The lymphatic system is one of the most overlooked yet significant systems in the body. This expansive system travels throughout the body to remove waste from every cell while helping to regulate the immune system. It includes a complex network of vessels, ducts, lymph nodes, the spleen, the thymus, the adenoids, and the tonsils.
Lymph fluid is propelled by breathing and other muscle movements as it is transported through many filtration points known as lymph nodes. The lymph nodes contain collections of white blood cells (lymphocytes) that identify and help destroy harmful pathogens or toxins. The lymph must flow freely to ensure that waste products and fluids do not build up in the tissues.
The lymphatic vessels act like a giant drainage system for the body that needs to stay clear for it to work properly. Just like in your home if the drains are clogged in your toilet or sink, you can’t get rid of waste effectively—the same is true for your body. Stagnant lymph flow leads to waste and toxin buildup, weakening immunity and leading to a wide variety of health issues.
Almost every part of the body can be affected by poor waste removal in the lymphatic system. When your lymph drains become congested you may notice:
The lymph must deal with the body’s “waste products” that are produced internally like dead cells as well as toxins that are introduced from the external environment. Systemic inflammation creates congestion and swelling in the tissues, which impairs lymphatic flow. Oxidative stress damages the lymph vessels and breaks down their ability to effectively transport lymph fluid and wastes.
Therefore, it is important to reduce your exposure to chemicals in food, air, personal care products, and water while increasing your intake of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients to prevent damage. Opt for an organic, anti-inflammatory diet filled with green leafy vegetables, cruciferous veggies, omega-3 fatty acids, and herbs and spices like ginger, turmeric, and garlic. Avoid processed additives, chemicals, and artificial ingredients.
Lymph fluid is about 95 percent water and becomes thicker and less fluid when you are dehydrated. In fact, one of the most common causes of lymph congestion is dehydration. Stay well-hydrated by sipping warm purified water throughout the day to help keep your lymph flowing well. Avoid sugar-laden soft drinks, processed juices, sports drinks, and alcohol, which add an additional metabolic burden on the body as well as too much caffeine, which dehydrates the body.
A sluggish digestive tract also congests the lymphatic system. Ayurvedic medicine teaches that naturally red foods like berries, pomegranates, cherries, cranberries, and beets keep the lymph moving freely. Beets are particularly valuable as they help thin the bile for healthy fat digestion, scrub the intestinal villi where the lymphatic vessels originate and help keep the lymph flowing. Incorporating raw foods into your diet is another way to keep the lymphatic system healthy. The naturally occurring enzymes and bioflavonoids in raw fruits and vegetables help to break down toxic buildup and free radicals while fiber promotes regular elimination and cleansing of the intestinal villi to keep the intestinal lymphatic system healthy.
The lymphatic system does not have a built-in pump like the heart, which propels blood through the circulatory system, where it gets oxygenated, filtered, and circulated. Therefore, the lymphatic system relies on the contraction and relaxation of the muscles and joints to move the lymph. The rhythmic tensing and relaxing of the muscles during physical movement wring out the tissues and propel fluid through the lymphatic channels.
Laughter and deep breathing involve movement of the diaphragm and abdominal muscles that help push lymph through the vessels. Dry brushing and lymphatic massage also help to support healthy lymphatic flow in the skin-associated lymphatic tissue. The coarse bristles of a dry brush encourage movement of the lymph and blood in the underlying tissues, which helps move out built-up toxins. Brush or massage your body gently, working toward the heart and paying special attention to the head, neck, feet, breasts and abdomen, where lymphatics are concentrated.
Oxidation and lymph congestion increase when you are physically and/or emotionally stressed, so having an effective routine for coping with daily stress is key. There are many mindfulness practices to help you cope with the inevitable stress of life and minimize its effects on your lymphatic system, digestion, and overall health including meditation and spending time in nature. Having the ability to slow down, pause, and remain calm in the present moment can allow you to decrease stress. Practices like tai chi and yoga that coordinate the breath with movement can be especially effective at reducing the state of constant hyperarousal, which is detrimental to digestion and lymphatic health. When you learn to understand your emotions and responses to stress and adopt healthy ways to manage stress like those presented in my book The Whole Cure, your lymph and life will flow more smoothly. When your lymph is flowing well, it will support natural revitalization and cleansing of your body. Follow these daily habits and exercises to naturally decongest your lymphatic system for vibrant skin, digestion, and health!