Lymph: The missing link in a liver detox
Thinking about doing a detox cleanse or reducing your chemical exposure? If you’ve been following along with our Common Household Chemicals to Avoid series, you know how easy it can be to start removing harmful chemicals from your home. Many people get discouraged when they go on a fast or start removing toxins from their lives because they feel sick or feel tired and don’t know why. Why would that happen? One reason may be that the lymphatic system is backed up and not able to keep up with the chemicals the body is trying to unload.
How does the lymphatic system work?
A peak functioning lymphatic system is key to health and vitality, but this critically important part of the body is one that most people don’t appreciate or know much about. Your lymphatic system is your body’s built-in sanitation center, the plumbing that carries away and filters out poisonous waste products from every cell, tissue and organ. It absorbs fats and fat-soluble vitamins from the digestive tract and delivers them to the cells of the body. It is also an essential part of the immune system that maintains fluid levels, fights infection and produces disease fighting white blood cells. Twice as extensive as the arterial blood supply system which brings oxygen and nutrients to the cells, the lymph is the take away garbage collector and is the largest circulatory system in the body. But, the lymphatic system needs your help to move the fluid through the body because it doesn’t have an automatic pump like the heart, which moves the blood in the circulatory system.1
The lymph system is made up of:
- Lymphatic vessels – a system of vessels distributed all over the body, gathering clear lymphatic fluid, which surrounds the cells. Lymphatic fluid collects and takes metabolic cellular waste, dead cells, and toxins towards the subclavian veins at the base of the neck to be event
ually eliminated through sweat, urine, and through the bowels.
- Lymphocytes – the primary cells of the lymphatic system. There are two major classes of lymphocytes: T cells and B cells. The T cells mature in the thymus, kill invaders, destroy abnormal cells and direct the actions of other lymphocytes. The B cells mature in the bone marrow and produce antibodies that combine with antigens of foreign cells, labeling those cells for destruction.
- Lymph nodes – filtering stations where lymphocytes along with macrophages (another type of white blood cell) engulf and destroy bacteria and other foreign substances in the lymphatic fluid.2
- Tonsils, Adenoids, Appendix, and Peyer’s patches – small masses of lymphatic tissue that prevent infection in areas where bacteria is abundant.
- Thymus – a small gland under your breastbone that helps produce white blood cells.
- Spleen – the organ connected with lymph system that produces lymphocytes.
- Bone marrow – where lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) are born.
Signs your lymphatic system is backed up
Lymphatic congestion is a major factor leading to inflammation and disease. If the lymph is not flowing well, the cells are poisoned from their own waste and the lymph fluid becomes a toxic cesspool, resulting in fatigue, swelling, infection, inflammation, disease, and more symptoms (see below). A combination of a sedentary lifestyle, poor diet, and a toxic environment all contribute to this backup. Rapid improvements in the quality of the cells and blood occur once easy lifestyle changes are made so that the lymphatic system is activated and working efficiently.
- Brain fog
- Swollen lymph nodes or tonsils
- Lack of energy
- Recurrent sore throats
- Morning mucous
- Mucous drainage (especially after dairy or flour)
- Fluid backup in the ear (especially in children)
- Ear popping and ringing
- Reduced ability to fight infection (frequent cold or flu)
- Constipation or slugging bowel function
- Inability to lose weight
- Soreness or stiffness in the morning
- Bloating, swelling, or heaviness in extremities
- Arms or hands fall asleep while sleeping
- Pain, pressure, or stiffness along your spine and shoulders
- Sore breast or breast swelling with your menstrual cycle
- Itchy skin
- Acne, dry skin or other skin issues
What backs up the lymph?
- Lack of Movement: Proper lymphatic flow requires deep breathing and body movement – the contraction of skeletal muscles force tiny one- way valves of the lymph system to open and close and push the fluid to the subclavian veins.
- Dehydration: Being dehydrated can contribute to poor lymphatic drainage and cause lymphatic stagnation.
- Stress: The waste products of stress-fighting hormones are acidic and an acidic body leads to lymph congestion.
- Chronic Digestive Imbalance: Chronic constipation or diarrhea due to damaged intestinal villi promotes lymph congestion.
- Processed Foods: An unhealthy diet, particularly one containing processed foods and bad fats, will lead to a sluggish lymphatic system.
- Chemical Exposures: When your body is exposed to harmful chemicals in skin and body care products, cleaning products or pesticides, it may be unable to unload or detoxify immediately.
How to detox the lymphatic system
An active lymphatic system will help to reduce your toxic body burden, increase circulation, and revitalize your health. Here are many options that will get your lymphatic system moving and pumping out toxins. You’ll find that some of these tips are fun to put into action, many of them are inexpensive or free, and most involve minimal time and effort. Pick three or four suggestions that work for you and put them into practice for 10 days – experience the difference it makes in your energy and wellbeing.
1. Take a few minutes for deep breathing
Fact: Although the lymphatic system has no pump like the heart in the circulatory system, the movement from the act of breathing, that we do 24/7, is a lymphatic pump in itself and can help direct lymph through the chest. Proper breathing is the most important facilitator of lymphatic function. Constant shallow breathing leads to lymphatic congestion.
Tip: Augment the circulation of lymph through deep diaphragmatic breathing. Breathe in slowly through your nose, deeply pushing the stomach out. Slowly let your breath go out through your mouth. Deep, slow diaphragmatic breathing for even just 5-10 repetitions (or up to 10 minutes a day) will oxygenate the blood, circulate the lymph especially around the liver, and provide many other benefits. If possible, do this exercise outdoors in fresh air. Video demonstration: Diaphragmatic Breathing.
2. Hydrate daily with water
Fact: Dehydration is a common cause of lymph congestion. Lymph becomes thicker and less mobile when you are dehydrated, but flows well when hydrated. Water, and truly only pure water, can adequately rehydrate the body.
Tip: The best lymph-moving rehydration technique is to sip hot, purified water every 15 minutes throughout the day. Keep a thermos of hot water nearby to make it easy. Don’t overcompensate – we are not promoting overdrinking. Use urine color to help determine hydration level – if your urine is clear, you are drinking too much water. Helpful chart: Dehydrated Urine Colors.
3. Dry brush your skin
Fact: Dry skin brushing promotes lymphatic drainage of toxic waste, which results in many other benefits such as improved immunity, refreshed skin, and reduction of cellulite.3
Tip: Start a habit of dry skin brushing a few minutes before your shower or bathe using an inexpensive natural bristle brush. You can find these in many retail shops, health stores, and online. Hard pressure is not necessary – the lymphatic system is close to the surface of the skin and it only takes a light pressure to release congestion. MindBodyGreen has a helpful step by step guide to dry skin brushing. Green Smoothie Girl has made a downloadable pdf (and video) showing two different brushing methods.
4. Alternate hot and cold in your shower
Fact: Lymphatic vessels contract when exposed to cold, and dilate in response to heat. A hot and cold shower is a type of hydrotherapy that uses the properties of water temperature and pressure to move stagnant lymphatic fluid, increase circulation, boost immune function and metabolism.
Tip: After dry skin brushing, super charge your morning shower experience by alternating hot and cold water for between 90 seconds and several minutes.4 Be sure to always end on cold water. Note: Avoid this if you are pregnant, or if you have a heart or blood pressure condition.
5. Move around whenever you can
Fact: The lymphatic system depends largely on large muscle activity in the body for its circulation. Stagnation from sitting all day is a major problem. People who sit at their computers without taking breaks develop a sluggish lymph system because they do not move.
Tip: Get up to clean up! The good news is any exercise helps – move around for a minute or two every 15 – 20 minutes, do knee bends, go for a walk during lunch, stretch throughout the day and develop a regular exercise routine. Gentle exercise like walking, stretching, rebounding (see below), and swimming are great for moving the lymph.
6. Go for a walk
Fact: One of the best ways to activate lymphatic flow is to take a brisk walk. Walking is a weight-bearing activity that creates gravitational pulls on the lymphatic system each time you take a step.
Tip: Plan to take a 15-30 minute brisk walk each day. Swing your arms and power walk for the best results. If you are not up to that, even a leisurely walk will be helpful.5
7. Jump on a rebounder
Fact: The use of a small trampoline – a “rebounder” – is one of the most efficient ways to reduce lymphatic congestion, stimulate lymph flow, and exercise every cell in the body. Gentle up and down bouncing turbo charges lymph function. The gravitational pull caused by the bouncing causes the one-way lymphatic valves to open and close, moving the lymph.6
Tip: To get the most benefit out of rebounding, start with The Health Bounce – gently bouncing up and down without your feet leaving the mat. This is a very low impact exercise and very effective at moving your lymphatic system – just two minutes clears the lymph. Build up intensity slowly as rebounding can release too many toxins if you jump in too fast.7
8. Bounce on an exercise ball
Fact: If you don’t have a rebounder, you can utilize the same gravitational pull principle as the rebounder by using an inexpensive exercise ball or yoga ball.
Tip: Always start with a short bouncing time and simple, gentle movements. Even small movements for short periods of time can be very effective in moving the lymph. Build up the intensity of the exercise slowly. Video demonstration: Rebounding [with a Fit Ball] to Activate the Lymphatic System.
9. Stretch or practice yoga daily
Fact: Stretching and yoga poses are especially effective for moving lymph.
Tip: Holding stretches combined with conscious deep breathing can help direct lymph through the deep channels of the chest.
10. Get a lymph massage
Fact: Lymphatic massage reduces swelling, helps detoxify the body, and helps speed regeneration of tissues and cells. You can go for a whole body massage or focus on targeted areas. For example, backed up lymphatic fluid in the head can contribute to head congestion, stuffiness, feeling of pressure in the head or ears, sinus congestion, vertigo, dizziness, even insomnia.8 A simple self-massage can be used to bring that fluid down from the head. This is a great technique for cold and allergies season.
Tip: Schedule a lymphatic massage with a professional lymphatic massage therapist or do your own self massage. Video demonstration: Lymphatic Drainage for the Legs. Try a head massage before bed to improve sleep or in the morning to reduce facial puffiness. Video demonstration: Self Lymphatic Draining Massage.
11. Far infared sauna
Fact: Far infrared saunas provide a gentle, side-effect-free, effective mechanism for detoxification. Their waves penetrate deep into the human body, elevating the body’s surface temperature, activating circulation, sweating and excretion of toxins from the lymph and blood through the skin. The heat also increases your heart rate and encourages deeper breathing, which boosts the drainage process even further.
Tip: If you have access to an infrared sauna, take advantage of this effective lymphatic activator. Practice conscious deep breathing during your sauna to supercharge lymphatic drainage. Take a break every 15 minutes to shower in cold water for 30 seconds to promote even more circulation and stimulation of the lymph.
12. Wear natural fibers & loose, comfortable clothing
Fact: The chemicals in synthetic clothing (made from petrochemicals) are absorbed through the skin, taken up by the lymphatic system and added to the body’s burden of toxins.9 Tight-fitting clothes can also contribute to a myriad of problems, including restricted lymph flow.10
Tip: Wear comfortable clothes made from natural fibers such as cotton, silk, flax/linen, wool, or other natural fibers.11
13. Consider your bras and underwear
Fact: The breast, arm and upper chest area are drained by a large cluster of lymph nodes found in the armpit. Underwire bras or any bra that leaves red marks or indentations from being too tight interferes with lymphatic circulation and may contribute to swollen lymph nodes, fibrocystic breast tissue and breast cancer.12 For men, tight pants and briefs restrict the flow of lymphatic fluid in the testicles causing toxic buildup, which can lead to infertility and greater chance of developing cancer.13
Tip: Avoid underwire bras (particularly with metal underwires) or any tight-fitting bra that is constricting. Buy natural fiber bras and go bra-free when possible. As a general rule, choose loose-fitting pants and underwear made of natural fibers.
14. Cosmetics and skin care products
Fact: Your skin is the largest organ of elimination and absorption—what goes on the skin goes into the body, into the lymph and adds to the trash load.
Tip: Avoid products that include synthetic preservatives, fragrances, foaming agents, and other harmful synthetic chemicals. Instead, seek out cosmetics and skin care products that use safe, plant-based or food-grade ingredients, as they will ultimately be absorbed through your skin and processed by your lymph.
15. Eat Whole Foods, especially healthy fats, fruits & veggies
Fact: Consuming processed foods, junk food, fast foods, sugary drinks, unhealthy fats, refined flour and sugar can cause inflammation and create lymphatic system congestion.
Tip: Eat more fruits and vegetables, especially green vegetables. Chlorophyll purifies the lymph and blood. Eat healthy organic fats such as nuts and seeds, avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil, organic ghee and butter.
16. Drink herbal teas that affect the lymph
Fact: There are herbal teas that step up lymphatic action such as red clover, astragalus, mullein, goldenseal, fenugreek, ginger, wild indigo root, sarsaparilla, golden seal and olive leaf tea.
Tip: Try to incorporate one of these teas or a blend of several of these into your daily routine. Teas are most effective if you drink several cups over the course of the day. If you are pregnant, nursing, or on medication consult an herbalist or a naturopath before drinking these teas.
Understanding how the lymph works and what to do to mobilize your lymphatic system is priceless information. It can make the difference in smoother detox process, catching or not catching a cold, or having a “flu-free winter”. The exciting news is that keeping the lymph moving doesn’t have to cost money – just move with a few daily exercises, drink plenty of water, and eat healthy food. When the lymph is working, the complexion glows and the body is full of vitality; and if you become ill, you have tools to help regain your health. This is a fundamental part of a conscious preventive health care plan.
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