Ask most people if they’re taking care of their lymphatic system and the likely response would be, “What’s a lymphatic system?”
Chances are, if you’re not involved in Western medicine or Indian Ayurveda or haven’t experienced a problem with the functioning of your lymphatic system, then it’s probably not something you’ve ever given much thought to. But you should — because it is one of the most amazing systems in the body and keeping it healthy is one of the keys to keeping your immune response working hard every second of the day, fighting to keep infection and disease from dragging you down.
What’s the lymphatic system all about? Here’s a quick look at this crucial yet often overlooked aspect of our physiology — and how best to care for yours.
Meet your lymphatic system
So, where exactly does the lymphatic system live? Just about everywhere in your body. Or, as the National Library of Medicine describes it, the lymphatic system is made up of the tissues, organs, and a network of vessels that produce, carry, and store your white blood cells, aka those all-important cells in charge of fighting infections and other diseases. Among the ‘parts’ that make up your lymphatic system are the spleen, thymus, bone marrow, tonsils, adenoids, lymph nodes, lymphatic vessels, capillaries, and lymphatic fluid.
What is the purpose of the lymphatic system?
The lymphatic system’s primary job is to keep your body healthy and help the immune system by battling infections and disease, clearing toxins and excess fluid from the body, and transporting white blood cells and nutrients to where they’re needed most. In short, it’s all about detoxification, keeping the body running clean, and giving it everything it needs to function optimally. Think of the lymphatic system as your body’s scrubbing, filtering housekeeping crew, always on the job.
How does it keep your machine clean?
With help of lymphatic fluid, the lymphatic vessels and capillaries drain and transport unwanted materials — like toxins, bacteria, or dead or damaged cells — to the lymph nodes. There, anything that is harmful to the body or no longer needed is filtered out of the fluid which is then returned to circulation to continue its disease-fighting duties. And here’s a fun fact about the lymphatic system and an easy way to remember its role: the word lymph comes from the Latin word ‘lympha,’ which means “clear water.”
Here are eight ways to keep your lymphatic system detoxifying like a champ.
1. Get your gut in order — and fortify it
The healthier and more intact your gut is, the fewer inflammatory particles you’ll have in circulation, and the less clean-up work your lymphatic system will need to do. To start healing your leaky gut, try a 14-day elimination diet or our Be Well Cleanse to banish irritants and allergens and help rebalance your microbiome’s bacterial balance. To further support the health of your healed gut, consider adding a few key supplements to the mix, like a high-quality omega-3 fish oil, a daily probiotic, digestive enzymes, and inflammation-taming turmeric.
2. Get moving
The lymphatic system is, in a manner of speaking, about keeping the sludge moving, draining the detritus, and refreshing the system with clean, disease-fighting, white blood cell-rich lymphatic fluid. The challenge is that the system doesn’t really move that readily on its own. Breathing helps but it needs your help to move things along more efficiently, and physical activity does that by acting as a sort of lymphatic pump. When you’re sedentary, there’s little ‘pumping’ action going on, so the lymphatic system tends gets sluggish, toxins start building up, and you start to feel it with the arrival of low-grade ills like colds, sore throats, or swelling in the extremities — and probably a lot more often than your more active acquaintances. But your exercise routine doesn’t have to be exhausting. Gentle movement like yoga, tai chi, chi gong, a few laps around the office, or a walk after dinner is just fine. Bottom line: keep moving every day — and throughout it — to facilitate fluid flow!
3. Yoga: stretch it out
Not only does regular stretching feel good and increase blood flow, but a regular habit of full-body stretching, be it classic athletic stretches or yoga-based, will help boost the flow of lymphatic fluid. Better fluid flow will help push the detritus more quickly through the lymphatic vessels and capillaries on to the lymph nodes and ultimately out of your system. One of my favorite yoga-inspired moves to encourage lymphatic flow is called ‘Inversion: Legs up the wall’ and here’s how to do it:
• Place the short side of a yoga mat against a wall, then put a bolster or three firmly folded blankets on the mat a few inches from the wall.
• Kneel to the side of the mat, facing away from the wall.
• Lean sideways over the bolster, pivot your hips, and swing your legs up the wall.
• Rest your pelvis on the bolster and your sit bones and heels against the wall.
• The back of your head and the tops of your shoulders should be sinking into the mat while you hold up your legs vertically.
• Your arms should be turned out at the sockets, resting comfortably at your sides with your hands and wrists relaxed. Feel your lumbar spine releasing and spreading from the center to the sides. Soften the sockets of your eyes, feeling the body release tension from the skull down to the heart.
• Remain in the pose for five to 15 minutes.
• When you are ready to come out of the pose, bend your legs and push your feet against the wall to slide off the bolster.
• Then bend your knees to your chest and roll over onto your right side before slowly pushing yourself up, rolling your head up last.
4. Get over yourself (figuratively)
Another way to prime the lymphatic pump? Inversion therapy. For healthy people, an inversion session, via a classic headstand or shoulder stand or with an inversion table, uses gravity to help drain extra fluid from the extremities and improve circulation overall. Keep in mind, people with blood pressure, eye, ear, spine, bone, circulation, heart, or weight issues should consider other approaches instead, and check with your doc to see if you’re healthy enough for inversion therapy.
5. Drink up
As in hydrate. To keep the internal lymphatic fluid flowing — it is after all, roughly 95 percent water — it helps to keep external fluids flowing in. But we’re not talking dehydrating coffee and cocktails or sugary ‘sports drinks,’ we’re talking water, mineral water, cucumber- and lemon-infused waters, and green, black, red or herbal teas, preferably unsweetened.
6. Eat the rainbow
As if you needed one more reason to eat as many colorful veggies as possible, you guessed it, all those gifts from nature are nutrient-packed, and ready for their trip down lymphatic lane. Whereas junk food, processed foods, and sugar put a strain on all your systems, a veggie-packed diet will help keep your gut strong and leak-free, inflammation low and immunity high, thus enabling the lymphatic system to focus its attention where it matters most: fighting infection and disease and delivering nutrients.
7. Chill out
If there is one simple, pleasant, free and, in my book, perfect activity every person on the planet can do, it’s meditation. It’s the ultimate relaxation tool and stress-buster you can take advantage of anywhere, anytime. Meditation’s deep, focused breathing and muscle relaxation supports the health of your lymphatic system, relieving the lymphatic congestion that tends to pile up when you’re stressed out, so do it every day!
8. Indulge liberally in self care
Other ways to encourage lymphatic flow and optimal detoxification 24/7? Indulge in a few feel-good, self care staples like lymphatic massage and infrared sauna sessions. Both will help flush out toxins and excess fluids, reduce blood pressure, and encourage better lymphatic drainage. And, as an added bonus, both activities will also help reduce stress and boost mood, so enjoy! In between sessions, add some foam-rolling to your arsenal for additional relaxation benefits, better muscle performance, blood and lymphatic flow.
I can’t stress enough how important it is that you give your lymphatic system the love and care it needs to make all the systems in your body thrive. When you take good care of it, you are giving your body the ammunition it needs to fight off the kind of health problems which can otherwise devastate your health — think cancer, Alzheimers, dementia, etc. Fortunately, the lifestyle tweaks that support lymphatic health also support your overall health, so you’re covering a lot of bases here.