Shifting Your Lymphatic System for Better Health
By Luke Schmelzle, DC
When your body is in harmony and balance, it naturally heals itself. The lymphatic system is a key body system for maintaining healthy circulation and clearing wastes. Lymphatic imbalance symptoms range from congestion, cellulite, and bloating.
The Lymphatic System: What It Does
The lymphatic system is made up of tissues that produce, store, and transport white blood cells and includes a complex network of vessels, ducts, lymph nodes, the spleen, the thymus, the adenoids, and the tonsils. It is valuable for removing waste from every cell, regulating cell health, and balancing the immune system.
The body is amazing at recycling components for reuse. Lymph is the fluid that flows throughout the lymphatic system, with various components. Proteins, bacteria, and fats are common components. Regardless of the content of the lymph at any given time, it must flow freely to ensure that waste products do not build up in the tissues. Breathing and other muscle movements help to propel lymph fluid and transport it through many filtration points known as lymph nodes. These lymph nodes contain collections of white blood cells (lymphocytes) that identify and help destroy harmful pathogens or toxins.
The Lymphatic System: Why It Matters
This network of lymphatic vessels and nodes acts like a giant drainage and filtration system for the body. Just like the plumbing in your home, your lymphatic system needs to stay unclogged and flowing well for it to work properly. We often ignore the waste and sewer system of our home, but a backup into the bathtub will get our immediate attention! When the lymph flow in our body becomes stagnant and congested, wastes and toxins begin to build up, leading to a wide variety of health issues. Lymphatic drainage is key.
Poor waste removal in the lymphatic system can affect almost any part of your body. When your lymph vessels become congested, you may experience such things as:
- Weight gain
- Stiffness, especially in the morning
- Brain fog
- Dry and itchy skin
- Water retention
- Chronic ear infections, sinusitis, sore throats, and colds
- Breast swelling and greater discomfort with the menstrual cycle
- Swollen glands
- Cold hands and feet
Causes of Lymph Congestion
There are a variety of causes to lymphatic congestion. Although the body is naturally designed to cleanse itself of wastes and toxins, imbalances can throw off your ability to detoxify and allow wastes to build up. Stress, digestive issues, and sedentary lifestyle are three major causes of lymphatic congestion that impair your ability to cleanse efficiently.
Cause of Lymphatic Congestion: Chronic Stress
When the body is under stress, biochemical and hormonal changes occur. Over time, this stress chemistry contributes to inflammation that can injure cells and create waste. This clogs up the lymphatic system.
The lymphatic system is also directly influenced by fibers of the sympathetic nervous system, which is activated as part of the stress response. When our nervous system is alert to danger, or feels under threat, we have “fight, flight, freeze” energy surging through our body. Studies in mice show that chronic stress can even remodel lymphatic vasculature and lead to the spread of cancer.
Cause of Lymphatic Congestion: Digestive Imbalance
The digestive system is vulnerable to imbalances from prolonged stress, especially when it becomes chronic, and the lymphatic system is closely intertwined with the gastrointestinal tract. The largest collection of lymphatic vessels in the body, known as the gut associated lymphatic tissues (GALT), surround the gastrointestinal tract. A healthy barrier of protective cells, in conjunction with a healthy liver, is vital for proper functioning of the lymphatic system.
When the intestines become inflamed or irritated from poor diet, food sensitivities, or chemical additives in food, the GALT can become congested. This is a major cause of stagnant lymph flow, poor detoxification, digestive problems, and impaired immunity.
Cause of Lymphatic Congestion: Sedentary Lifestyle
“Motion is Lotion.” I often quote this to patients when discussing health metrics. The body does best when we have plenty of movement, exercise, and mobility. Stagnation occurs when we are moving less. Recovering from a serious health injury may require rest. Over time, this can create a downward spiral of poor circulation, weight gain, and lymphatic backup, further challenging our health metrics.
Decongest Your Lymphatic System to Balance Your Body
If you are experiencing symptoms of lymphatic congestion, decongesting your lymph system may hold the key to rejuvenation and re-balancing of your body. Lymphatic drainage is vital. Opening your lymphatic channels is also crucial before you jump into any other type of program. (As with any cleansing or detoxification program, be sure to check with your physician before making changes that are appropriate for you.)
Try these 8 steps to re-balance your body:
- Stay Hydrated
Since lymph is over 90% water, adequate hydration is necessary to keep it flowing freely. Stay well-hydrated throughout the day to keep dehydration at bay. Adding some freshly squeezed lemon to your water first thing in the morning that can help to flush toxins out of your system that may have built up overnight. Avoid sugar-laden soft drinks, processed juices, sports drinks, and alcohol, which add an additional metabolic burden on the body. It is also wise to limit caffeine, which dehydrates the body.
- Improve Your Gut
Good gut health is fundamental for lymphatic flow. Improving gut health requires removing factors that cause irritation and imbalance, repairing the gut lining, and balancing the microbiome within the gut.
Follow a nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory diet that is individualized for your unique needs and sensitivities. This makes your digestive tract more resilient to the harmful impacts of stress and keeps the gut healthy.
- Eat Lymph-Cleansing Red Foods
Ayurvedic medicine teaches that naturally occurring red foods like cherries, pomegranates, cranberries, and beets help to keep the lymph moving freely. These can be eaten raw, or juiced, for maximum benefits.
- Dress Smart
One simple way to prevent restricting lymphatic flow is to avoid tight clothing. Wearing tight fitting or restraining garments, like a bra with an underwire, or tight briefs or jeans, can restrict the drainage of lymph fluids from surrounding tissues. Look for looser-fitting clothing. It is especially important to choose unrestricting clothing when sleeping since the body carries out extensive detoxification activities during sleep.
- Move Your Lymph with Massage
You may notice that fluid builds up and your legs get swollen when you sit for long periods of time. This is due to stagnation of lymph flow and can be prevented by frequent moving, massage and stretching. Many massage therapists are trained to assist with this. Request this when receiving a massage.
- Move Your Lymph with Movement
The rhythmic tensing and relaxing of the muscles during physical movement compresses the tissues to propel fluid through the lymphatic channels. Rebounding or bouncing on a mini-trampoline or exercise ball is one way to help pump and decongest the lymphatic fluid throughout the body.
Walking is one of the very best movement modalities. Regular brisk walking is a powerful aid in improving nearly all health metrics. When recovering from an injury, slowly increase your movement each day to improve circulation.
Physical and emotional stress contribute to lymph congestion, so it is important to have an effective routine for coping with daily stress. Two excellent ways to relax and boost lymphatic flow are laughter and breathwork. Slow, deep breathing not only helps to relieve tension and anxiety but also moves the diaphragm and abdominal muscles to push lymph through the vessels.
Tail of the Sun offers training in a powerful breathwork called Somato Respiratory Integration, or SRI. It follows the arc of healing and is very effective.
- Balance Your Nervous System to Reduce Inflammation
Network Spinal is a very effective chiropractic technique. It brings balance to the central nervous system, restores vagal tone, and helps the body to reset. By reducing the effects of stress and trauma, as well as addressing the defense physiology, the body can find greater ease and energy flow. Contact me to learn more.