The Lymphatic System: What It Does — And How To Keep Yours Healthy!
As an Occupational Therapist this was a system we studied, but never gave more than a lecture or two too.
However, this was a system that fascinated me then; and does now! The power and strength of the lymphatic system are incredible and I truly believe we all could do a little more to support our lymphatic system – and in turn help our whole body!
The Facts & The Basics:
The fundamental question is what “lymph” is! Well, it is a colorless fluid which contains white blood cells. White blood cells are our key immune cells. Lymph covers the tissues in our body, and it has its own drainage system, which is called the lymphatic system.
Our lymphatic system consists of lymph capillaries (basically small little drainage pipes) that collects all the fluid that occupies the spaces between different tissues in the body. Those little capillaries connect to larger pipes, called lymph vessels, which lead to lymph nodes.
So…lymph capillaries –> lymph vessels –> lymph nodes
The most common lymph node we are familiar with are the small circular bumps under the surface of your skin around your jaw that arise during a cold, then go away when the cold does. When they are enlarged this is when your immune system is fighting something on your behalf. Things can get a whole lot more technical from here; but this is the most important stuff. Lymph is a substance that brings proteins, excess fluids, bacteria, cancer cells, and fats to the lymph nodes for processing.
The lymphatic system and our health
Our lymphatic system helps with the fluid balance in our body, and plays a variety of roles; however I will focus on our immune system. This system also influences a wide variety of conditions, from infections to inflammatory diseases as well as metabolic disorders and cancer.
Our lymphatic system is a “superhighway” for lymphocytes and immune cells, which flow into region-specific lymph nodes. Within these nodes are where our immune system comes into contact with pathogens, microbes, and other things that get it revved up. What makes this collection of vessel a “superhighway” as opposed to just a regular highway is that it actively participates in affecting the immune system itself by participating in the immune response rather than just serving as a simple roadway.
Conditions of our lymphatic system that can affect our health includes; Lymphedema; a condition in which you might get swelling in your face, arms, legs, or abdomen as a result of fluid not draining well into the lymphatic system. There is Lymphadenopathy; lumps found in a physical exam that ma possibly be the first signs of cancer. When the lymphatic system of the brain is impaired, there are implications for the development of neurovascular, neurodegenerative, and neuroinflammatory conditions in addition to brain tumours and injuries. These are just a few of the major diseases and conditions that can affect the lymphatic system.
How to maintain a healthy lymphatic system
1. Drink plenty of water. An oldie but a goodie! These are all things we have heard before; but are important to keep in mind. The word lymph comes from the word “lympha,” which means fresh water. We want to keep the water flowing nice and fresh, and we want to avoid the river from drying out and becoming stagnant. This means avoiding excessive alcohol and caffeine, which can dehydrate the body.
2. Exercise. We have a whole online library and Facebook Group dedicated to this!
One of the best things we can do for our lymphatic system is to move on a regular basis. The more you are contracting and moving your muscles and joints, the better the lymph will flow. Remember: While the lymphatic system is a circulatory system like the blood vessels we all have, there is no heart to drive the lymphatic system, so we have to move and exercise to make the lymph flow nicely.
3. Eat a colorful diet—free of processed foods. We can share all of these in our facebook group!!
A diet rich in colorful vegetables and fruits high in antioxidants, avoiding processed and fast foods in addition to sugar-filled foods and drinks. This will help with the detoxification ability of your cells and will help keep the lymph clean and flowing while boosting your immune system’s ability to do its job. Maintaining good gut health and a resilient gut microbiome are certainly key factors in obtaining optimal health on a number of levels.
4. Include manual lymphatic massage into your weekly routine.
Lymphatic massage can also be helpful! A Lymphatic pump treatment done, typically completed by osteopaths or lymphatic training occupational therpaists can improve lymph and immune health. There are lots of at – home lymphatic massage you can do as well!
Mechanical massage, manual lymphatic drainage, and connective tissue manipulation have also shown to be helpful, particularly with reducing regional fat mass and thickness within our cellulite. There is a technique including a foam roller and deep-tissue massage called Rolfing – which you can do at home!
5. Try dry brushing at home.
This is a technique that is reported to help get the lymphatic system moving and remove toxins from your body. All you have to do is purchase a special brush and methodically brush your body gently. There is not as much medical science behind this technique as manual massage; however if you enjoy it and it makes you feel better, then it is not unreasonable to add it into your weekly routine.
Stress reduction and relaxation are also key ingredients of supporting our lymphatic flow. Just think of this as exercise for your circulation. In this case, laughing and deep breathing could be considered forms of exercise because you are using and contracting your muscles. Join us online for any one of our beautiful flow, stretch or strength classes!
At the end of the day, our lymphatic system is VITAL to our health. There are many areas that still need research, but the above are some of the most well recognised strategies. ENJOY!
AWPilates & Wellness Tribe