True wellness includes a smoothly flowing, healthy lymphatic system. What is that, and why is it important? Well, that’s the subject of this post – just the basics, I admit, but enough to get you started on a journey to appreciate and take great care of a body system that may not have even been on your radar before just now.
The lymphatic system is made up of the tissues and organs which produce and store cells used to fight infection and disease. The fluid which transports these cells is called lymph, and the specialized white blood cells themselves are called lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are stored in a very small organ called the thymus. When the largest organ in the lymphatic system – the spleen – detects disease, the spleen directs the thymus to release lymphocytes into the bloodstream. Before releasing them, the thymus prepares these cells to become active T cells, enabling them to help destroy infected or cancerous cells. The lymphatic system also:
- absorbs fats and fat-soluble vitamins from the digestive system and delivers these nutrients to the cells
- removes excess fluid and waste from between the cells
The lymph moves through the body via network of tiny capillaries and vessels. Along the way from all parts of the body to its destination of an area at the base of the neck, there are – like a chain of pearls – round or oval shaped lymph nodes that serve to filter the lymph. About 90% of the filtered lymph returns to the bloodstream, and the rest remains as circulating lymph. By the way, bone marrow is part of the lymphatic system, participating in early selection of lymphocytes together with the thymus.
WHY THE LYMPHATIC SYSTEM IS UNIQUE
You may be assuming that the lymphatic system works in a parallel way to the circulatory system (blood), but it does not. There is no pump equivalent to the heart to force the continuous circulation of the lymph throughout the body. External stimulation/massage is necessary to move the lymph. This is where YOU come in.
There are many reasons why the lymphatic system may not drain properly, including:
- Your skeletal muscles are not contracting (insufficient movement/exercise)
- The tissue or nodes are damaged or have been removed
- Infection/disease are overloading the system’s capacity to process and remove toxins and waste
WHAT CAN GO WRONG
Your lymphatic system can easily become stagnant, especially when it becomes overwhelmed with toxic debris. This not only leads to impaired immunity and disease, but the development of cellulite, edema (fluid retention), chronic pain, and fatty deposits. A sluggish lymphatic flow can also be a root cause of chronic sinusitis; swollen glands, ankles and eyes; eczema; arthritis; upper respiratory, sinus and ear infections; throat problems; colds; tonsillitis; bronchitis and pneumonia.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Basically, anything you can do to stimulate stagnant lymph to get it back into circulation will really help your overall physical and mental health. Here are a few simple practices:
- Rebounding. Rebounding is one of the easiest ways to pump the lymph. Mini-trampolines are inexpensive, easily stored when not in use, and – take it from me – FUN!
- Inversion Table. An inversion table is a padded table that allows one to invert upside down while strapped in by the feet. They require a bit more expertise than rebounding, should be used for short durations throughout the day for optimal results, and may work best with special boots. Inversion helps the lymph to flow to the base of the neck while also improving spine health in a less bouncy way than rebounding.
- Hydration. Lymph is about 95% water, making water essential for its health. We should be consuming about half of our body weight in ounces (ex: 75 ounces if you weigh 150 pounds). Lemon essential oil is a great add to your water for improved taste, increase in lymphatic functionality, and gentle detoxing. It can be added to your (warm or room temperature is best) water throughout the day with no fear of harming tooth enamel.
- Raw Foods and Digestive Enzymes. The body needs external digestive enzymes to break down food into usable nutrients. Raw foods – especially fruits and vegetables – contribute naturally occurring enzymes. doTERRA’s TerraZyme Digestive Enzyme Complex is a proprietary blend of whole-food digestive enzymes and mineral co-factors that are often deficient in cooked and processed food.
- Lymphatic Massage. Lymphatic massage is a special form of massage that supports the flow of the lymph toward the heart. It can be done by a professional or at home and can be done in combination with diffusion of essential oils. A home technique can be to apply 3-5 drops of essential oil to the sides of the neck and sides of the rib cage 2x per day. A few of the many essential oils that can be used during massage to support the lymphatic system are:
- Lemongrass – helps lymph flow and drainage, and is especially helpful with swollen and congested lymph nodes
- Lavender – supports an increase in waste elimination
- Cypress and Grapefruit – stimulate and support decongestion of the lymphatic system
- Juniper Berry – supports both lymphatic and urinary systems
- Frankincense – supports reduction in swelling in lymph nodes
- Herbs. Though less potent than essential oils, many herbs have long histories as supports to proper functioning of the lymphatic system. A few are Red Clover (said to increase lymph flow, which helps to detoxify the body and reduce inflammation). Cleavers (said to be one of the best tonics to stimulate and help drain the lymphatic system), Manjistha (said to de-stagnate lymph by detoxifying the tissue and supporting lymph flow), and bupleurum and rehmannia (herbal tonics used to treat lymphatic conditions in traditional Chinese medicine).
- Dry Brushing. This is a unique kind of massage using a flat brush with natural plant bristles to promote the flow of the lymph toward important “watershed” areas like armpits and groin. In fact, about ¾ of the lymphatic drainage system empties out into the left armpit and lymph node area. The abdomen holds 60-70% of our lymphatic tissue, so be sure to include a good brushing there. See the resource section below for a detailed diagram of the lymphatic system and one of many instructional videos available online (by the way, I recommend doTERRA hair and skincare products in the shower). Most people perform a full dry brushing routine before showering.
Here is a list of important benefits of dry brushing:
- Increases circulation & lymphatic drainage
- Reduces the appearance of cellulite
- Energizes the body
- Eliminates dead skin cells & clogged pores, resulting in more beautiful, vibrant skin
- Releases toxins
- Improves muscle tone
- Eliminates clogged pores
- Lymphatic Facial Massage. Some people use a dry brush with very soft bristles for the face. I would recommend a jade roller if you want to use a tool. But, honestly, I believe that massaging your face and throat morning and night (when you apply skincare products or just a massage) is really helpful to help toxins and waste to drain down.
- Regular Exercise and Stretching. Yoga is particularly good for giving yourself an overall lymphatic workout. Inversion, twists, and the natural flow of yoga movements should help stimulate lymph flow in a significant way.
- When you’re not feeling well. Rub essential oils under your armpits to stimulate the immune response. Tip: breast cancer shows up first in your underarm lymph nodes.
- Don’t use anti-perspirants. Most have aluminum or titanium, both of which can clog your pores and block proper toxin elimination. If you have excessive/problem perspiration, I can suggest protocols to help.
- Use deodorants with only natural ingredients. Frankincense essential oil and doTERRA’s Mud Mask are very good for detoxing the armpit area. Other options are bentonite clay; Juniper Berry, Grapefruit, and Myrrh essential oils; and doTERRA Natural Deodorant with Balance blend.
- Take high quality daily nutritional supplements. I recommend the trio in doTERRA’s Lifelong Vitality Pack for best foundational support of your immune system. These are guaranteed to make a difference in your general health within 30 days or you get a 100% refund of the purchase price.
Here is a simple recipe for a potent essential oil blend for seasonal support (apply to lymph nodes, neck, spine, and soles of the feet when the flu is spreading or at the first sign of symptoms).
To a 10 ml roller bottle add: 10 drops of Oregano (substitute Marjoram for use with little, elderly, those in frail health, and when anticipated use may exceed one week), 18 drops Lemon, 15 drops Melaleuca/Tea Tree, and 15 drops doTERRA On Guard Protective Blend. Top off with fractionated coconut oil or other preferred pure carrier oil.
CAUTION: This strength is for healthy adults. Be sure to follow a dilution chart when using with infants, toddlers, and children.
For a detailed diagram of the lymphatic system, go to (click away from YouTube to image): http://goo.gl/jN9lCh
For information on swollen lymph nodes, go to: https://www.medicinenet.com/swollen_lymph_nodes/article.htm#where_are_the_lymph_nodes_located_in_the_body_pictures
For a detailed instructional video on dry brushing and lymphatic massage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZgPfpwyfndE