What is the Lymphatic System?
In common vernacular, you could say the lymphatic system is the sewage system of the body. If it were to stop functioning, you would literally drown in a sea of toxins and you would not survive long.
More scientifically, the lymphatic system is comprised of a network of delicate tubes that run throughout the body. These tubes connect to a group of lymph nodes, which act as a filter to trap and destroy anything harmful to the body or anything that the body does not need.
The main roles of the lymphatic system include:
- Balancing fluid levels in the body
- Cleaning bacteria
- Responding to cancer cells
- Dealing with cell products that otherwise would result in disease or disorders
- Absorbing some of the fats in our diet from the intestines
There are Six Lymphatic Organs:
- Bone Marrow
- Lymph Nodes
- Mucous Membranes
The thymus and spleen hold special white blood cells called lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are involved with the immune system and they account for 20 to 40% of the white blood cells in the body. They can rapidly multiply and release antibodies that respond to bacteria, viruses, and other debris from dead or dying cells, or abnormally behaving cells such as cancer cells. The lymph fluid carries these waste products from the lymphocytes back into the bloodstream to be removed by the liver or kidneys. Along with other body waste, these toxins are then released through bowel movements and urination.
Where is the Lymphatic System?
As you can see from the picture below, the lymphatic system is located throughout the body. There are more lymph nodes in the areas of the body that engage in more activity.
The greatest amount of lymph tissue are in the spleen, bone marrow, thymus glands, tonsils, and lymph nodes. Major organs such as the heart, lungs, intestines, endocrine system, and liver contain lymphatic tissue as well. The brain’s lymphatic system is called the glymphatic system. The glymphatic system is active while the body is sleeping. Therefore, healthy sleep habits are crucial to an optimally functioning brain.
The lymphatic system is organized into two unequal drainage areas. The left drainage area clears most of the body, including both legs, the upper left chest, and the left arm. The right drainage area only clears the right arm and right chest. Refer to the picture below to see the unequal distribution of the lymphatic system.
Does the lymphatic system have a pump like the cardiovascular system?
No. The cardiovascular system includes the heart, which pumps blood throughout the body, and the vascular system has valves, that, when functioning properly, prevent backflow. Since the lymphatic system is without a pump similar to the heart or valves, it depends on muscle tone and contractions to the move lymph fluid. Lymph fluid, unlike blood which flows throughout the body in a continuous loop, flows in one direction. It flows up towards the neck, where it empties into two large veins near the collarbones.
Thus, the lymphatic system struggles as the body becomes less and less active, which we are seeing in today’s modern world. We no longer walk to church, neighbors’ homes or to the market. Instead, we drive. We no longer do manual labor. Instead, we sit at computers for the majority of the day. Sitting is coined by some as the new smoking, and most of us do it too much!
A 2011 study looked at sitting habits and found that people who sit the most, as compared to those who sit the least, have a greater risk of disease and death:
- 147% increased risk of cardiovascular disease (i.e., stroke, heart attack or other)
- 112% increased risk of diabetes
- 90% increased risk of death due to cardiovascular events
- 49% increased risk of death from any case
Take a moment to pause and reflect on the importance of movement for a healthy lymphatic system as you read these statistics.
How Do I Know if My Lymphatic System is Sluggish?
Look for these telltale signs:
- Sinus infection
- Brain fog
- Swelling in fingers/rings fitting more tightly
- Digestive issues
- Dry and/or itchy skin
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Chronic fatigue
- Feeling sore or stiff in the morning
- Worsened allergies
- Cold hands and feet
- Weight gain
- Unexplained injuries
- Increased illnesses like colds and flu
- Food sensitivities
What Problems Can Be Seen With the Lymphatic System?
If the lymph nodes cannot destroy the bacteria, viruses or other debris it will sometimes trap it. This can happen with an infection such as tonsillitis. The lymph nodes will become swollen and sore to the touch. Through a process called metastasis, the lymph fluid can also spread cancer cells from the primary site to other parts of the body. Sometimes, the lymph fluid will spread cancer cells into the lymph nodes, which will cause secondary cancer there. Cancer that starts in the lymph nodes is called lymphoma and a type of lymphatic cancer is known as Hodgkin’s disease.
Please remember that, in most cases, swollen lymph nodes are not a sign of cancer. However, it is important to be aware of the more severe effects of these issues.
Problems Directly Related to the Lymphatic System:
Primary lymphedema occurs when the lymphatic system is formed improperly. It is common that this will present as one swollen limb or swollen part of the body at birth. Though this may develop at puberty or even later in life.
Secondary lymphedema can happen when the lymphatic system is damaged by surgery or the radiotherapy that is used with cancer treatment. Structural impairment can occur alongside secondary lymphedema when there is soft tissue damage associated with trauma or another cause.
What are the Best Ways to Support the Lymphatic System?
In other cultures, supporting the lymphatic system is as normalized and prevalent as brushing your teeth. For example, in Chinese Medicine, it has long been known that stagnation, such as stagnation occurring in the lymphatic system, is the mother of all illnesses. Here in America, we seem to have forgotten about the importance of taking care of the lymphatic system. American physicians don’t understand this system very well given that medical schools spend a minimal amount of time discussing it. While it is a seemingly complex system, there are some simple ways to support lymphatics.
Awareness: The first way to support lymphatics is accomplished by reading this blog and raising your awareness. Kudos to you!!
Massage: Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) massage is a safe technique that provides numerous health benefits; mainly, reducing lymphedema. This type of massage is used to encourage the movement of lymph fluid. A more precise and consistent alternative is to use a pneumatic drainage device, such as the
BallancerPro. Regular BallancerPro treatments have been shown to improve the look and the texture of skin, reduce cellulite, and strengthen the immune system, all while whittling away unwanted fluids and weight.
Diaphragmatic breathing: This helps move lymph fluid throughout the body. Be sure you are breathing correctly with the stomach and chest expanding outwards instead of upwards.
Hydration: In Latin, lymph means connected to water. Our lymphatic system thrives in a hydrated state. A healthy body produces about one half-gallon of lymph fluid per day. The lymph system functions like tributaries in a stream that feed a slow-moving river through ever-widening vessels, moving lymph fluid through 500 different filtration points. It is essential to drink 2-3 liters of water per day for this process to run smoothly. Caffeinated beverages and sodas do not take the place of water. In fact, caffeine and carbonation are dehydrating to the body, and therefore counterproductive to the lymphatic system.
Stimulate: Stimulation can be achieved in a few minutes a day by dry brushing or using a foam or wooden roller on the body.
Sleep: As mentioned in reference to the glymphatic system, sleep is vitally important for the functioning of the lymphatic system as a whole.
Vagus Nerve Activation: Having a strong vagal tone improves the strength of the lymphatic system. Fortunately, there are a few simple ways you can improve vagal tone. This includes alternating hot and cold water while taking a shower (30 seconds of each back and forth – build up to 10 times per shower), gargle, hum, play a wind instrument, chanting, yoga and more.
Movement: It’s important to move more during the day. For example, make it a habit to engage in the movement for at least five minutes out of every sixty-minute chunk of the day, particularly if you have a desk job.
Exercise: One of the best exercises to stimulate the lymphatic system is by rebounding. This motion stimulates all internal organs and directly improves the immune system. Too, cells, such as macrophages (the cells that eat the bad guys) become stronger in response to the G-force experience. The goal is to participate in 15 minutes of bouncing per day. All other types of exercise are good as well. Do the type of exercise that you like most since it will be more likely for you to continue with what you enjoy.
Avoid toxins: This includes those found in food, the water you drink, and the air you breathe. Big toxic offenders include pesticides and other harsh chemicals.
Nutrition: Healthy fats, leafy greens, foods low in sugar, high in fiber, and with less processing are all helpful for the lymphatic system. Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), such as coconut oil, are small and do not require bile for transport. Therefore, MCTs are supportive of the lymph system.
Supplements (supportive): Milk thistle, burdock, essiac tea, manjistha, astragalus root, pawpaw, sheep sorel and slippery elm bark. Essential Oils: Lemon, Myrrh, Frankincense and Oregano.
Sweat: Sweating helps to move lymph fluid. Regular or occasional sauna use is a great part of any health improvement routine.
In summary, our lymphatic system continuously bathes and detoxifies each cell from viruses, bacteria, mutations, fats, heavy metals, and other toxins. The lymphatic system affects all other systems of the body. A healthy lymphatic system prevents waste and fat buildup, fluid retention, and slows the aging process. Further, the lymphatic system maximizes the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. There are numerous ways to support the lymphatic system including
the BallancerPro, movement, dry brushing, optimal nutrition, supplements and more.