Everything You Need to Know About Your Lymphatic System
There are 11 major systems in the body. When they’re taken care of, they run optimally. When they run optimally, you look & feel like your best, sexiest self (scout’s honor). We’ve already learned about the endocrine system and the nervous system, so today, we’re talking lymphatic.
WHAT IS THE LYMPHATIC SYSTEM? Though the lymphatic system is the most understudied, and arguably, the least understood system of the body, it is the body’s biggest drain -- keep it cleansed! Essentially, the lymphatic system is a network of tissues and organs that help rid the body of toxins and various harmful ingredients (think: cancer cells). The primary function of the lymphatic system is to transport lymph all throughout the body. Lymph is a white-blood cell infection-fighting, clear, colorless fluid, coming from the Latin word lympha, meaning “connected to water”. The lymph journey runs twice as long as the blood supply system, removing waste from every single cell in the body, simultaneously regulating the immune system. And unlike blood, lymph only flows in one direction: toward the neck (aka why we're told to dry brush this way). Lymph contains oxygen and proteins, amongst a host of other nutrients to nourish the tissues it graces. Small lymph vessels that connect to larger ones form a structure called the thoracic duct -- the largest lymphatic vessel. Lymph transports bacteria, cancer cells, and damaged cells from tissues into the lymph organs for dumping. There are two versions of lymph nodes: Superficial lymph nodes and Deep lymph nodes. Superficial lymph includes the Axillary (under the arm, receiving fluid from the arms, chest, back and breast tissue), and the Inguinal (located at the front bending of the hip, receiving fluid from the legs, lower abdomen, glutes and genitals). Deep lymph includes the Supra Clavicular (located on the neck just above -- supra -- the collarbones, receiving fluid from the head and shoulders), and the Deep Abdominal / Pelvic Nodes (all throughout the abdomen, receiving fluid from the superficial inguinal area, causing swelling or decompression of the lower extremities, abdomen and genitals).
WHAT DOES IT DO FOR ME? All in all, the lymphatic system is continuously draining and cleaning you out -- healing and regenerating cells while efficiently disposing of any noxious ones. It is regulating your immune system, and keeping you virus free. Functioning parallel to the circulatory system, the lymphatic system consists of lymphatic vessels and tissues, quite similar to veins and capillaries (only, sans the blood). These vessels connect to lymph nodes (where aforementioned super lymph is filtered), the tonsils, adenoids, spleen and thymus. And though you have hundreds, and hundreds of lymph nodes throughout your body, the spleen is king. The spleen is located on the left side of the body, just above the kidneys, and controls the amount of red blood cells stored in your body to help fight off infection. The lymphatic system is coordinated with all your major detoxification organs. Get a sense now for how important it is to keep this drain unclogged?
WHAT HARMS IT? The three S’s:
Stagnation -- The key to a healthy lymphatic system is consistent movement for drainage.
Sterilization -- You want to keep a little dirty! Our microbes, adapted from our environment, outnumber us 10:1, so what sense does it make to try to kill them all off? They’re here to support us, make our immune systems strong, and work symbiotically with our life -- not against it. Of course, keep a sense of personal hygiene, but also, let the microbes live! Give your cleaning cabinet some cleaning, by assessing what products could use some chemical downgrading -- Dr. Bronner’s works well on nearly...everything.
Stimulation -- Consuming too much stimulation in the form of coffee and caffeine is sure to upset the lymphatic system to some degree, when used in excess. Caffeine’s stimulating effect on the entire body (we learned about this with the nervous system!) causes a variety of lymph system agitation, such as dehydration, excessive thirst, irritable restlessness and muscle cramping, blurred vision, and above all, poor circulation.
Keeping the lymphatic system clogged is a recipe for disaster. Move that baby out and around! Sustainably stimulate the system (see below) to give it a chance to, seamlessly, do what it's here to do. Keep it clean, keep it clear, and you will feel and experience all the same. It’s possible to live with a clogged lymphatic system for years and years (many of us are, and have!), leading to an unhealthy adaptation to environmental toxins, and a suppressed immune system. WHAT NOURISHES IT? For best -- daily -- lymphatic maintenance and draining:- Breathe deeply (please!)
- Yoga + Meditation
- Rebounder trampoline
- Drink plenty of clean water
- Eat hydrating fruits on an empty stomach
- Dry brushing + An alternating hot x cold shower + Oil up
And do not, ever, underestimate the power of plants to flush the lymphatic system all day long! The best foods to keep the lymph system flushing are all citrus (especially first thing in the am), all red foods (berries, beets, pomegranates, cranberries, cherries…), greens greens and more greens, seaweeds, spirulina, hemp seeds, flax seeds, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom and black pepper. Don’t get overly obsessive about it -- take everything in moderation, and gravitate towards lymphatic drainage practices that resonate best with you and your unique lifestyle. Don’t forget to live your life. Your systems are on your side -- love them, be grateful for them, and they will show you all the more love back.