We spend a lot of time thinking about the health of our heart, and muscles, but we often overlook one of the key systems in our body – our lymphatic system. Here’s why you should make it a priority…
If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you’re already quite health-conscious. But have you ever thought about your lymphatic health?
Maybe you take supplements to help give your brain a daily boost, but most of us neglect to think about our lymphatic systems, despite it being arguably one of the most under-appreciated systems in our body.
What exactly is our lymphatic system?
The lymphatic system is a network of tissues, vessels, organs, and nodes, which run throughout the body, moving a fluid called lymph. It has many functions in the body – from balancing the levels of water in the body to supporting the absorption of nutrients from the digestive system. It also works as an essential part of the immune system, helping to protect the body from infection and disease.
This lymph system appears throughout the body in a similar way to our circulatory system, with vessels branching through all parts of our limbs (much like our arteries and veins), but the lymph it carries is a colorless liquid that moves to cells and tissues and into the bloodstream. Unlike the circulatory system, it has no pump to propel the lymph around the body; instead, it relies on the movement of our body and the contraction and relaxation of our muscles to help it flow.
One of its key responsibilities sees it acting like a drainage system for our body, removing waste from cells and taking away any damaged cells or bacteria, while also collecting excess fluid to be recirculated through the body. It produces and releases white blood cells, too, in its immune-boosting capacity, and our lymph nodes act as a filter to break down or trap anything harmful. Do you know when your lymph nodes feel sore? That’s often because they’ve trapped bacteria or a virus they can’t destroy straight away and are busy fighting the infection. Pretty impressive for a system we rarely hear about, right?
What happens when the lymphatic system is not functioning properly?
When our lymph system isn’t flowing as it should, it can have a big impact on our body and well-being. When our lymphatic system is sluggish, it can directly affect four other bodily functions: circulation, immunity, digestion, and metabolism, which can cause many issues including fluid retention, and a lowered immune system.
It can even have an impact on the appearance of our skin, as many skin complaints (including acne) can be caused or exacerbated by excess toxins in the body.
In more serious cases, a poorly functioning lymph system can also lead to a collection of fluid in one area, resulting in swelling and a condition known as lymphoedema.
When our lymphatic system is sluggish, it can directly affect four other bodily functions: circulation, immunity, digestion, and metabolism.
How to improve your lymphatic system
So now we’ve realized just how important it is, it’s time for the good news – and that’s the fact there are some really simple things you can do to keep this system working as it should.
Drink plenty of water
Yes, it’s our trusty friend again – good old H20. Water is key for the health of our lymph system because lymph itself is made up of up to 96% water. This means dehydration can slow down the flow of our lymph. Poor hydration can lead to thicker lymph fluid and lymphatic congestion where there is slower or reduced movement of fluid through the system.
Move, exercise regularly
Exercising and moving regularly helps with many of our bodily processes, and the lymph system is no different. As the lymphatic system has no way of pushing or pumping the lymph fluid through the vessels, it relies heavily on movement to stimulate the movement of lymph. This means physical movements such as cardiovascular exercise and even yoga are really important, and reducing the time that we remain sedentary is also key.
Reduce your intake of toxins
Reducing the burden of toxins on our lymphatic system is really helpful, so reducing exposure to toxins such as synthetic chemicals through our food, water, and environments is a great starting point.
It may sound hard to believe, but simple breathing has been proven to help our lymph system flow more effectively. That’s due, in part, to the fact deep diaphragmatic breathing can stimulate one of the largest lymphatic vessels in our body, the thoracic duct.
I am a big fan of body brushing for boosting the lymph system and encouraging movement within the vessels. She recommends using a natural bristle brush and doing it at least a few times a week. You can read more about body brushing technic in my body brushing blog.
Treat yourself to a massage
You may have heard people talking about manual lymphatic drainage before but rather than a scary-sounding medical procedure, it’s actually a type of gentle massage that involves stimulating the lymphatic system through certain hand movements.
It helps encourage the lymph to move around the lymphatic system, supporting the body in eliminating water retention and toxins from the body, all of which are thought to help to balance hormones and boost the immune, blood, and circulatory systems.
So there you have it – plenty of reasons why the lymphatic system needs to be on your radar, and some easy ways to look after it.
Start by finding your local lymphatic drainage therapist ( aka MLD therapist ), book yourself for an MLD massage, and experience a whole new level of well-being!