You may be familiar with the term “lymph nodes” but do you really know what they are or how your lymphatic system works together to keep you healthy? Don’t miss this essential guide to understanding the lymphatic system and how you can stimulate it for even more effective filtering.
What Is The Lymphatic System?
Infection-fighting white blood cells are carried through your body in a fluid referred to as lymph. The lymphatic system makes up the comprehensive network of tissues and organs that transport lymph and helps to rid the body of unwanted toxins, impurities, and other materials which may make you sick. Consider it an extensive drainage system that helps the body maintain fluid balance and fight infection.
Similar to the circulatory system which transports blood around your body through capillaries, veins, and arteries, the lymphatic system is made up of lymphatic vessels which connect to hundreds of lymph nodes. Unlike the circulatory system, however, lymph is not re-circulated all over the body but spends its entire journey moving upwards towards the neck where it is reabsorbed into the circulatory system through veins.
How Does Lymph Fluid Form?
Lymphatic vessels move lymph fluid, waste materials, and nutrients between your body’s tissues and your bloodstream, and the lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped glands that filter stuff out. Lymph nodes contain lymphocytes called T-cells and B-cells that help stave off infection.
As your blood, comprised of plasma, water, platelets, and red and white blood cells, passes through your body’s tissues it diffuses nutrients, gas, and waste through thin capillary walls. To prevent the buildup of interstitial fluid in the spaces between tissue cells during this process, lymphatic capillaries absorb the fluid, and that is referred to as lymph.
Other important components of the lymphatic system include the:
Tonsils – located in the pharynx (back of your throat behind nose and mouth) are a large cluster of lymphatic cells and are often the first line of defense against infection
Thymus – T-cells or T lymphocytes, mature in this organ just above the heart and are responsible for destroying cancerous or infected cells
Spleen – located on the left side of the body above the kidney, the spleen is the largest lymphatic organ and produces infection-fighting white blood cells
How Does the Body Fight Infection?
When a foreign microbe like the bacterium or a virus enters your system, often through droplets of saliva from someone coughing or sneezing and touching an area you later touch or shaking your hand, for example, your body first has to recognize that it is there.
Your lymphatic organs detect infectious pathogens as they are called which stimulates lymphatic and immune responses to fight off the invaders.
In efforts to prevent infectious microbes from replicating and spreading, the lymphatic system will release white blood cells that produce antibodies, or proteins which trap and destroy disease-causing germs.
Lymph nodes help to filter out germs from the lymph fluid and eliminate them to prevent you from getting sick. The immune system will also respond to infection with symptoms you might recognize as fever, runny nose, or a headache – these are all the body’s way of creating a hostile environment and warding off bad microbes.
How Can You Stimulate the Lymphatic System?
While the body’s natural design keeps the lymphatic system functioning, sometimes a poor diet, health condition, inactivity, and environmental exposure can overload the drainage operation and lead to weakened immunity and diminished filtering.
Unlike your blood, lymph cannot be pumped throughout your body but relies on the contraction and relaxation of your muscles to move around.
When toxins build up in a stagnant lymphatic system, not only does your immunity suffer, but you might even see visible consequences like cellulite, swollen limbs from fluid retention, fatty deposits, eczema, and more. It’s important to give your lymphatic system a boost to keep things effectively moving and protecting your body. There are a handful of ways to achieve this including:
Dry brushing – increase circulation and stimulate the lymph nodes with dry brushing, or rubbing and brushing the skin with a soft but coarse bristled brush once or twice daily. Work in circles and start from the legs moving upwards towards the heart. More info here on the best dry brushes for detoxification, exfoliation, and pore cleansing.
Staying hydrated – like your blood, lymph fluid is primarily made up of water. Staying adequately hydrated by drinking water regularly throughout the day can help keep the system moving, flushing out toxins and built-up waste
Massage – similar to dry brushing, the deep pressure and tissue manipulation of massage can help improve lymphatic flow and circulation. Lymphatic massage specifically targets mobilization of lymph fluid upwards to be reabsorbed by the bloodstream.
Raw foods and herbs – many detoxification diets are concentrated on triggering revitalized lymphatic functioning and the best ways are through eating raw foods and herbs which fight inflammation, deliver antioxidants, neutralize acidity, and release enzymes to break up toxins. This helps take some of the burdens off of the lymphatic system.
Regular physical activity and exercises like yoga are beneficial to your overall health in lowering risk for hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, dementia, and more. Part of the key with exercise is stimulating lymphatic flow and the body’s natural ability to fight off pathogens which can infect and damage vital organs. Better understanding the lymphatic system and its critical role in your health can equip you with the knowledge and tools you need to stay healthy.