A complicated network of fluid-filled nodes, vessels, glands and organs, the lymphatic system touches almost every part of the body. Although we may not feel or see it, it’s one of the most important (and often forgotten) systems of the human body, and it’s important to give the lymph the attention it deserves. We asked The Chalkboard Magazine to share some background on this complex system, and to tell us how to keep it working well.
What the lymphatic system does
The lymphatic system’s main function is to cleanse toxins and protect against harmful invaders. It works by carrying our body’s waste away from the tissues and into the bloodstream. It tackles toxins that are introduced to the body from both external means (food, air, personal care products, water) as well as internal ones (damaged proteins and cellular/metabolic waste), making it a key detoxification pathway. Once the toxins enter the bloodstream, they are purified through the largest lymphatic tissue in the body, the spleen. The spleen is our main immune defense, fighting infection, holding a reserve of red and white blood cells and destroying worn-out red blood cells in the body.
Through lymph nodes and the lymphatic network, your immune cells can travel around fighting pathogens, such as bacteria and mold, and preventing disease and infection. This is why keeping your lymphatic system functioning properly is directly related to the overall health of the body: a stronger lymphatic system means a more resilient and reactive immune response and defense.
What happens when it’s sluggish
The problem is that, unlike blood, lymph does not have a pump. It relies on the relaxation and the contraction of the muscles and joints to move it. Your lymphatic system can easily become stagnant, especially when it becomes overwhelmed with toxic debris. This not only leads impaired immunity and disease, but the development of cellulite, edema (fluid retention), chronic pain and fatty deposits. A sluggish lymphatic flow can also be a root cause of chronic sinusitis; swollen glands, ankles and eyes; eczema; arthritis; upper respiratory, sinus and ear infections; throat problems; colds; tonsillitis; bronchitis and pneumonia.
The good news is that keeping the lymph moving doesn’t take much – just a few daily exercises, plenty of water, and the inclusion of raw foods and herbs. When the lymph is working well, we stay healthy; and if we’re ill, it helps us to regain our health again. It is never too early to practice prevention, especially when it keeps our skin youthful and cellulite-free!
8 Ways to Detox Your Lymph
Rebounding is one of the easiest ways to pump the lymph. Rebounding is the practice of jumping on a trampoline (yes, remember when we did this for fun!?) for ten to thirty minutes. This passively moves the lymph while stimulating the circulation of blood throughout the body. Numerous studies have proven its efficacy, and have even shown it to improve muscle tone.
Yoga works in multiple ways to increase the flow of the lymph, relieving congestion and encouraging its detoxification. To start, inversions such as handstands, headstands and shoulder stands, and even placing the legs up the wall, reverse the effect of gravity. Much like the inversion table, this helps to drain the lymph towards the heart, escalating the rate in which it’s cleaned and filtered.
Twists are also a great way to stimulate lymphatic flow. Through the practice of twisting the abdomen, the organs and muscles are squeezed, forcing the lymph out of the tissues. Finally, the natural dynamic flow through the yoga poses cause the muscles in the body to contract and relax, which is the primary way lymph moves through the body. This allows for a free flow of lymph, which prevents its stagnation and accumulation of toxins.
Enzymes are produced by the body to break down food substances and to expedite countless metabolic processes. They are also utilized by the body to clear toxic-waste buildup in the lymph and blood, making their supplementation a key way to improve lymphatic health. Using proteolytic enzymes between meals can help to “digest” or breakdown organic debris in the circulatory and lymph systems, increasing lymphatic flow. They also help to ease the burden of allergy-like compounds, freeing the immune fractions traveling in the lymph system for other work.
We all love a good massage, and here’s just one more reason why. Lymphatic massage is a special form of massage that specifically targets the flow of lymph in the body. It uses a specific amount of pressure and rhythmic circular movements to stimulate the lymph, encouraging its movement towards the heart for the drainage of fluid and waste. Lymphatic massage has shown in studies to push up to 78 percent of stagnant lymph back into circulation. This mobilizes toxins for clearance, lessening the burden on the lymphatic system.
5. LEMON WATER
Lymph is about 95% water, making water essential for its health. Stay hydrated by drinking half your weight in ounces of water a day. Without adequate water, lymphatic fluid cannot flow properly. And one of the most common causes of lymph congestion is dehydration. Water, and only water, can adequately rehydrate the body, but if you want to expedite the process, add lemon to your water. Lemon is an alkaline fruit that helps to mineralize the body and lymph.
Try sipping on warm lemon water throughout the day, but don’t forget your straw! This protects the teeth’s enamel from the lemon.
Many herbs have proven to be effective in improving lymphatic health, whether in their ability to increase lymphatic flow and drainage or in expediting the clearance of toxic substances. Red clover is a popular herb for the lymph, increasing flow, which helps to detoxify the body and reduce inflammation. Cleavers is another herb to try. Also known as clivers or goosegrass, it has been used for centuries and considered one of the best tonics to stimulate and help drain the lymphatic system.
Coming from the Ayurvedic tradition is manjistha. Manjistha is an herb that is primarily utilized for its ability to de-stagnate lymph. It does this by detoxifying the tissue and supporting lymph flow. Finally, bupleurum and rehmannia are herbal tonics known to treat lymphatic conditions in traditional Chinese medicine. These herbs are famous in Asia for maintaining the cleanliness of the lymphatic system and thus for naturally removing toxins from deep within the body on an on-going basis.
7. DRY BRUSHING
Dry skin brushing is a favorite practice. It’s a technique commonly utilized in Ayurveda for assisting in lymphatic flow and boosting circulation. You simply take a dry brush with coarse bristle and brush the skin towards the heart. This stimulates the sweat glands, opens pores, and gets rid of dead skin cells. It also encourages the movement of lymph and blood in underlying organs and tissues of the body, which helps clear built-up toxins. As a result, it can be beneficial in improving skin conditions and reducing cellulite.
8. Go Wireless
Just like tight-fitting clothes, underwire bras can impede normal lymphatic flow. One of the largest clusters of lymph nodes is located in the armpit and upper chest area, and those nodes act as a source of drainage for the breast, arm, and upper chest. If a bra is too tight, or if the underwire is too restrictive (for most of us this is the case), the lymph is constricted, preventing normal drainage. Some researchers believe that over a period of time this can cause long-term impairment of the lymphatic function, and may contribute to an array of conditions including fibrocystic breast tissue, swollen lymph nodes and breast cancer.
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