The lymphatic system has two main functions – transportation and immunological defence. It comprises a series of vessels and nodes that run through the entire body. Sort of like a shadow circulation system… sort of. I’ts not something that’s often talked about, so it’s good to know how to look after your lymphatic system.
Here’s a brief intro to your lymphatic system…
Instead of taking blood and nutrients to all parts of the body, the lymphatic system collects and recycles the fluid that has “leaked” out of the circulatory system. (For a more detailed explanation click here.)
In the meantime, here are some simple ways to support the functioning of your lymphatic system.
The pressure change that breathing creates in the chest is an important pumping mechanism for the lymphatic system. Abdominal, or yoga-style breathing, therefore, is a great boost to the lymphatic system and is beneficial for your whole body. Simply breathing helps calm the mind and reduce stress levels, which also benefits the lymphatic system by relaxing internal organs and muscles. Taking a few deep breaths first thing in the morning and last thing at night is a good starting point. Just be sure not to hyperventilate!
Keeping your body well-hydrated is beneficial to your entire body. The lymphatic system transports waste-laden fluid away from body tissue, filters it and returns the fluid to the circulation system. Ensuring your body has an adequate supply of clean water to replace lost fluids will make sure the concentration of proteins and nutrients in the blood, cells and tissues remains balanced. It also aids the elimination process in flushing toxins, waste by-products, bacteria and viruses out of the body.
Good nutritious food that produces less waste when your body metabolises it! Reward your body with delicious, yet healthy meals consisting of protein and plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. If you need to snack, cut down or even avoid the so-called comfort foods such as cakes, biccies, muffins, all those lovely grain-based carbs and sugars – so appealing during high-stress moments. Instead replace them with higher protein-content foods such as nuts, yoghurt, even protein bars.
Specific foods that may help support healthy lymphatic function include nuts and seeds, avocado, garlic, ginger, citrus fruits, bananas, broccoli and salmon. Whatever you choose, keep it balanced, nutritious and tasty!
Moderate exercise is best when focussing on the lymphatic system. This can be as simple as walking barefoot on the beach (if you’re lucky enough to live near the beach). You can practice abdominal breathing at the same time for added benefit. Exercises that need consistent contraction and release of the muscles are good. These include bouncing on a mini-tramp or rebounder, aqua aerobics, resistance-style weight training, swimming, Pilates, and my personal favourite, yoga.
If you are starting up an exercise program please bear in mind that these exercise tips are suggestions only. If you are concerned about your health or lymphatic system, please seek medical advice.
Getting enough good quality rest helps the lymphatic system work more efficiently. If you are particularly prone to swelling in the ankles or legs, taking time to get horizontal and closing your eyes for a short power nap during the day (when possible, of course!) gives the body the chance to regain some equilibrium.
Do what you can to get a good, restful night’s sleep. Some things that may help you get a good night’s sleep include:
- reducing the amount of TV and computer time
- removing the TV/computer from your bedroom
- do your exercises in the morning, and not at night
- eat a small evening meal, early in the evening
- do something relaxing close to bedtime – meditate, read a book
- get up early in the morning and be active!!
If you do have trouble getting to sleep, or staying asleep, seek some advice from a naturopath, doctor or other health practitioner.
Well, dry brushing, at least. Use a natural bristle brush and with long strokes, brush from feet to head, directing strokes towards the heart. This helps in two ways, by stretching and moving the skin you encourage the surface lymphatic vessels to open and start taking in fluid. As more fluid moves into these superficial vessels, pressure increases and the fluid pushes further into the lymphatic system. Brushing the skin also stimulates surface blood flow. The action of surface blood vessels pumping influences the lymphatic vessels.
It’s best to do your dry brushing before having a shower and try to keep your strokes light and rhythmical. For best effect, aim for five to ten strokes in each area.
Another one of my favourites, of course! The technique I use is very light and rhythmic and is very gently stretches the skin. This movement stimulates the surface lymphatic vessels to open, encouraging lymph to move deeper into the system. As well as helping the lymphatic system, this treatment is deeply relaxing and provides a great time out from our busy, stress-filled lives.
Other conditions that benefit from lymphatic drainage massage include:
- bruising, sprains, strains,
- sinusitis, arthritis, acne,
- headache, migraine, stress and tension,
- travellers’ oedema, and circulatory problems such as swollen hands and feet.
Don’t forget, if you have any concerns with your lymphatic system or your health in general, please seek appropriate medical advice.