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Lymphatic system (general health)

General characteristics

General characteristics

The lymphatic system is a fascinating network of fluid (lymph) filled vessels and glands/nodes covering the entire body, running in close intricate connection with the blood vessels and the circulation of blood.

Its actions and purpose are many including collecting, transporting and filtering wastes and fluids from the tissues to the blood stream; delivering nutrition, oxygen, hormones etc from the blood to the tissues and cells; produces white blood cells (lymphocytes) and antibodies which help defeat bacteria, viruses and other harmful agents and directs the lymph fluid to the immune cell rich glands or nodes for filtering; is vital in the role of digestion of certain fat molecules and also helps to regulate and maintain the correct balance of fluids within the body.

The lymphatic system begins as a network of very fine vessels, even more permeable than capillaries, so that fluids and substances can pass freely through their walls. The vessels gradually become more robust, becoming more like veins in structure, with one way valves to push the lymph onwards. The lymph vessels do not have any muscle in their structure but rely on gravity and movement from surrounding body muscles to propel their fluid contents onwards.As the vessels become larger still, they are dotting with numerous lymph glands or nodes which have their own blood supply. These larger lymph vessels eventually culminate in larger ducts which pass the lymph fluid back into the veins in the upper region of the chest for further processing and circulation.

The lymph nodes occur throughout the body with particularly dense concentrations occurring in the face, neck, armpits, chest, abdomen, groin and back of the knees. Structures such as the tonsils, adenoids, and appendix are effectively large lymph nodes that act as areas of active defense in the fight against infection. The thymus gland is a lymphatic organ that produces specific immune cells whilst the spleen not only disposes of dead red blood cells but also acts as a giant lymph node. There are also more diffuse lymphatic patches in the intestines (Peyers patches), lungs and urinary tract that provide immune protective cells.

Free flowing and unobstructed lymph flow is vital in maintaining good overall health. Unlike the blood circulation (which due to the pumping action of the heart, circulates around the entire body about 10 times each minute) lymph fluids (with no direct pump) circulate only about once each minute. If the flow of lymph is hindered or blockages occur in the system then lymphatic fluids can leak back into the tissues causing fluid retention. Lymph nodes can also become enlarged and congested from chronic infections leading to pain and discomfort such as in tonsillitis. The entire system can also be compromised through long term use of drugs such as steroids, which suppress normal immune responses such as inflammation (the collective gathering of white blood cells to a sight of trauma or infection). Lymphatic congestion can also be linked to skin disorders, so called autoimmune disorders, cancers and tumours.

General principles for maintaining lymphatic health include eating a healthy diet, avoiding processed and refined foods, avoiding constipation and its resulting build up of circulating toxins and keeping physically active throughout life.


Diet and lifestyle

Diet and lifestyle

Limiting your consumption of mucous forming foods can benefit the functioning of the lymphatic system. Excessive mucous production places an extra burden on the system and can encourage thicker, less free flowing lymph fluids with resulting congestion and toxicity within the lymph glands. Mucous forming foods include dairy, sugar, refined carbohydrates, processed 'ready meals', red meats and artificial additives.

Avoid trans and hydrogenated fats and foods containing them. Common culprits are baked goods such as pies, pastries, biscuits etc. Try to consume oils and fats in their natural unprocessed states in the form of avocados, nuts and seeds and cold pressed vegetable oils for example.

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Foods rich in potassium may help the lymphatic system by assisting with lymph circulation and maintaining hydration and healthy fluid balance generally. Potassium rich foods include bananas, dark green leaves, many fruits, whole grains and cider vinegar. See also minerals in the 'natural healing' section for more examples of potassium rich foods.

Stay well hydrated with pure water.

Get plenty of plant based fibre in the form of fresh vegetables, fruit and whole grains to avoid constipation and the resulting build up of toxins circulating through the blood and lypmh vessels.


Useful herbs

Useful herbs

A simple tea of cleavers (Galium aparine or goosegrass), alfalfa leaf, chickweed and nettle (equal parts) will provide gentle stimulation to the circulation of lymph fluids and also ease congestion or hardening in the lymph glands or nodes. Use equal parts of each and one teaspoon per cup, up to 3 cups daily. Cleavers and nettle tea is a traditional spring tonic to enliven a potentially sluggish system caused by winter diets that tend to rely more heavily on cooked starches and comfort foods. It will also provide a wealth of nutrients in the form of vitamins and minerals.

Marshmallow root has a softening and dispersing action on hard swellings in the lymphatic nodes or vessels.

Other useful lymph stimulants/cleansers include  mullein leaf and flower, angelica root, red clover, marigold flowers, violet leaves, blue flag root, barberry root, dandelion root, burdock root, fenugreek seeds, wild indigo root, figwort and poke root.

Echinacea (purpurea or angustifolia) is considered an overall tonic to the lymphatic system and of course improves the defences of the body. Use as a preventative or in larger doses when extra help is needed or when toxins have accumulated in the blood. For example during an infection with swollen glands, use a teaspoon of strong tincture in water up to 5 times daily.


Natural healing

Natural healing

Physical activity and movement of the muscles is very important in maintaining the healthy flow of lymph. Even if chair bound, tense and relax muscles regularly to encourage the pumping of lymph fluids.
Lymphatic massage or drainage can be effective at stimulating the flow of lymph fluids. Specialist practitioners abound but gentle self massage from the extremities towards the upper chest will also help.
Gentle skin brushing has a similar effect to massage in encouraging the flow of lymph. Brush from the feet to the abdomen, hands to shoulders, head to lower neck etc. Remember that lymph ultimately drains into the blood vessels around the area of the upper chest.
Alternating hot and cold water will stimulate the contraction and dilation of blood vessels and also have a similar effect on lymph vessels.
Avoid wearing tightly constricted bras or similar as these can interrupt the movement of lymph around the chest area.
Avoid using antiperspirants as these inhibit the release of toxins from the armpits by blocking the sweat glands and clogging up the area. Lymph nodes in the armpits can become congested and enlarged when toxins are not expelled normally through the sweat in the underarm area. Deodorant does not have this action.
Deep breathing is considered beneficial to the health of the lymphatic system and indeed health generally.
Get regular doses of sunlight on the skin (WITHOUT SUNSCREEN) as Vitamin D helps the lymphatic system stay healthy.

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