What is the lymphatic system? The lymphatic system is the largest circulatory system within the body and it is also a system which has not been fully investigated. In fact, most people are simply unaware of it, why it exists or what role it plays within the body.
The role of the lymphatic system
The lymphatic system is a network of vessels, glands, spleen, thymus gland and tonsils which carry a clear fluid called lymph. Lymph’s composition is similar to blood except that it does not contain haemoglobin nor any blood proteins. The lymphatic system consists of organs, ducts and lymph nodes which act as filters for the removal of toxins. The lymphatic system is a detox system; a nutrient delivery system and is the home of the immune system. Without this system, life could not exist.
The lymphatic system:
- Works as a drainage system across the whole body in order to remove excess fluid and toxins. If the excess fluid is not removed, then toxins begin to build up causing swelling in the body.
- Has hundreds of lymph nodes which not only act as filters for the removal of toxins.
- Houses white blood cells in the lymph nodes which are the body’s defenders against bacteria and viruses.
- Delivers fats in the form of triglycerides to be used for energy in between meals. When the lymphatic system is not functioning correctly, the first sign is fatigue.
- Undigested proteins and fats that are not absorbed into the bloodstream from the intestines are processed by the lymphatic system. Fats are mainly divided into two groups, short chain and long chain fatty acids. Short chain fatty acids are absorbed by the liver whilst long chain fatty acids are absorbed by the lymphatic system. A sluggish lymphatic system will result in impaired fat absorption leading to accumulated and deposition of fats onto tissues and fat cells resulting in weight gain.
- Astonishingly, the lymphatic system drains an average of 3 pounds of plaque and toxins from the brain each year. Removing this plaque and toxins may aid cognitive function as well as possibly improve psychological response.
- Works via muscular contractions or exercise. A lack of exercise can congest the lymph channels which drain the brain and body whilst you sleep.
A healthy lymphatic system
Think of the lymphatic system as a waste manager within the body albeit not solely responsible since the liver also plays a vital part. It is clear that such an important bodily system would require some form of support and cleansing mechanism to maintain its optimal function. The consumption of processed foods, the use of chemical-laden products, pollution, by-products of the metabolism of the food we eat, food additives and other toxins all put a burden on the lymphatic system resulting in sluggishness.
Unlike the circulatory system which has the heart as the pump, the lymphatic system does not have a circulatory pump. Given that it is a collection point for toxins and wastes, it is important to get these toxins moving for the ultimate elimination from the body.
The notable effects of a sluggish lymphatic system include:
- weight gain
- susceptibility to infection
- tiredness and fatigue
- dry skin
- itchy skin
- cold hands and feet
- brain fog
- fluid retention
- breast swelling with each cycle
- mild skin rashes
These are just some of the effects of a poor functioning lymphatic system. The traditional medicine system of Ayurveda has always placed important on the health of the lymphatic system as being vital for longevity and with good reason.
How to get the lymph moving
In contrast to the circulatory system, the lymphatic system does not have a pump and yet it has to deal with three times the amount of fluid than blood and this has to flow against gravity. So how is this achieved?
Lymph fluid flows as a result of contractions of the surrounding muscles as a result of exercise or physical activity, contractions of the smooth vessel in the lymphatic vessels and movements of the chest when breathing. This highlights the importance of exercise in keeping the lymph moving.
- Drink plenty of water; without adequate water lymph fluid cannot flow.
- Eat more raw fruit on an empty stomach. The enzymes and acids in fruits are powerful lymph cleansers
- Dry skin brushing before showering helps lymphatic drainage. Work in the same direction as your lymph flows which is towards the heart.
- A gentle massage frees toxins and helps lymph flow. There are massages specifically aimed to aiding lymph drainage but any gentle massage will be of benefit.
- Limit wearing tight clothing. There are many lymph nodes around the armpits and pressure for example from a bra may limit lymph drainage.
- Use a supplement that works such as Cleavers by Viridian Nutrition.
Cleavers for the lymphatic system
Cleavers has a long history of traditional medicinal use both externally and when taken internally. An excellent diuretic, it is often used to alleviate inflammatory skin concerns such as psoriasis and eczema. Cleavers is often used as a detoxifying agent.
Also known as sticky weed, Cleavers is thought to move, drain and filter cellular waste out of the body whilst helping to stimulate killer cells, which are specialised white blood cells that engulf bacteria and viruses, to help support immune health.
The lymphatic system is equally important as the blood circulatory system and thoroughly cleansing this detoxification and immune enhancing system, even if carried out periodically, is in my opinion the key to optimal health.