In this post, we discuss the lymphatic system's many essential functions and why it is important to give it our attention. We also discuss a few easy ways to naturally detoxify the lymphatic system, including through the practice of brushing your skin with a dry brushing to encourage lymphatic flow.
Functions of the Lymphatic System
The lymphatic system is one of the most significant systems in the human body. A network of vessels that can be found in almost every part of the body, the lymphatic system assists in the movement of a fluid called lymph, which resides within nodes. The lymphatic system is one our body’s primary weapons against toxins, wastes, and other unwanted elements that invade our system.
The lymphatic system has three main functions: to maintain fluid balance, to help in fat absorption, and to assist the immune system.
Fluid is found in the tiny spaces between tissues and cells. Our lymphatic system collects any excess fluid found in these spaces and deposits them into our bloodstream. Without it, our tissues and cells would swell. Blood volume and pressure would also be negatively impacted, to the point of becoming fatal if not addressed. The lymphatic system also plays a key role in absorbing fats from the digestive system, and helps in transporting these fats to the venous circulation.
The most notable function of the lymphatic system is to help protect the body against infections. The lymphatic system comes into action whenever other lines of defense fail such as the skin (physical barrier) and acids in the stomach (toxic barrier). The lymphatic system creates white blood cells, or lymphocytes, which travel through the body until they reach the lymph nodes. Lymph nodes become activated when they come into contact with or fight bodily infections.
There are about 600 lymph nodes in the body, and most of them are concentrated in the neck, armpits and groin areas. You can determine whether your body is fighting an infection if you notice swollen glands, or lymph nodes, located in these areas. Lymphocytes become activated whenever they encounter pathogens or infections, communicating with each other to set off a defense response. This causes the swelling you end up seeing and feeling.
The activated lymphocytes then travel through the lymphatic system until they reach the bloodstream, unrolling the immune response throughout the body. Immunologists call this the Adaptive Immune Response, which stays with us throughout our lives. This makes it easier for the lymphocytes to react if the same infection affects the body again. A healthy lymphatic system means a stronger and more resilient immune response against infections.
The lymphatic system can become stagnate if it is blocked or swamped with toxic remains. As it does not have a pumping mechanism of its own, it depends on the muscles and joints to be able to move, which pushes along the fluid. If the lymphatic system is not kept in check and becomes overwhelmed, the immune system can be compromised. Warning signs of a poor lymphatic system are swollen fingers, bloating, unexplained feelings of exhaustion, constipation, and dryness and itchiness of the skin. Much worse, it could lead to cellulite build up, edema, swollen lymph nodes, eczema, arthritis, and various infections of the ears, nose and throat, as well as the respiratory system. Thus, it is very important to maintain a healthy lymphatic system.
There is no need to worry, as taking good care of your lymphatic system does not require much work. In the next section of this post, we will discuss some simple yet effective Ayurvedic treatments to keep your lymphatic system healthy.
Ayurvedic Practices to Keep Your Lymphatic System Healthy
Opt For Lukewarm Water
Drinking lukewarm water can effectively eliminate the buildup of toxins in your lymph fluid. Some of these toxins can be acquired through external means such as unhealthy food and environment. These toxins are known to be sticky and greasy by nature. Drinking lukewarm water can help dissolve such sticky buildup. As a comparison, consider how hot or warm water helps dissolve tough grease on dishes.
Ayurveda recommends sipping warm water to gradually and comfortably flush the toxins out of the lymphatic system. Warm water is effective in hydrating and softening hardened muscles or tissues and is also effective in detoxifying gut-associated lymphoid tissues. To maximize the effectiveness, it is advisable to sip warm water every 30 to 60 minutes. Keep in mind that the frequency of sipping warm water is more important that the quantity of how much you sip. Doing this consistently and regularly will not only flush out toxins, but will also help keep your lymphatic system clean.
Include Red Foods in Your Diet
The digestive system can also impact the way the lymphatic system works. As mentioned earlier, lymphatic vessels are present in the digestive tract and can be easily impaired with an unhealthy diet. You can help keep the digestive system healthy by eating naturally red foods. Incorporating naturally red foods in your diet will not only strengthen your immune system, but will also reduce your chances of developing cardiovascular diseases and obesity.
Ayurveda encourages the consumption of naturally red foods such as berries, cherries, cranberries, beets and pomegranates to stimulate an underactive digestive system. Naturally red foods can effectively alkalinize the digestive tract, making it a difficult environment for pathogens to thrive. In addition to fiber, red foods also contain enzymes and bioflavonoids that can help break down all the accumulated toxins and free radicals in your intestines.
Practice Diaphragmatic Breathing
The diaphragm acts as a pump for the lymphatic system. The very act of breathing aids in the movement of the lymph towards our chest. Whenever you breathe in and out deeply, you are actually stimulating the thoracic duct located at the neck area, which helps the lymph fluid move easier. Thus, it is very important that you practice proper diaphragmatic breathing in order to avoid lymphatic congestion. To do so, you need to slowly breathe in through your nose, while deeply pushing the stomach out as your lungs fill with air. It is important to keep this in mind as you want to breathe into your belly rather than into the chest region. Release the air through your mouth just as slowly. Doing about 5 to 10 repetitions of diaphragmatic breathing daily will help move lymph fluid, transport the correct amount of oxygen to the blood, and encourage relaxation. Aside from being a great way to send the body to sleep, it is also nice to practice diaphragmatic breathing outdoors after you wake up when the brisk morning air is freshest. You will be amazed by the benefits!
Get Plenty of Exercise or Practice Yoga
The lymphatic system also depends on body movements to maintain its flow. There are various ways in which the lymphatic system can be stimulated, such as external massages, muscle expansion/contraction, and intense exercise. Any physical movement can help avoid lymph clogging and stagnation. In other words, the more you move, the more active the lymphatic system becomes.
There are plenty of physical exercises you can do to make sure the lymphatic system remains efficient. Any exercise that involves the legs prevents clogging of the inguinal nodes located in the groin area, while any exercise that involves the upper body such as lifting and swimming will help move fluid through the axillary nodes in the armpits. Exercises that encourage flexibility, such as yoga, also stimulate the lymphatic flow. Inversion poses, such as handstands and headstands, will reverse the typical effect of gravity, which helps move the lymph towards the heart. Twists squeeze the muscles which will help flush the lymph out of the tissues.
Practice Dry Brushing
Photo credit @jamilakyari
Dry brushing can also positively improve the lymphatic system. The skin, being the largest organ, detoxifies and protects the body against many negative elements. There are also many lymph vessels running under the skin’s surface, which is why stimulating the skin using a dry brush can be so beneficial.
Dry brushing is a favorite Ayurvedic practice and removes dirt, reduces cellulite, exfoliates dead skin cells, and gently stimulates lymph circulation. Not only can dry brushing stimulate the skin, it can also have a positive impact on how your digestive system and kidneys work. Most of all, dry brushing is very relaxing. Dry brushing is a simple exercise that can be practiced daily before bathing. Using a dry brush with soft bristles, brush your dry skin upwards towards the heart starting with your feet and working your way up your body. The face is much more delicate and can require a softer dry brush or a more gentle touch. You can further boost the lymph circulation by bathing in warm water afterwards.
As a bonus tip, you may also want to consider using a dry brush with copper bristles to help boost your lymphatic system. In ancient Ayurvedic practices, it was discovered that copper ions absorbed by the skin through dry brushing with a copper dry brush supported lymphatic flow resulting in a healthy immune response.
It may be the most underrated internal system, but the lymphatic system plays a critical role in maintaining your overall health. If the lymphatic system is not kept in check, the immune system can be compromised which will negatively impact your well-being. Try incorporating some Ayurvedic practices into your daily routine such as drinking warm water, eating red foods, practicing diaphragmatic breathing, exercising, and dry brushing to help keep your lymphatic system healthy for years to come.
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