It was once taught in anatomy and physiology classes that the lymphatic system is secondary to the blood system. Recent studies have challenged this misconception, and scientists and health professionals agree that the role of the lymphatic system is just as important as the blood system.
Among several scientific discoveries in the 21st century, lymphatic vessels were found places where they were thought to be nonexistent; the eyes to moderate pressure, the brain, and in the central nervous system where it drains cerebral fluid.
Other primary functions of the lymphatic system include:
maintaining tissue fluid equilibrium
immune cell trafficking
absorption of dietary fats
Lymphatic vasculature accumulates highly in the:
Constituting of vessels and nodes, this one-way system propels on its own. But what happens when that process slows down (1)?
Firstly, let's look at what may cause the lymphatic system to function poorly:
Food allergies and sensitivities and artificial additives can inflammation and irritation within the intestines, wherein lie the lymphatic vessels, thus stifling lymphatic flow in the gastrointestinal system, causing digestion ailments, and poor detoxification.
In addition to absorbing fatty acids, the gut is also responsible for processing certain hormones and conspires with the nervous system where stress is monitored. In fact, the sympathetic nervous system is directly connected to the lymphatic system. A study by Nature Communications revealed that levels of chronic stress alter the lymph vasculature, as far as to promote tumour cell to spread throughout the body (2).
Just as artificial food substances and food allergies cause inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract, the same action happens when we inhale air that's laden with toxins.
Physical Manifestations of a Stagnant Lymphatic System
Chronic sinusitis, sore throats, colds, and ear issues
Stiffness (mostly present in the morning)
Itchy, dry skin
Swollen breasts during the menstrual cycle
Naturally, the lymphatic system has a way of promoting the flow of the lymph fluid throughout the body.
Knowing the causes of a congested lymphatic system and how it manifests in the body, here are ways you can actively move the lymph:
Lymphatic fluid is stimulated through movement just as physical activity circulates blood throughout the body.
In 2018, a group of researchers conducted a clinical trial to analyze the long term effects of manual lymphatic drainage and active exercises in patients who had recently had an operation due to breast cancer. They concluded that active exercise was as equally effective as manual lymphatic drainage, a common treatment during rehabilitation to prevent lymphedema.
Movement doesn't have to be entirely physical. Massages address the lymphatic vessels in the skin whilst reducing stress and dry brushing promotes the circulation of blood and lymph and toxin removal.
To dry brush: acquire a natural dry bristle brush and begin to brush from the feet upwards in a circular motion towards the heart. This is best done in the morning, as it is stimulating.
2. ESTABLISH A HEALTHY GUT
As mentioned above, gut health is pivotal to promote lymphatic flow. Be sure to incorporate foods that support a healthy gut, such as pre- and probiotics, fat-soluble vitamins, leafy greens, and omega-3 fatty acids. By promoting lymphatic flow, these foods will also improve the bacterial structure of the gut lining, which affects our immune system and microbiome.
3. LYMPH CLEANSING FOODS
Foods that are rich in anthocyanins and other antioxidants that give it a beautiful red hue reduce inflammation in the body and fight free radicals.
Some of these red-hued foods are rich in nitric oxide, which dilates the blood vessels to allow more blood flow to pass from the lymphatic valves and bulbs.
4. DITCH THE TIGHT CLOTHES
Burn your bras, Spanx, tight pants, and underwear. It's an outlandish suggestion but on a serious note, consider tossing your tight garments in exchange for breathable clothing.
Tight clothes restrict blood flow and lymph flow; and in regards to the lymph, this tends to cause an accumulation of toxins.
Wear wire-free bras and loose-fitting underwear to negate constricting lymphatic flow.
This can be achieved with ease once the tight clothes are tossed!
Whether it's laughing or deep breathing, it is through our breath we release stress harboring in the body and it exercises the lymph nodes and vessels that correspond to the respiratory system (3).
2. Le, C., Nowell, C., Kim-Fuchs, C. et al. Chronic stress in mice remodels lymph vasculature to promote tumour cell dissemination. Nat Commun 7, 10634 (2016) doi:10.1038/ncomms10634