and herb teas will support your detox ability and greatly improve your lymphatic system function. For a general guideline take your weight in kg and times it by 0.033 to establish how much fluid you should be consuming daily to support all systems in the body.
Chronic illness may lead to lymph congestion throughout the body. When the body is fighting chronic inflammation and microbes, the body is creating more white blood cells to fight them. However, they may end up filling up the lymph nodes, backing up the system, and creating swelling.
Another causative factor for lymph congestion is digestive imbalances. Digestive imbalances may irritate the intestinal villi resulting in a common reason for lymph congestion. A large amount of the lymphatic system surrounds the gut with the Gut Associated Lymphatic Tissues (GALT). Hence your gut health and the health of the intestinal villi is essential for lymph flow, detoxification and immunity.
Nutrient deficiencies can contribute to lymph congestion also. Particularly, magnesium, iodine, vitamin C and minerals are important to manage the harmful effects of environmental toxins and to support your lymph system in protecting your body.
How to create better support and function for your lymphatic system
As we have already discussed it is essential that you move regularly throughout the day, that you prioritise managing your stress levels and maintain proper hydration on a daily basis.
Simple practices to put in place for improved lymph clearance
There are many other simple and easy tools that you can also utilise. For example deep breathing, as your upper chest is very important for drainage of toxins. Deep breathing can promote intrathoracic pressure to improve the oxygen supply to your cells. The rib cage is a major lymphatic pump that is necessary for healthy lymphatic flow. Healthy posture and exercise also facilitate the supply of oxygen to the cells and to support lymphatic flow. To reap the benefits of deep diaphragmatic breathing, breathe deeply through your nose, hold it in for the count of four then exhale for the count of seven through the mouth. Gradually increase how long you hold and release your breath until you can hold for up to 20 counts and exhale for around10 counts. Repeat this two to three times per session. Aim to practice three times a day.
Moor mud baths are considered by practitioners in the know to be one of the best approaches for getting multiple benefits in one hit. Moor mud baths are recognised as a great way to relax while eliminating toxins from the body, cleansing the skin, stimulating the lymphatic system and boosting the immune system. Moor Mud Sachets
Epsom salt /magnesium flake baths Magnesium Flakes
may also be beneficial for detoxification, circulation and lymph flow but at a much lower therapeutic effect in comparison to a moor mud bath.
Dry skin brushing is an Ayurvedic technique that can boost circulation, lymphatic flow and detoxification. This technique helps to remove dead skin cells and toxic waste, improve immunity, prevent cellulite, and promote lymphatic cleansing.
To practice dry skin brushing, purchase a brush with soft, natural bristles. Avoid synthetic/ hard bristles. Begin with light, gentle brushing strokes always moving toward your heart to improve lymphatic flow back through the venous system toward your heart. Utilise dry skin brushing before your shower or bath which will help to wash away dead skin cells and further improve lymphatic flow.
Exercising is an effective way for sweating and cleansing, however you may not have the ability to exercise to an appropriate level to sweat regularly therefore infrared sauna therapy is something you can also benefit from to improve your lymphatic function and which also has numerous benefits for your overall health.
Infrared saunas are a non-invasive form of light therapy. The light and heat has a deep benficial affect at a cellular level to release toxins. The toxins are moved via your lymphatic system to your circulatory system, therefore the infrared saunas encourage removal of toxins that can have a very negative effect on you as a whole. Infrared saunas are much more effective than traditional and steam saunas.
An excellent form of movement that is very beneficial for stimulating your lymphatic system is rebounding. Rebounding is a low impact exercise that involves jumping on a mini trampoline. It promotes the flow of lymph through the body and can increase the drainage of fluids and the removal of toxins.
Effective drainage is essential and should be a part of any health program. It plays a role in recovery from both acute and chronic conditions. Lack of adequate drainage may itself be the reason for many symptoms as the body struggles to eliminate free-flowing endo/exotoxins. Failing to eliminate these toxins from the body and from the extracellular matrix can lead to systemic toxicity, which ultimately results in damage to internal tissues and lymphatic congestion and can also lead to a compromised immune system.
The removal of toxins is not completed unless the release of free-flowing toxins are actually eliminated from the body. The process of moving a free-flowing toxin through to its final elimination is called drainage. Several important factors must work together to promote effective drainage. Improving the efficiency of elimination organs and enhancing circulation/ blood/ lymphatic flow are key components of maximizing drainage.
Drainage can be stimulated through the use of certain homeopathic remedies (PCI detox kit), and through the improvement of the biochemical terrain of the body using targeted nutritional cofactors (Ultimate Body Detox kit) Ultimate Body Detox
Utilising hot / cold showers is also helpful in stimulating the lymphatic system and gives other health benefits. Cold showers and alternating hot cold temperature showers have been shown to improve chronic pain, energy, boost the brain function and improve your mood.
Alternating hot cold temp shower can have a powerful effect on the circulation and lymphatic flow. The sudden exposure to cold constricts the blood supply, while the exposure to heat dilates and expands the blood vessels allowing the body to drive blood into areas that need it. Alternating hot and cold temperature’s while showering improves muscle contraction through the body that allows whole-body contractions to squeeze lymphatic flow through your system and boost lymphatic cleansing. Hot-cold alternating showers can improve inflammation and boost your overall health.
All you need to do is finish your shower with 30 seconds of cold water then 30 seconds of hot water repeating this sequence three times and finishing on cold. Gradually build into hotter and colder temperatures over time.
My last suggestion is working with a qualified lymphatic drainage practitioner, Vodder trained practitioners in my opinion are the best. Lymphatic drainage massage is a specific form of specialised massage therapy designed to help the cells release toxic build-up, reduce lymph congestion, and help flush excess fluid within the tissues. It is very gentle in application and specialised techniques are used. It is not like a normal massage.
Other forms of massage therapy, such as deep tissues massage, shiatsu massage, or Swedish massage can help to activate your lymph system, flush excess fluid, reduce pain in swollen lymph nodes, and reduce muscle and joint pains. Massage in general has been shown to improve immune function and relieve symptoms of chronic pain and fatigue. Massage can increase the flow of the lymph fluid and blood flow to the muscles while reducing fluid build-up.
Hopefully you will now have a better understanding of the importance of lymphatics. I did not have the time to get into the Glymphatic system so you may want to do some research on that.
As you can see it is not difficult to keep the lymph moving around the body. All you need to do is to incorporate a few simple, natural lifestyle strategies such as deep breathing, maintaining optimal hydration, regular movement, dry skin brushing, whilst utilising drainage remedies and supports such as moor mud baths to assist your lymph system. Most of the practices given above can be very pleasant activities to engage in on a regular daily basis.
Emma lane is founder and Director of the Lane Wellness Group – she has more than 30 years’ experience in the industry, working as a Naturopath, Naturopathic Nutritionist and Functional Medicine Practitioner. Emma has two busy practices in the north of England and central London and is also the founder and director of Integrative Health Education and PCI Europe. Emma regularly lectures around the world and is passionate about sharing her knowledge with other practitioners. She works closely with Dr Omar Amin, a world-renowned professor of parasitology. Emma is qualified to practise across a wide range of natural health sciences including Naturopathy, FSM, Bio resonance therapy, Naturopathic Nutrition, metabolic Typing, Functional Medicine, Neuro-linguistic Programming, Timeline Therapy, Hypnotherapy, Auricular Acupuncture, Functional Corrective Exercise, Sound Therapy and Energy Healing. For further information please contact Emma on Tel: 01924 242 851 and via Energize Mind Body
, Integrative Health Education
, Lane Wellness Group
or Holistics Online
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