The Little System that Could: Eliminating Congestion for Greater Lymphatic Function

If you are a middle sibling, you may identify with the underappreciated lymphatic system. Outshined by the stalwart arterial circulatory system and the glory-hogging immune system, the lymphatic system is the body's underappreciated middle kid - quietly doing its thing in the background and usually not paid attention to unless it starts raising hell.  

Frequently misunderstood and overlooked, the mysterious lymphatic system is actually something of a Renaissance system - a jack of all trades not to be underestimated when it comes to your health. Eastern healing modalities such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese medicine place a great emphasis on the lymphatic system, but Western medicine is just catching on when it comes to understanding the dramatic impact a congested lymph system can have on one's health. We are here today to at last give the amazing system its due and arm you with the knowledge you need to keep your lymphatic system as nimble as a ballet dancer.

The lymphatic system is the workhorse you can thank for delivering nutrients and removing waste from your cells and preventing disease within your body. Unsurprisingly, such a complicated system can get slowed down and backed up from time to time. There are many symptoms of lymphatic congestion which you may be experiencing and writing off as unavoidable effects of aging, stress, or a modern lifestyle. The truth is, not only should you be paying attention to these symptoms, a backed up lymphatic system and causing you more harm than you realize! If you are experiencing one or more of the following symptoms take note - lymphatic congestion could be to blame: 

  • Edema (swelling) in the fingers - rings may feel tighter toward the end of the day
  • Excess belly fat or abdominal bloating
  • Excess mucous not associated with illness
  • Coldness in the extremities
  • Brain Fog/forgetfulness
  • Dry Skin and/or acne
  • Breast swelling/tenderness with each menstrual cycle
  • Soreness/Stiffness in the morning
  • Fatigue
  • Pain or soreness at or around the collarbones

So how is the lymphatic system supposed to work and what causes it to go awry? While the response to the first question is quite complicated, the second question has much simpler answers. Let's take a look:

The intricate lymphatic system comprises the bone marrow, thymus gland, spleen, lymph nodes, adenoids, appendix and miles and miles of lymphatic vessels (twice as many as there are miles of veins and arteries in your body!). Functioning both as the body's garbage collector and green grocer, the lymphatic system carries lymph, a clear plasma-based fluid containing disease-fighting white blood cells and lymphocytes (B and T cells) throughout the body so that waste, viruses, bacteria and even cancer cells can be filtered and eliminated. It also delivers fat-soluble nutrients directly to cells. For this reason the lymphatic system is fundamental to the circulatory, immune and excretory systems! 

Waste material collected in the body's cells is pushed through one-way lymph vessels and cleansed in the lymph nodes. Cleansed lymph is then re-integrated into the bloodstream via the subclavian veins located under either side of the collarbone. Unlike the arterial system that moves the blood, the lymphatic system has no equivalent of the heart muscle to keep lymph flowing steadily throughout the body. As a result, the lymphatic system can grow stagnant and congested if steps aren't taken to keep the system activated and mobile. A sedentary lifestyle and poor diet exacerbate the issue, but lymphatic congestion can happen to anyone in our modern toxic environment. 

If you suspect that lymphatic congestion is affecting your health, there are a number of safe, easy steps you can take to mobilize your lymph and wake the entire lymphatic system back up! Try implementing two to three of these tips daily and see how you feel after three weeks. If your suspected lymphatic congestion has not improved, try a few more strategies to see what works best for you!

  • Reduce Stress - Stress has been linked to upwards of 80% of chronic conditions, and lymphatic conditions are no exception! We all lead busy lives and some stress is unavoidable. But take care each day to practice relaxation and unwind from the stressors of the day.
  • Practice Deep Breathing - Slow, purposeful diaphragmatic breathing for 5-10 minutes a day helps mobilize lymph surrounding the gut, where the highest concentration of lymphatic tissue is found. Also a great way to reduce stress!
  • Stay Hydrated - Dehydrated lymph is sticky and doesn't flow freely. Staying hydrated is one of the most effective ways to keep not only your lymphatic system but the entire body in optimal health! Aim for at least 64 oz per day. If you suspect lymphatic congestion in your own body, try sipping hot water throughout the day to mobilize the lymph. 
  • Dry Body Brushing - The lymphatic vessels lie just beneath the surface of the skin and can be stimulated by gentle brushing of the skin with a natural soft-bristle brush. Try this technique before bathing - spend 2-5 minutes and brush from your feet and hands towards the collarbone area, where toxins collected by the lymph are deposited for elimination. 
  • Rebounding - Or bouncing on a small trampoline. 2 minutes of this activity will mobilize lymph, and 20 will give you the benefits of a full hour or traditional cardio! Rebounding utilizes the repetition of positive and negative G-forces exerted on the body to push lymph through it's many one-way valves. This practice has so many wonderful benefits - rebounding boosts the production of white blood cells, helps reduce varicose veins and cellulite, and helps improve digestion. If you don't try this one, you're really missing out! This is the trampoline that Dr. Mike uses for rebounding. 
  • Moderate to Vigorous Exercise - most lymph is moved through gross motor function - the movement of the larger muscles of the body. Running, yoga, stretching, walking, swimming and all other types of physical exercise are great ways to keep your lymphatic system healthy. The key is to find something you love to do and make it part of your routine! Be a movement opportunist. 
  • Dietary Modification - Avoid inflammation-inducing foods such as processed sugars, meat, dairy, eggs, peanuts and caffeine. Instead, fill your diet with foods that fight inflammation - for example: tomatoes, avocado, extra virgin olive oil, leafy greens, nuts, beets, blueberries, and cruciferous vegetables, coconut oil, chia and flax seeds. 

With these tips, you will be well on your way to achieving optimal lymphatic function. If you want to learn more, peruse our short list of links below and keep doing your own research! If you've been living with chronic fatigue, headaches, and general sluggishness, do yourself a favor and spend some time caring for your lymphatic system. Your body will give that love back to you in ways you can't yet imagine! As always, stay curious and be sure to check back here soon for even more creative tips for optimal health.