Amazingly it’s said that without the lymphatic system we would bloat up and die within 24 to 48 hours! A well-functioning and healthy lymphatic system is vital for good health and immunity. It’s easy to improve your lymphatic system naturally with some straightforward lifestyle changes.
What is the lymphatic system?
The lymphatic system is a network of 600 to 700 vessels and nodes that carries a clear fluid called lymph. Its main functions include fluid balance, transport, decongestion and vital work for the immune system.
How does the lymphatic system work?
When the heart pumps blood into your tiny capillaries, which are interlaced into nearly every square inch of your body, most of the fluid (called plasma) diffuses into surrounding tissues and becomes interstitial fluid. Most of this is reabsorbed by your veins and returned to your heart but a small amount stays behind.
The lymphatic system helps regulate interstitial fluid balance by providing a return route. Since it is cleaning up the tissue, nutrients that need to get to cells to nourish them quickly and efficiently can do so.
The reverse is true for metabolic waste leaving cells. Think of a traffic jam; the lymphatic system unblocks it and takes away the acid cellular waste that can build up in our bodies and cause disease.
In addition, lymph fluid is rich in lymphocytes, which are types of white blood cells that are concentrated in lymph nodes, where they destroy various viruses, bacteria, proteins and other cell waste products.
So, in a nutshell, the lymphatic system transports, decongests, contains and neutralizes.
How modern lifestyles affect lymphatic system function
Unfortunately, a lot of aspects of our modern lifestyles work against our lymphatic system and result in sluggish and clogged lymph flow.
The following aspects of modern lifestyles adversely affect lymphatic system function:
- long periods of sitting
- a high fat diet
- wearing tight clothing and underwear
- chronic dehydration.
It`s important to understand that this puts us at higher risk of all types of infections and diseases, including cancer.
The symptoms of a sluggish lymphatic system
Some of the symptoms of lymphatic stagnation include:
- under-eye bags
- post-nasal drip
- swollen extremities (hands and feet)
- breast swelling
- brain fog
- frequent or recurring illness
- slow recovery from illness.
Improve your lymphatic system with easy lifestyle changes
If you think you’re suffering from a sluggish lymphatic system, the good news is that there’s plenty you can do to improve and support your lymph health with some simple and easy lifestyle changes.
Sip warm fluids
We don’t want thick lymph fluid because it doesn’t flow well. Sipping warm (not hot) fluids re-hydrates and warms the body, thus lowering fluid viscosity.
You don’t have to drink warm fluids all day, although you could if you have a Thermos flask. Just a herbal tea in the morning and one at night should be sufficient.
Consume detoxifying herbs
Certain herbs are great for supporting detoxification in general and can help boost lymph fluid flow. Here are some of the better tasting ones which can be bought in such shops as the herbalist in Santa Catalina, Mallorca:
- ginger root
Improve your gut health
Not many of us realise that lymph tissue surrounds our digestive tract and is our first line of defence against the toxins we consume, such as in processed food, and perhaps too much red meat, dairy products and alcohol.
It’s down to the lymphatic system, liver and kidneys to deal with all these toxins. So, taking care of your intestinal tract by eating a fibre-rich, plant-based diet that is low in fat really helps. Limiting antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs is a good idea too, as is taking probiotics if needed and staying well-hydrated.
Dehydrated people have dehydrated bodily fluids. When you are dehydrated, your blood thickens, so your heart has to pump harder. Thickened synovial fluid creates friction in your joints and, if the same happens to cerebrospinal fluid, your brain function is affected. Lymph fluid does not buck this trend.
Drinking as soon as you wake up on an empty stomach is a great way to boost your body’s fluid levels after a dehydrating night. Eating juicy, fresh hydrating produce, especially in the first half of the day, helps to decongest all body fluids and keep lymph fluid thin and flowing.
Since the lymphatic system has no dedicated pump, it relies on muscle contraction and dynamic bodily movement to move lymph fluid against gravity.
Any exercise works, including walking, jogging, yoga and weights. If you’re feeling particularly stagnant, I highly recommend walking and yoga. There’s a lot to be said for the twists and inversions of yoga to improve lymph flow.
Take saunas and cold showers
Since sweating is a good mode of detoxification, a spell in a hot sauna is a good idea. Additionally, it promotes lymph flow, as does a cold shower.
Try manual lymphatic drainage and dry brushing
Why not try manual lymphatic drainage? This is a massage technique for moving subcutaneous lymph. It’s incredibly effective given its feather light touch.
The next recommendation is dry brushing. It feels fantastic and is a great way to move your own lymph fluid whilst exfoliating the skin.
Wear loose fitting clothing and take breaks at work
Wear loose fitting clothing whenever you can, because underwired bras, for example, restrict lymph flow in a big way.
Sitting all day in an office means your bent hip has a hinge effect, which seriously impedes lymph flow, as does the shoulder and head forward position we adopt in front of a computer. Taking breaks to move and stretch really helps.
Keep in mind that stress is bad in so many ways. It doesn’t help your lymph flow either, because it causes you to lock up your muscles, and have bad posture and shallow breathing. At several points during the day, try to remember to correct your posture, breathe in deeply and breathe out with force. You should feel tingly and warm.
If you focus on these basics, you should see a marked improvement in the efficiency of your lymphatic system and your general health.
Written by Lizzy Hearmon
About the author
Lizzy trained at the Northern Institute of Massage in Manchester and at the ITEC in Oxford and is now a qualified remedial and Swedish massage therapist.