Hello dear friends!
What if I told you that there was a vast network inside of your body that is even bigger than the circulatory system? And perhaps even more important? I might not believe it either. After all, in my many years of higher education, the blood was where the action was. We talked in great detail about the importance of the blood, different blood cells, and how nutrients and other vital compounds were transported via the blood.
But the blood is only one half of the equation. The lymph is the other.
I admit, even in my immunology and microbiology courses, we didn’t spend that much time talking about the lymphatic system. Even though it’s arguably the most important part of fighting disease! The lymphatic system is our body’s trash collection system. The blood brings nutrients, but the lymph carries away the waste. All that junk from cellular metabolism, viral casings, bacterial toxins, etc...has to go somewhere!
Our bodies are infinitely intelligent. They keep the acidic, damaging waste away from the blood, and shuttles it into the lymph. When things are working properly, our lymphatic system is able to collect and chaperone all that nasty stuff out of the body (via elimination channels like the kidneys, skin, and colon). But for most of us, our lymph isn’t moving like it should be. So, what happens when our lymphatic system becomes stagnant?
Depending on the location and severity of the stagnation, we can experience things like:
Swelling and pressure
Recurring infections, especially of the sinuses
Itchy, red, irritated skin
Numbness and tingling
Swollen or tender breasts
Every inch of our body has lymphatic vessels and/or nodes, even in the brain (this is called the “glymphatic system” or glial lymphatics)! So, if you want to recover from illness, don’t spend time worrying about what’s in your blood- clean up the lymph!
There are many things that contribute to a stagnant lymphatic system. One by one, even if you don’t realize it, these slowly cause the lymph to back up, to harden, and to get clogged in the body. Many aspects of modern life can shut down the lymph:
Dehydration- dried out tissues and cells equals thick, sticky lymph
Overload of stress hormones- these hormones are acidic, and acids are hot/drying to the tissues.
Lack of movement- the lymphatic system doesn't have a pump, like the circulatory system does. It requires physical or manual movement.
Eating unhelpful foods- animal products are highly acidic and mucus-forming, along with processed and unnatural foods. Even eating too many heavy grains, too many cooked foods, or heavy fats can lead to trouble.
Overload of environmental toxins- all toxins are shuttled into the lymph for removal, but many people have too much for their body to handle
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had all of these things for the majority of my life. If you have too, don’t get discouraged if it takes you a while to get your lymph moving again.
Here are some of my favorite ways to give your lymph some love:
1. Move around
When you move and stretch, you can physically pump the lymph throughout the body. If you’re fairly healthy and your kidneys are filtering, feel free to do more moderate or strenuous exercise. However, if you’ve been sick for a while, choose gentle movements like yoga, deep stretching, deep breathing, or gentle rebounding.
2. Get on the fruits
Fruits, berries, and melons are the best for hydrating, alkalizing, and breaking up stagnant lymph. Banish your fruit fear, and start bringing raw, ripe fruits into your daily life. These are crucial for your health in many ways, and much of your health stems from your lymphatic system! Astringent fruits like citrus fruits, watermelons, and grapes are especially powerful.
3. Try massage
There is a lot of lymph right under the skin (subcutaneous), so massages can help that from getting too stagnant. A full-body professional massage is awesome if you can get it, especially if your practitioner specializes in lymphatic drainage. Even an at-home massage from a friend or partner is wonderful. Lastly, you can do your own lymph drainage massage for the head and neck- check out my Instagram TV for a quick demo!
4. Incorporate some herbs
We can lean on our plant allies for just about everything, including moving the lymphatic system. Look for herbs that will help open up the channels and detoxify. Some of my favorites include: red clover, burdock root, cleavers, chaparral, ginger, poke root, red root, dandelion, chickweed, and turmeric. I’ve put some of these into my Clean tincture, which you can snag in my Etsy shop. You can also make a nice tea from many of these, or use the formulas from Dr. Morse.
5. Do hot/cold showers
You can get a whole-body pumping effect with quick temperature differences, like taking an alternating hot/cold shower. You’ll see this setup in many traditional bath-houses and spas, with saunas and cold plunges right next to each other. If you are very weak, or have neurological issues, you may want to skip this one, or start with a very gentle warm/cool rotation.
6. Learn to breathe
Too many of us are very shallow breathers, which can cause the lymph to stagnate in the chest and abdomen. Even just a few minutes of good, mindful, deep breathing can place gentle pressure on the lymph nodes and vessels, encouraging them to get a move on! Try some diaphragmatic breathing, or other belly breathing techniques. Then, get in the habit of catching yourself throughout the day, when you’ve noticed that your breathing has become shallow.
7. Avoid restrictive clothing
Tight clothes can cause congestion of the lymph over time, so try to make your daily wardrobe a bit more loose and breathable. This is especially important when it comes to bras and undies, since many major lymph nodes and vessels run through the groin and armpit/breast area. Ditch the underwire if you can, wear more comfort bras, and guys- let your junk breathe! Also, avoid synthetics whenever possible, as these can leach nasty chemicals into the skin.
8. Ditch the dairy
Seriously, y’all, it’s time for all of us humans to stop consuming breast milk from other species. Not only is it highly mucus-forming, but it is acidic and congesting to the lymph. Dairy is the #1 food to remove for lymphatic health. There are tons of amazing alternatives out there now, if you need to take those baby steps. Not only will your body thank you, but you’ll feel better making the more ethical, compassionate, and environmentally-friendly choice.
9. Clean up your cosmetics
Remember how there are tons of lymph vessels and nodes just under the skin? These absorb a huge amount of toxins, which often get stuck there, like petrochemicals, endocrine disruptors, heavy metals, and more. Make the switch now to clean cosmetics and beauty products, and also try to give your skin a break from any products now and then. This includes everything you put on your body, like: makeup, shampoo/conditioner, lotions, perfumes, lubricants, nail polish, hair dye, deodorant, etc…
10. Use oils
With my love of essential oils, I researched some that have been shown to have effect on the lymphatic system. These are nice to incorporate into a lymphatic massage, and can add a little boost to get things moving. Some oils that may help detox the lymph include: all citrus oils (grapefruit, orange, lemon, bergamot), cypress, geranium, peppermint, ginger, and juniper. I recommend choosing 2-3 of these and mixing them with a carrier oil in a 10ml roller ball.
As I continue to learn and research more about natural detoxification and healing, the lymphatic system clearly stands out as a vital aspect of this process. When we clean and move the lymph, we take away the cozy breeding grounds for things like parasites, viruses, and bacteria. When your lymph is doing its job and “taking out the trash,” your cells will no longer be suffocating in their own waste! And we can all agree, that’s a good thing.
If you need more personalized guidance on how to detox safely, or get your lymph moving again, reach out for a consultation! I’d be happy to help.
As always, my dear friends,
~ Hoping you feel as well as possible ~