Our body houses a number of important systems to maintain optimal health. You might be familiar with the cardiovascular system, digestive system and nervous system but have you heard of the lymphatic system?
Made up of an intricate networks of organs, vessels and specialised fluid, the lymphatic system plays a major role in removing toxins and waste products from the body’s tissues; fighting infections and diseases; and balancing fluid throughout the body. The lymphatic system is vital for healthy immune function and defending against potentially harmful pathogens – that’s why it’s important to better understand how you can take care of our own lymphatic system. But first, let’s take a look at some basic physiology.
The Lymphatic System
‘Lymph’ is a clear fluid which collects and carries proteins, fats, bacteria, excess fluid and damaged cells around the body via tube-like structures called lymph vessels. Lymph fluid is transported to lymph nodes where the fluid is routinely processed and cleaned by immune cells (also known as white blood cells).
Think back to the last time you were fighting a cold or felt run down. Do you remember feeling small, tender bumps around the sides your neck? Those lumps were probably swollen lymph nodes; the sign of a normal and healthy immune response! When we are under the weather, lymph nodes spring into action and begin fighting off pathogens and other foreign particles. Once this job is done, the lymphatic system returns to business as usual; clearing toxins and waste from the body’s tissues.
Lymphatics & Human Health
With approximately 700 lymph nodes spread throughout the human body, it’s no wonder the lymphatic system has a strong influence on our overall health.
Firstly, the lymphatic system helps to maintain fluid balance in the body. When the lymphatic system is under pressure and stress, the volume of fluid surrounding bodily tissue can increase which results in fluid retention and swelling. It is the job of healthy lymph capillaries to reduce excess fluid and restore balance in the body.
Secondly, recent studies highlight the importance of the lymphatic system for the absorption of dietary fats and fat-soluble vitamins in the digestive system.
Thirdly, and probably the most well-known function of the lymphatic system, is it’s defence against disease and invading microorganisms. As such, the lymphatic system is thought to be involved in a variety of health conditions from infections to cancer to metabolic and inflammatory diseases.
Looking After Your Lymphatic System
Maintaining a healthy lymphatic system can be achieved with simple yet effective lifestyle approaches. Here are our top evidence-based tips to nurture and love your lymph!
- Drink plenty of water – Dehydration is one of the most common causes of lymphatic congestion which can further exacerbate existing lymph problems. Drinking sufficient water throughout the day encourages healthy lymphatic function and reduces water retention.
- Movement – While the human heart is responsible for pumping fresh blood around the body, the lymphatic system relies on movement of smooth muscle tissue to carry fluid toward lymph nodes. Engaging in different forms of exercise can promote healthy lymphatic activity – whether that’s a run, walk or regularly standing up and stretching throughout the day!
- Nutrient-rich diet – Prioritising a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables and limiting processed foods and beverages can improve overall health by supporting healthy detoxification, boosting the immune system and promoting optimal lymph function.
- Manual lymphatic drainage techniques (MLDTs) – MLDTs involve gentle, slow and rhythmic movements applied to the skin near the armpits, neck, arms, legs and feet to stimulate the lymphatic system and increase healthy lymph circulation. Lymphatic drainage has been shown to reduce swelling (known as edema) and assist with health conditions such as lymphedema and fibromyalgia. Lymphatic drainage can be performed by a trained professional, like Shira Halberstad our lymphatic drainage reflexology practitioner, or you can learn basic drainage techniques to use on yourself at home.
As usual, it is advised that you consult your doctor or Shira for more information about lymphatic health as there are some practices that may not be ideal or safe for some health conditions including congestive heart failure, blood clots, kidney problems, active infections or circulation problems. If you are unsure, please contact your health care provider.