The phrase “you are what you eat” has been a favorite of gastronomes, nutritionists, and philosophers for centuries. However, it doesn't tell the whole story. Although WHAT we put in our bodies is critical, there is another, equally important, element to consider: “you are what you don't eliminate.” Removing excess fluids and toxins from the body is just as important as healthy eating. Our lymphatic system, a subsystem of the circulatory system and the immune system, is responsible for this vital task. Here's how you can help your body work more efficiently.
How the Lympathic System Works
The lymphatic system is a network of organs, tissues, and vessels distributed across our entire body. Its parts work together to collect and move a watery fluid called lymph back into your bloodstream, delivering nutrients and eliminating toxins along the way.
Freeing your body from excess fluids and waste is just as important to health as consuming high-nutrient foods. That is why the lymphatic system is critical to protecting your well-being. Four main functions make up the majority of the lymphatic system's tasks:
1. Protecting Your Body Against Foreign Cells
The lymphatic system is part of the immune system and produces white blood cells known as lymphocytes as well as other immune cells. All those cells work together to monitor and break up foreign invaders like parasites, viruses, fungi, and bacteria.
2. Maintaining Fluid Levels
Throughout your body, excess fluid drains from cells and tissues. The lymphatic system collects this fluid (lymph) and moves it to the bloodstream. From there, it is recirculated through the body.
3. Absorbing Fat
Another function of your lymphatic system is to clean up your intestines. The lymphatic fluid contains fats and proteins absorbed from the digestive tract and moves this to the bloodstream. Thus level of fat never rises sharply in blood and it helps in maintaining the health of arterial walls.
4. Removing Waste
Your lymphatic system also recognizes abnormal cells and removes those, along with waste products, from the body.
All these tasks cannot be accomplished by one organ alone, which is why your lymphatic system is made up of several organs. They can be divided into primary and secondary organs. The primary lymphatic organs like the thymus and bone marrow create cells that are known as lymphocytes. The secondary organs include the lymph nodes, spleen, and others. These organs are the location where the immune system cells fight foreign substances and germs.
Knowing more about the individual organs and their tasks is crucial to understanding the inner workings of the lymphatic system.
When we are born, most of our bones contain a red, sponge-like tissue known as bone marrow. The bone marrow creates immune system cells or lymphocytes. As we age, bone marrow gradually turns into fatty tissue, leaving adults with very few bones still able to produce these cells.
The thymus is a gland-like organ found behind the breastbone, above the heart. The organ matures during childhood and then transforms into fatty tissue. The thymus is responsible for maturing a special type of lymphocyte.
Medical professionals distinguish between three types of lymphocytes: T lymphocytes or T cells, B lymphocytes or B cells, and natural killer lymphocytes known as NK cells.
- T Cells: lymphocytes begin their growth in the bone marrow. Later they relocate to the thymus to complete their development. T cells attack foreign cells, cancer cells, and cells contaminated with viruses. T cells get their name because they mature in the thymus.
- B Cells: lymphocytes mature in the bone marrow. They create antibodies to fight infection within your body.
- NK Cells: Natural killer cells contain cytotoxins, substances that are deadly to other cells. Their purpose is to effectively kill tumor cells and other cells that have become infected with a virus.
Located beneath the diaphragm, the spleen has a variety of functions within your lymphatic system.
- Breaking down old and damaged red blood cells.
- Storing various immune system cells and moving them through the blood to other organs.
- Filtering germs from the bloodstream with the help of so-called scavenger cells (phagocytes).
- Storing and breaking down platelets, also known as thrombocytes, which facilitate blood clotting.
Your tonsils sit at the back of the throat and palate, forming a ring around the opening that leads from the mouth and nose to the throat. They prevent viruses and germs from entering your body through the mouth and nose. In addition, the tonsils contain a large number of white blood cells, allowing them to kill germs effectively.
In the same area of your body, on the side of the throat, there is lymphatic tissue. This tissue can take over the function of the tonsils if they needed to be removed.
Shortly after you are born, lymphoid tissue starts accumulating in the appendix. During childhood, this allows the organ to support the maturation of B lymphocytes from the bone marrow. The appendix also helps direct lymphocytes to other locations of the body.
Moreover, the cells in the appendix are partially responsible for producing antibodies.
Mucous membranes help defend you against germs in various parts of the body.
The mucous membranes of the small bowel are some of the most crucial as they produce a majority of your antibodies, together with the appendix.
They detect foreign substances, like viruses or bacteria, mark and eliminate them. Plus, the mucous membranes store information about the substances, making it easier for the immune system to react to them the next time.
However, not all bacteria are bad. The large bowel is home to gastrointestinal bacteria known as gut flora. This “good bacteria” actually makes it more difficult for germs to enter the body.
Adenoids help protect you from germs entering through your nose. They are located just behind your nose, high up in the throat. Like your tonsils, they help trap germs.
Adenoids are normally only found in children and start shrinking after the age of five as the body continues to develop alternative ways to fight germs. In most people, adenoids have completely disappeared by the time they are teenagers.
Lymph nodes are bean-shaped glands that are found throughout the body. Altogether, our bodies have about 600 different lymph nodes in our neck, armpit, groin, abdomen, and chest. While some are located near veins or arteries, others are independent of blood vessels. Those connect to the blood through thin tubes.
Although humans have three different types of lymph nodes, all of them have a similar purpose. They function as filters to remove cellular waste and worn-out cells. Lymph nodes also help protect against infection by developing an army of white blood cells that get rid of any foreign entities in the body.
To fulfill their purpose, the lymph nodes rely on tiny vessels called lymphatic capillaries that absorb these substances and transport them to the lymph nodes.
Artieries and Veins
Arteries and veins are part of the body's circulatory system, which means they are also part of the lymphatic system. Without arteries and veins, blood could not circulate from the heart to every tissue of the body.
The lymphatic system relies on them for transport to maintain fluid balance and make sure each cell receives as much oxygen as it needs.
We understand that there are numerous renal lymphatics present in the cortex of a normal kidney. However, the lymphatic function has not featured prominently in discussions and research of kidney disease.
Renal lymphatics drain excess interstitial fluid and remove macromolecules from the interstitial space of the kidney. If this drainage mechanism fails, the fluid build-up may lead to renal interstitial edema.
Whilst more research, clinical investigation, and evidence are required, scientists believe that this edema may contribute to renal dysfunction.
Across the world, chronic liver disease causes around two million deaths every year, a number which is expected to increase. Like renal lymphatics, liver lymphatics have been largely overlooked in the treatment of liver disease until now.
However, researchers believe that the lymphatic system in the liver is crucial in maintaining the organ's normal function. Liver lymphatics are responsible for removing toxins and other waste products.
Scientists know that liver disease changes the size and other characteristics of the liver's lymphatic system. These changes could damage liver lymphatics, rendering them less efficient or completely inefficient.
Lymphedema occurs when lymphatic fluid cannot drain naturally from the body's tissues. The result is swelling caused by an excess of fluid. Most people who suffer from lymphedema have swelling in their arms or legs. However, symptoms can also occur in the neck, genitals, abdomen, and chest wall.
Generally, your lymph nodes take care of the removal of fluid, but if they are damaged or have been removed – for example during cancer treatment – lymphedema can develop.
If the problem becomes severe, you may struggle to move the affected limb, and you are at risk for skin infections. Depending on the severity of your condition and its causes, treatment options range from compression bandages and massages to pneumatic pumping. In rare cases, your doctor may suggest surgery.
Natural Lymphatic System Therapies
Improving your immunity by detoxing your lymphatic system naturally centers around helping the lymphatic fluid move. Consider this – your blood keeps circulating because the heart continuously pumps it. Your lymphatic system, on the other hand, does not have a pump. Instead, it relies on the contraction and relaxation of muscles and joints to keep moving.
Keeping your lymphatic system does not mean you have to start a heavy exercise program. Simple, gentle movements and even deep breathing are beneficial. As a result, your body develops a stronger immune response, and you become more resilient.
1. Hydration, Hydration, Hydration
More than 90% of lymphatic fluid is made up of water, making dehydration the leading cause of lymph congestion. Without enough water, the fluid simply cannot move as well.
To rehydrate, consider drinking half your weight in ounces every day. Water is the best drink to help hydrate, but you can speed up the process by adding lemon. As an alkaline fruit, lemon can help mineralize your body and your lymphatic system. If you are sipping on lemon water, it's best to use a straw to avoid damaging the enamel of your teeth.
2. Take A Deep Breath
Deep breathing, or belly breathing, not only helps you relax but also benefits lymphatic drainage and detoxification. Lymphatic fluid stuck in your legs must travel back through your groin and the abdomen to reach the heart. Deep breathing can stimulate that movement.
Deep breathing helps by stimulating deeper lymphatic structures and increasing lymphatic flow. A few short deep breathing sessions a day are enough to improve lymphatic drainage and decongestion and help treat lymphedema.
At the same time, you will also benefit from improved mental health and feel more relaxed in general.
3. Massage & Dry Brushing
Who doesn't enjoy a massage? Apart from the relaxing effect, massages can also stimulate lymphatic movements. To treat lymphedema and other related conditions, lymphatic massage works best.
This specific technique targets the flow of the lymph with a specific amount of pressure and circular rhythmic movements. It encourages the lymph to flow towards the heart, from where it can drain.
Dry brushing is a technique originally used in ayurvedic medicine. Brushing the skin towards the heart with a relatively coarse brush helps remove dead skin cells, improves circulation – and encourages lymphatic movement.
It's a simple technique and easy to integrate into your daily routine.
4. Turn Things On Their Head
Inversion is one of the best ways to encourage lymphatic movement. If you have access to an inversion table, it allows you to lie comfortably with your feet strapped in. As you are being inverted, gravity works with you to let lymphatic fluid drain towards the heart.
At the same time, joints and your spine are being decompressed, which helps rehydrate the discs, reduces pressure on the nerves, and relieves tense muscles.
5. Practice Yoga
Yoga features a selection of inversion poses that encourage lymphatic drainage.
However, if you are a beginner, there are plenty of other poses that will benefit you and support detoxification. Twists of the abdominal area are an excellent way to improve lymphatic flow. They squeeze muscles and internal organs which forces the lymph out of your tissues.
Not ready to twist? Still, yoga can be beneficial. All yoga poses are subject to a natural dynamic flow, contracting and relaxing muscles and joints as you move. As a result, lymph flows more freely, leaving toxins less chance of accumulation and stagnation.
6. Diet, Enzyme Supplements, & Herbs
Our bodies rely on enzymes for various metabolic processes. Enzymes also help break down toxins in lymph and blood. By taking proteolytic enzyme supplements between meals, you ensure that your body has more than enough enzymes available to break down any toxic compounds.
Of course, you can also ensure that you are eating foods high in enzymes that help the body with this process. Raw foods are especially useful as they contain high levels of naturally occurring enzymes. This allows them to break down toxic buildups and helps clear any damaging substances from the body.
Because raw foods are primarily alkaline, they can neutralize harmful pathogens, which limits the workload of the lymph. Eating raw fruits and vegetables also helps manage your body's hydration level.
Herbal tonics are closely related to diet and supplements, but often underestimated when it comes to managing and improving lymphatic flow as well as clearing toxic substances from the body. Some of the most powerful herbs include:
- Red clover for increased lymphatic flow and reduced inflammation.
- Manjistha for de-stagnating lymph, a favorite within ayurvedic medicine.
- Cleavers (or clivers or goosegrass) for stimulating and draining the lymphatic system.
- Bupleurum and Rehmannia tonics from traditional Chinese medicine. Both are known to help maintain a clean lymphatic system by removing toxins naturally.
7. Get On A Trampoline Or Rebounder
Remember spending hours jumping on a trampoline as a kid? It's time to give it another try. Rebounding, as jumping in a trampoline is known, stimulates the circulation of blood throughout the body and moves the lymph. Plus, you improve muscle tone at the same time.
Our lymphatic system is one of the most important physiological systems of our body. This system consists of primary and secondary lymphoid organs, whose job is to remove toxins from the body.
Whilst we can support the process by eating cleanly and avoiding toxins wherever possible, it is equally important to support our lymphatic system in removing waste products. The goal is to help your “waste removal system” run as efficiently and effectively as possible and prevent disease or even organ damage.
Detoxing your lymphatic system is neither complicated nor expensive. Simple measures like ensuring you remain well-hydrated make for a good basis. Taking a few minutes for deep breathing also stimulates lymphatic drainage. Keeping your body moving, even with a gentle yoga routine is hugely beneficial, as is a healthy diet supported by selected supplements and herbs.
Keeping your lymphatic system working optimally improves your immune response and will leave you feeling stronger and better able to resist potential health threats.