How well is your Lymphatic System working?
If you have any of the following symptoms, chances are, it's not working properly:
Swollen fingers, legs, knees or ankles
Exhaustion, brain fog
Blotchy discoloured legs and feet
Breast soreness with each cycle
Dry or itchy skin
Cold hands/feet/poor circulation
Lymphatic fluid bathes all of the cells in your body. Unlike your circulatory system, that has the heart to pump the blood around the body, the lymphatic system relies on muscle contraction and negative pressure from contractions of the diaphragm during deep breathing to circulate the lymphatic fluid.
During this movement around the body, the lymphatic system is exposed to and removes cellular wastes, bacteria, viruses, lipids, excess electrolytes, pollution, pesticides, food additives, chemicals and other toxins; these are filtered through the lymph nodes where immune cells can respond to foreign particles or invaders where required.
If we eat badly, if we are missing nutrients and minerals, have a sedentary lifestyle, are exposed to excess toxins and don't drink enough water, we will experience fluid retention, if this continues, then at some point the system will falter.
So what can we do to help our lymphatic system?
1. Drink at least 2 litres of water a day. Add an extra litre for every hour of intense exercise. Water helps the body flush out the toxins, excess salts and wastes. When excess salts and and toxins build up in the lymphatic fluid, the body will retain water to dilute them to prevent electrolyte imbalance and irritation of the tissues, this is one of the leading causes of fluid retention. Try to drink filtered water to avoid loading extra chemicals.
2. Exercise! Movement of muscles stimulate valves which help to churn lymph upwards towards the heart. Anything that creates moments of zero gravity also helps move lymph (think trampolines or roller coasters)! A lot of the yoga poses tip us upside down so it is helpful to drain, and the deep yoga breathing exercises stimulate sluggish lymph systems. Hot yoga also helps speed up the process through perspiration. Sweat is a potent detoxifier!
3. Stretch and avoid tight restrictive clothing. Something I always mention to our clients; stretching your hamstrings and hip flexors help the lymphatic fluid flow easily from the legs. Anywhere that a tight tendon occurs on our legs it will slow flow - causing puffy knees and inner thighs or even saddlebags. A tight article of clothing will also block drainage and eventually change the shape of your body (think tight bra straps causing bra overhang and tight low waist bands making those dreaded muffins)
4. Breathe! Positive and negative pressure from deep, diaphragmatic breathing is a great way to move lymph towards lymphatic channels. Deep breaths throughout the day help to filter lymph and move it properly. Stand up and put one hand on your lower belly and the other on your upper chest, aim to breathe calmly and deeply, push out with your belly to move your lower hand, whilst keeping your upper chest still, repeat at least 5 times, take break and breathe normally. Now put your fingertips to your breastbone and take a huge breath and stretch your arms out to the side, then as you breathe out bring your fingertips back to your breast bone and try to push every bit of air out of your lungs, repeat 5 times.
5. Eat well. Eliminate boxed or processed food and avoiding GMO or pesticides. Eat whole food and accentuate a plant based diet. Use Celtic sea salt or pink Himalayan rock salt - both contain vital minerals that will help your body regulate its fluid balance. Include a lot of dark leafy greens and raw nuts and seeds, these are high in the essential minerals required to keep the correct fluid balance and reduce retention. Juice some celery, cucumber, mint and pineapple and add to filtered water for a gentle diuretic. Add beetroot and red fruits to your diet, all have lymph stimulating qualities. Make sure you have enough iodine in your diet. Consider a good vitamin B supplement.
6. Dry brush in the morning. Use a natural bristle brush and brush towards the heart where the lymphatic duct is located. Lymph drains in this direction. Brush upwards on the arms and legs towards the heart, using a circular motion.
7. Massages. Preferably gentle, massages stimulate the majority of stagnant lymph up to the heart. Stress can also play a role in poor lymph flow and massages can help lower this too. Consider an Endermologie treatment which can increase lymphatic drainage by up to 300% for around 4 hours.
8. Reduce alcohol and caffeine. Both dehydrate the body, causing the kidneys to slow to retain vital fluids leading to more fluid retention.
9. Check your hormone levels. Progesterone has many vital functions in the female body - one of them is that it acts as a natural diuretic. Stress and oestrogen dominance can lower your progesterone levels, leading to fluid retention and bloating, headaches, PMS symptoms, constipation and insomnia. A doctor can check your levels are in the healthy range with a saliva or blood test taken on day 21 of your menstrual cycle. A progesterone cream or tablet can help balance your hormones and ease these symptoms.
1. Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine, 16th Edition, The lymphatic System
2. The Fat Flush Plan by Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD
3. www.lifespa.com: The Miracle of Lymph-Dr John Douillard’s Lifespa
5. Exhausted to Energised by Dr Libby Weaver