The lymphatic system is a powerhouse of activity that keeps us alive and functioning, yet so many of us are unaware of its vital functions. I know that I was in the dark until I discovered that mine didn’t work properly and I had to take action accordingly.
Your lymphatic system has four components: a fluid called lymph or lymphatic fluid, lymphatic vessels (that transport the lymph), lymphocytes that are contained in a number of body structures and organs (they carry out our immune functions) and red bone marrow. The lymphatic system works together with other body systems to keep everything working as it should, and if something goes wrong with our lymph we are in real trouble!
The lymphatic system drains interstitial fluid from spaces in body tissues and returns it to the blood. This, along with the functions of our cardiovascular systems that we all know contribute to circulation, maintains the volume of circulating blood. The lymphatic system also plays a role in transporting the lipids (fats) and fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) that have been absorbed by the digestive tract. Finally, the lymphatic system initiates highly specific immune responses that target unfamiliar microbes and abnormal or foreign cells that make their way into our body.
With autoimmunity, deficiencies in fat-soluble vitamins and fatty acids themselves, fungal or parasitic infections, and circulatory problems on the rise, there is no time better than the present to start giving your lymph a little TLC (before it’s too late). Below are some of my favourite tips that assist with blood circulation and to support your immune system to attack the bad guys whilst leaving the good guys alone.
Tips for better blood circulation…
- Dry Body Brushing: you can purchase a quality body brush from most chemists, natural beauty salons, health food stores or online. Gently brush your skin in a circular motion, starting at your ankles, working upwards towards the heart and then your forearms working up towards your shoulders. This simple ritual only takes 3-5 minutes and can be done daily before your bath or shower. The flowing movement of the brush stimulates the flow of blood, supporting the lymphatic system in returning that excess interstitial fluid to normal blood circulation. You can make this ritual even more beneficial by using a few drops of your favourite essential oil, citrus oils; lemon, lime, grapefruit etc. are particularly energising and enhance the flow of blood.
- Exercise or incidental movement: I know some of us are a little intimidated by the ‘E’ word. Finding the time and motivation to get out there and just move can be near impossible depending on your work/child/relationship etc. situation. Here’s the good news; your lymphatic system doesn’t care whether you are ‘working out’, Lorna Jane leggings and all, or whether you’re simply taking the stairs, walking to the shops to pick up some groceries or playing chase with the kids in the backyard. Any type of movement stimulates blood flow and therefore the lymphatic system has an easier time shifting that stubborn interstitial fluid that’s struggling to make it back into normal circulation. There’s a reason you always feel great straight after moving around for a while; your blood is flowing freely and your lymph is happy. Happy lymph, happy life … well if only it were that simple, but you get the gist, fit more movement into your day and your lymph will love you for it!
- Yoga poses: Following on from the suggestion of movement, certain yoga poses are very effective at stimulating circulation. Whilst the cardiovascular system has the heart to pump blood around the body, the lymphatic system has no pump system in place, relying solely on the movement we undertake. I was going to write about a few specific poses until I came across this article. It explains yoga for the lymphatic system in such detail that I figured I’d let the yoga experts do the talking.
Seal that gut lining: Many of us suffer from intestinal permeability and don’t even know it! This condition occurs when a combination of medicines, poor diet, stress and sometimes even nasty little (or big!) critters such as fungi or parasites, damage the integrity of the intestinal lining, puncturing holes in the otherwise very selectively permeable barrier between your gut and the rest of your body. Being selectively permeable, the gut only usually allows for the exchange of nutrients, fluids and some medicinal drugs between the digestive tract and the blood. When the intestinal wall becomes damaged by the factors mentioned above, bad bacteria, fungi, parasites, undigested foods and goodness knows what else, can leak through into the bloodstream. They shouldn’t be here and the immune system knows it, so your lymphocytes launch an attack on the foreign invader causing inflammation. If this is happening too often, the whole body starts to become inflamed and this can lead to further problems such as food allergies or intolerances, autoimmunity, chronic pain or mental health concerns.
The best ways to seal the gut lining ASAP are…
Drink Broth: Homemade bone broth (cooked for at least 12 hours) or meat stock (cooked for 1-6 hours) are both very nutrient dense liquids that contain both gelatin and collagen; the two foundational components of intestinal repair. Be sure to use quality meat and bones and filtered water to ensure that your gut only receives the very best (you don’t want to ingest any more nasties for your lymphatic system to deal with).
Eliminate all processed food and unnecessary medicines (DO NOT stop taking things that are vital to your survival. I just mean question whether you really need that next Panadol or whether your really need to take another anti-inflammatory), chemicals from household and personal care products (detergents, shampoos, handwash, moisturiser, perfume etc.) and alcohol from your life. Get back to basics and cook with whole simple ingredients; meats, eggs, fish, veggies, a little fruit and quality fats; coconut oil, olive oil, butter etc. Become less reliant on pain medications (just have a glass of filtered water or a cup of herbal tea and a lie down). Invest in low or no chemical cleaning and personal care products. Use pure essential oils in place of traditional perfumes and room sprays. Anything we put into our body that is foreign material (i.e. chemicals and refined ingredient) will trigger an inflammatory response – it’s the body’s way of saying “help! I don’t know what to do with this!”.
Repopulate your gut with the good guys: the more beneficial flora you have in comparison to the opportunistic or pathogenic flora, the better chance your have of winning the war that is threatening to puncture your gut lining. Regularly consuming kefir organic and natural cultured dairy (if you’re cool with dairy foods) or coconut yoghurt and fermented vegetables, will give your body a good dose of the beneficial flora needed for a strong immune system.
- Combat inflammation: Spices such as turmeric, ginger and cinnamon are all anti-inflammatory, as are broths, oily fish, cold pressed extra virgin olive oil, tomatoes, green veggies and fruits such as berries, avocado and citrus. Include these foods in your everyday food choices, taking care to also exclude inflammatory foods: processed sugars, oils and grains. Simple breathing exercises can combat stress, which in turn lowers inflammation further. Gentle exercise such as yoga, Pilates, walking, leisurely cycling and swimming are great exercises for inflammation, whereas running or weight lifting is best left to those that are inflammation free. Taking a warm bath with magnesium salts and some lavender oil is great for calming the system down and easing inflammatory responses. Spending time in nature – even if it’s just pacing around your lawn barefoot - is also a fantastic daily ritual to keep you grounded.
So there we have it. Your lymph is incredible and serves you well, but you need to be on its team. Modern lifestyles of sedentary behaviours, processed foods, excessive alcohol and an over-reliance on drugs (nor to mention our fast-paced world full of unnecessary stressors) are really compromising our circulation and immunity.
Take back control, be empowered with knowledge, and refuse to conform to a lifestyle that doesn’t serve you, your lymph or any other part of your body. It’s not a matter of what others do, but what you do. Take responsibility, make the sacrifices and abundant health will be yours.