What you will learn in this article:
- What is the lymphatic system?
- How does the lymphatic system support the body?
- What happens when the lymphatic system isn’t working?
- 5 ways to move your lymphatic system: 1) dry brushing, 2) tea, 3) lymphatic breast massage, 4) hydration, 5) rebounding
- How does rebounding help the lymphatic system?
- My lymphatic daily routine
What is the lymphatic system?
The lymphatic system is like a network of highways to carry out the garbage out of your body. It’s an overlooked and underestimated system. Your doctor may ask “How is your digestion or cholesterol,” but nobody would ask you, “How is your lymphatic system doing today?”
If you’re interested in boosting your immune system, you need to learn about the lymphatic system. In this article, I’ll start out by giving you an overview of the lymphatic system and then move into its role in immune function. Finally, I’ll outline some things you can do to make sure your lymphatic system is working at peak performance level.
The lymphatic system is made up of:
1) Plasma-like fluid called lymph (95% water, plus proteins and other substances that are found in plasma, plus white blood cells called lymphocytes)
2) Vessels that transport the lymph fluid
3) Organs that contain lymphoid tissue
The Lymphatic System works alongside the blood vessels and serves as the body’s drainage system. It generally helps to keep the body “clean” and balanced by aiding detoxification and keeping the immune system and fluid levels “just right.”
Organs that contain lymphoid tissue are divided into two categories: primary lymphoid organs and secondary lymphoid organs. Primary lymphoid organs (those that produce B and T lymphocytes, aka white blood cells) include the thymus and bone marrow.
Secondary lymphoid organs (those that help mature the B cells and T cells and expose them to antigens) include the lymph nodes, the spleen, and small bits of lymph tissue like Peyer’s patches, the appendix, the tonsils, and certain areas of the mucus membranes.
These lymphoid organs are all vital parts of the body’s immune system.
How does the lymphatic system support the body?
Some of the key areas in which the lymphatic system supports the body are the following:
- Immune System: The lymphatic system is best known for its defense against infection and disease. Lymphoid organs and lymph nodes filter lymph fluid and remove bacteria, viruses, and other toxins from the body. The lymphocytes (white blood cells) that are manufactured in the bone marrow mature into B cells and T cells, which are important for recognizing and remembering bacteria and viruses they encounter.
- Absorption of Nutrients: Lymph capillaries, called lacteals, are present in the center of the villi that line the small intestine. There, they help the absorbed fats and fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) enter into the bloodstream to get carried throughout the body. The lymph in the lacteals is high in fat and is called chyle.
- Fluid Balance: As blood flows through the body, some of the plasma is dispersed into tissues. This nutrient-rich “interstitial fluid” nourishes the tissue cells and then for the most part returns to the bloodstream. The small amount that is left behind is taken up by the lymphatic vessels and returned to the bloodstream to help the body maintain its critical balance of fluids.
Because the lymphatic system is responsible for filtering out toxins and maintaining fluid balance, it is important for the body’s ability to detoxify.
What happens when the lymphatic system isn’t working?
When the lymphatic system isn’t working, a lot of things can go wrong. Since it’s so important for immune function, a sluggish lymphatic system can make you more susceptible to various infections.
Just a few symptoms of a sluggish lymphatic system are:
- Frequent colds and viral infections
- Swollen glands including tonsils
- Lymphedema (swelling in arms or legs)
- Certain growths due to unchecked cell division (lack of natural programmed cell death – “apoptosis”)
A study of patients suffering during the recent pandemic found that the novel virus seemed to primarily act on lymphocytes. Those with the most severe version of the illness had significantly fewer T lymphocytes compared to those whose illness was not as severe.
Were your tonsils removed as a child?
Your tonsils are your immune system’s first line of defense against bacteria. These large clusters of lymphatic cells are found in the pharynx, and protect your body from incoming germs. Children tend to be prone to complications, such as tonsillitis, which is inflammation of the tonsils. Unfortunately, Western medicine deals with chronic tonsillitis by performing tonsillectomies (surgical removal of the tonsils). Instead of addressing the source of the infection or improving the lymphatic system, an integral part of the immune system gets removed.
While this procedure is becoming less common, many adults who had their tonsils removed as children are now experiencing the problematic long-term effects.
According to a JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) study, childhood tonsillectomies were associated with long-term risks later in life including higher rates of respiratory issues, allergies, and infectious diseases.
In the Journal of Autoimmunity, research found that incidences of autoimmune conditions such as Hashimoto’s, Graves’, Celiac, and Crohn’s were higher in people who underwent tonsillectomy.
I share these stats with you so that perhaps they can explain some of the ongoing and chronic health issues you might have been experiencing as an adult.
The good and empowering news is that your body is this beautiful machine designed to compensate and keep you healthy.
It might mean that you may need to put a little more work in by giving your lymphatic and immune system some serious TLC. Implement as much as you can from this article and you will most likely start feeling better.
5 Ways to support the lymphatic system
The following are some great strategies for supporting your lymphatic system and putting you on the road toward better health. They are simple concepts that are easily incorporated into your daily routine. A couple of them are free and can be started immediately.
1. Dry brushing
Dry brushing, gharshana in Ayurvedic medicine, is a technique that has been used for centuries in India and many other countries and cultures around the world, including the Finns (in the sauna), the Greeks, and the Native Americans. Using a natural wooden brush made with natural fibers feels very comforting on the skin. I like to have a soft-bristled brush and a hard-bristled brush and switch between them depending on the part of the body I’m brushing.
Dry brushing is thought to stimulate circulation and lymphatic flow. The brushing generally starts on the sole of one foot, and then long strokes are made on the foot, ankle, and leg (on all sides), always brushing in the direction of the heart. Then the other leg is done in the same way. Then one hand, wrist, and arm; then the other. The back and torso are also brushed, always gently, and always toward the heart.
It’s great to dry brush your skin right before stepping in the shower or taking trip to the sauna, as adding heat will further stimulate blood flow and detoxification.
I dry brush 3 times per week before a shower. You can watch a video of me showing you how to do dry brushing below.
The brush I use is from Essential Living. Using a natural brush made with natural fibers feels very comforting. I like to have a soft and hard brush, then switch between them depending on the part of the body I’m brushing.
2. Lymphatic teas
There are a number of herbs that can help promote lymphatic flow by reducing inflammation and/or acting as a diuretic. You can use any of these herbs:
- Dandelion Leaf (Taraxacum officinale)
- Nettle (Urtica Dioica)
- Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
- Lemon peel (Citrus limon L. Osbeck)
- Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
- Cleavers (Galium aparine)
- Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
- Red Clover (Trifolium Pratense)
- Burdock root (Arctium Lappa)
Here’s a herbal tea blend that combines many of these herbs and helps support your lymphatic system by improving lymph flow and reducing edema:
- 2 tablespoons cleavers
- 2 tablespoons calendula
- 1 tablespoon red clover
- 1 tablespoon dandelion leaf (optional)
- 1 tablespoon nettle (optional)
- 1.5 teaspoon lemon peel (optional)
- 1.5 cups boiling water
- Combine all herbs in a medium bowl and mix thoroughly.
- To make a cup of tea, measure 2 tablespoons of the herbal mixture into a tea strainer and pour boiling water into a mug.
- Steep for 10-15 minutes to get the most effect of this herbal infusion.
Another easy, lymph-supporting tea is this homemade Lemon Ginger Tea, which is sweetened with raw honey.
If it’s hot out or you want something to sip in the sauna, you may also want to try a fruit and herb water infusion. The Calendula & Parsley one is especially beneficial, as well as beautiful. If you like cilantro, the Lemon & Cilantro one is another great lymphatic purifier.
3. Lymphatic breast massage
Massage in general has been shown to activate blood flow in the lymphatic system; however, there’s a special kind of massage that targets the lymph system specifically.
Lymphatic Massage, or “manual lymphatic drainage” (MLD) therapy is a special technique that uses gentle pressure to promote lymph flow. Breasts are very high in lymphatic tunnels and stagnation can manifest in the form of tender or fibrocystic breasts.There are a number of different techniques that may be used to move the fluid from a swollen area to the rest of the body.
MLD is administered by a specially trained therapist; however, there is also a version you can do yourself, called simple lymphatic drainage (SLD).
I’ve interviewed Gaye Walden, who is a fabulous breast health specialist. In this video, she shows you how to massage your breasts to activate the lymphatic system. It’s such a simple thing to do and can be easily done in the shower.
For your lymphatic system to work, you need to be sufficiently hydrated for the lymphatic liquids to carry out the junk.
Your baseline water intake can be calculated as half your body weight, in ounces. This means, if you weigh 130 pounds, you would need to drink a minimum of 75 ounces of water, which is 2.2 quarts – more so during exercise and/or when on higher elevations.
Tea, coffee, juice, soda and energy drinks do not count as hydration drinks.
Get up from your seat and take a few steps forward. Great. You’ve just moved your lymphatic system. Walking, yoga, and swimming are great gentle forms of exercise that support lymphatic flow, depending on your personal mobility and flexibility.
One of my favorite ways to activate my lymphatic system is with a rebounder. Rebounding is an efficient and effective way to stimulate activity in your lymphatic system. There’s no need to go to a gym, brave the weather, or turn one of your spare rooms into a complete fitness center. Rebounding is easy for just about anyone to incorporate into their week. It can be high intensity or low intensity and it’s easy on your joints.
A rebounder is basically a mini trampoline that is meant for one person. It may have a handlebar attachment, or may not. You can use one if you need balance support. Using a rebounder is super easy. You simply bounce lightly in place for at least 10 or 15 minutes per session. You can mix up your routines with a variety of bounces like marching or kicking.
According to a study done by NASA in 1979, exercising on a trampoline is 68% more efficient than jogging. According to their report, an hour of rebounding burns more calories than an hour of jogging.
How does rebounding help the lymphatic system?
Rebounding, as a type of aerobic exercise, works as a pump for the lymphatic system and helps the body make plenty of immune-enhancing lymphocytes. It stimulates movement of lymph fluid throughout the body, which removes toxins and improves immune activity.
A study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health in 2014 monitored the effect of music-enhanced aerobic exercise on 22 middle-aged women, with another 22 serving as the control group. Over the 12-week study those who participated in the aerobic exercise had significantly increased lymphocyte counts.
It’s important to note that lymphatic flow seems to decrease as we age. So, as we get older, it’s going to be more and more important to support our lymphatic system.
The benefits of rebounding
- Stimulates lymphatic flow and detox
- Increases the heart rate and promotes cardiovascular fitness
- Burns calories (burns more calories per hour than jogging)
- Tones the muscles of your legs, glutes, and core
- Serves as weight-bearing exercise that is important for avoiding osteoporosis
- Gentle on the hips, knees and ankles (unlike running)
- Easy to store and use
How often to rebound?
It’s really up to you. There’s no official recommendation on how often you should rebound. You can bounce daily or just a few days a week. A 2018 study found that those who used their mini trampolines for even three days a week saw improvements in their overall strength and endurance.
Rebounding doesn’t need to take a lot of time out of your day. Try 5 to 10 minutes to start, and work your way up to 15 or 20 minutes a day. It’s a really great way to start your morning and get you energized for the day.
Where to start?
It’s not always that easy to get the lymphatic support exercise that we need. Treadmills are expensive, take up a lot of space and impact the joints. If you already have one, is it currently being used as a clothes hanger? Sometimes it’s better to simplify. I highly recommend getting yourself a rebounder to incorporate lymph-enhancing aerobic exercise into your daily routine.
My personal experience with the rebounder
I bought my rebounder 2 years ago and I love the quality and the experience. I get on my rebounder about 3 times a week and use it between 3 to 10 minutes. If I had a stressful moment, I do gentle rebounding as it makes me feel free, uplifted and happy. If I feel like I’ve been sitting and working for too long and need some quick physical movement, I get on it to do jumping jacks, run on it or do steps – by stepping off the rebounder and quickly get back on it. It’s a fun way to get your heart rate up (especially if I run and lift my knees high up) without having to leave the house – and feel highly rejuvenated.
I also love the fact that, unlike pavement running, it’s gentle on the joints. (Plus, I can’t run away because I had a bilateral hip replacement). There are plenty of demo videos on YouTube about various rebounder routines and to be honest, I’ve found most of them either crazy complicated or intimidating. Just getting on it and moving my body feels rejuvenating.
My daily lymphatic routine
As a busy business owner, a single gal with two very energetic dogs, I won’t want to add anything new to the list of daily tasks and responsibilities, or self-care rituals. Yet, moving the lymphatic system by incorporating a few simple routines is far easier than you may think. You won’t need to add another “just 20 minutes” of doing expensive, complicated tasks. This is what I do and perhaps you may think about adding some of these as well:
Before showering. I need to run the water for a good 3 to 4 minutes to get hot water – so I use this time to do dry skin brushing in the bathroom, naked while the water is running.
In the shower. After talking to Gaye Walden, I started doing breast lymphatic massage in the shower. I use the soap to do the massage.
During the day. 3 to 4 times a week, when I want to take a break, I rebound on my rebounder for a few minutes. Sometimes I just bounce and other times I would do some cardio, by running on it and lifting my knees high up. 5 to 10 minutes is plenty to feel rejuvenated.
Ending the day. I make daily herbal teas and use many of the herbs we mentioned in the recipe in my daily infusions. I especially like having herbal teas in the evenings.
Simple, right? You can easily do it, too!
Seeing a doctor
If you suffer from a diagnosed lymphatic disorder like lymphedema, you may need to see your doctor. Some doctor-recommended treatments might include help from a certified lymphedema therapist (CLT), who can provide you with specialized massage as well as a customized exercise plan, or possibly a sleeve worn over your swollen arm or leg. In severe cases of lymphedema, surgery may be warranted.
Seeing an Osteopathic physician may be a less invasive and more cost-effective way to go. Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT) has been used for decades to stimulate lymphatic flow and treat the respiratory system. The first use of OMT recorded for pneumonia was during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918.
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