The lymphatic system is a network of nodes and vessels and valves that lie just under the skin and transport lymph — a clear fluid containing white blood cells and waste products — throughout the body. Lymph is one important method of body detoxification.
It’s a fairly complex system, but to simplify, I like to think of the lymphatic system as a garbage truck that pulls junk away from your organs and the spaces between your cells and into the lymphatic channels, or highways, so your cells aren’t bombarded by waste.
Because it is a bit of a lone-wolf system, not pumped by the heart nor moved automatically through smooth muscle action as in the digestive tract, lymph easily becomes sluggish and backed up.
If this happens, it can’t relieve the digestive system of some of its toxic load, which can cause digestion to back up too, as your body becomes less and less able to remove waste from your GI tract.
Sluggish lymph also builds up as fluid accumulation throughout your body, making you puffy and chubby looking, although not from fat. You may think it’s from fat, which is why I call lymphatic backup Fake Fat.
The reason lymph needs so much help is that it has to move upward, against gravity, without any dedicated internal mechanism pushing it in that direction.
The lymph has to make it to the lymph nodes so the toxins in it can get filtered by the immune cells, yet nothing pushes the lymph up except movement, so it can get stuck and pool in the lower body.
This is why some people have swollen feet and ankles, especially when they are too sedentary. Some people are born with fewer lymph nodes and have even more problems with excessive water and lymph accumulation when the body gets inflamed.
Here are 8 ways to help move lymph to the lymph nodes and, in turn, assist your body in the detoxification process.
1. Get Moving
The only way to move lymph is by doing it physically.
The action of your muscles and circulation aid the clearance of lymph. So you can do this by exercising or just moving around vigorously — muscle action peripherally puts pressure on the lymphatic system’s fine network of vessels.
The most effective kind of exercises for moving lymph are jumping rope, jumping on a trampoline, or just jumping on the ground.
This can be anything from the inversion postures of yoga (shoulder stand, head stand, downward facing dog or placing your legs up a wall) to hanging upside down on your kids monkey bars or using an inversion table.
Inversion decompresses the joints of the body and stimulates the lymphatic and circulatory system. Bringing blood and oxygen to the tissues, which clears toxic build-up in muscles.
By inverting, gravity works with, not against, the body, encouraging the movement of the lymph towards the heart, increasing the rate that it is cleaned and filtered. It also improves spinal health by rehydrating the discs, reducing pressure on the nerves and relaxing tense muscles.
Give it a try. You will see the world from a new perspective!
Twists are also a great way to stimulate lymphatic flow.
Through the practice of twisting the abdomen, the organs and muscles are squeezed, forcing the lymph out of the tissues.
Finally, the natural dynamic flow through the yoga poses cause the muscles in the body to contract and relax, which is the primary way lymph moves through the body. This allows for a free flow of lymph, which prevents its stagnation and accumulation of toxins.
4. Lemon Water
Lymph is about 95% water, making water essential for lymphatic health.
The aim is to stay hydrated. To get a ball park figure (this will vary according to % body fat, diet, exercise, climate) of the amount of water (mL) you need to consume daily divide your weight in kg by 0.024.
Without adequate water, lymphatic fluid cannot flow properly. And one of the most common causes of lymph congestion is dehydration.
Water, and only water, can adequately rehydrate the body, but if you want to speed up the process, add lemon to your water.
Lemon is an alkaline fruit that helps to mineralize the body and lymph.
Try sipping on warm lemon water throughout the day, but don’t forget your straw! This protects the teeth’s enamel from the lemon.
We all love a good massage, and here’s just one more reason why.
Lymphatic massage is a special form of massage that specifically targets the flow of lymph in the body.
It uses a specific amount of pressure and rhythmic circular movements to stimulate the lymph, encouraging its movement towards the heart for the drainage of fluid and waste.
Lymphatic massage has shown in studies to push up to 78 percent of stagnant lymph back into circulation. This mobilizes toxins for clearance, lessening the burden on the lymphatic system.
6. Dry Brushing
Dry skin brushing is an Ayurveda & TCM practice for assisting in lymphatic flow and boosting circulation.
You simply take a dry brush with coarse bristle and brush the skin towards the heart.
This stimulates the sweat glands, opens pores, and gets rid of dead skin cells.
It also encourages the movement of lymph and blood in underlying organs and tissues of the body, which helps clear built-up toxins.
As a result, it can be beneficial in improving skin conditions and reducing cellulite.
7. Eat Raw Foods
Incorporating raw foods into the diet is an easy way to keep the lymphatic system healthy on an ongoing basis.
Raw foods offer high levels of naturally occurring enzymes that break down toxic buildups and promote the clearance of harmful substances in the body.
Eating foods raw, in particular fruits and vegetables, is also a great way to boost the water levels in the body.
Finally, raw foods are primarily alkaline, which help neutralize harmful pathogens, lessening the burden on the lymph.
8. Go Wireless
Just like tight-fitting clothes, underwire bras can impede normal lymphatic flow.
One of the largest clusters of lymph nodes is located in the armpit and upper chest area, and those nodes act as a source of drainage for the breast, arm, and upper chest.
If a bra is too tight, or if the underwire is too restrictive (for most of us this is the case), the lymph is constricted, preventing normal drainage.
Some researchers believe that over a period of time this can cause long-term impairment of the lymphatic function, and may contribute to an array of conditions including fibrocystic breast tissue, swollen lymph nodes and breast cancer.
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