Our Body’s Incredible Lymphatic System

April 27, 2016

“When something feels off, it is”     ~ Abraham Hicks 

Putting My Foot Down 1-680x

Photo Credit: Zazzle.com

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It's funny what happens when life shows up.  Some people add a few more grey hairs, others another wrinkle or two.  Me?  When life is off-kilter, my leg will always give it away.  The one person I can never hide it from?  My step-mom

“What's happening my Dear?  Your leg is awfully big today.  Let's have you sit down.”

Admittedly, the past couple of months I haven't been on my game; not in the way I'd like

A project that started as innocently enough had morphed.  After our freshly painted living room looked so nice, it was awfully hard to stop.  We'd finished all of the inside just as spring arrived, so we packed up our paintbrushes and headed outside.

It all looks great, although the days of standing (especially on a ladder), made the swelling in my leg much harder to control.  If the only thing standing between me and a lymphedema flare-up was a painting marathon, I'd have been ok

Instead, during that time we also

Painting 1-680x

Photo Credit: Marie Kondo

lost our dog

A season that was harder than I ever could have imagined.  Certainly, I've experienced many forms of loss throughout my 40+ years.  But this one, this one hit me hard

Intellectually I knew better, but in the following weeks, my eating was terribly off.  Most of the foods that work for me and aren't inflammatory sadly had gone by the way-side.

I thought “No worries, I'll get back on track”  But with each passing day it became clear that for that to happen, I'd first need to reach out for a little bit of help

“Hi, it's been a few years since I've been to your office.  I feel a little silly calling, but I need someone to help me.  Somehow I've got to make it to the other side of grief.” 

“You didn't just lose a dog. Instead, you lost a friend.”


Photo Credit: Instagram – Albert Camus

** For those who have been following the series, you'll know I developed lymphedema in my left leg nearly 30 years ago as a result of a car accident.  Over the years, I've learned the best way to control the swelling is to keep moving, use a leg pump, lymphatic massage, and manage inflammation through my diet.

(Getting it back under control again inspired me to write this series)

The conclusion today of a short series about the lymphatic system

In Part I:  A bit about my journey with lymphedema.  Also an overview of its primary purposes, and how fluid returns to our circulatory system

In Part II:  The secret weapon of some of the most beautiful women in the world, and my introduction to lymphatic massage.  Also, how the lymphatic system acts as part of our immune system, cleansing bacteria from our bodies

in Part III:  What happens when our lymphatic system becomes stagnant?  Why do we have care for ourselves differently than our grandparents did?  Also, an introduction to lymphatic massage, with a short video about how to bring fluid down out of our head (great for those who suffer from allergies or have sinus pressure)

My favorite visual:  Picture a city, the circulatory system is the maze of streets and alleys, whereas the lymphatic system is the network of sewer pipes running underground

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Photo Credit: Akilikentler.org – Istanbul, Turkey

Tips & Tricks to Keep our Lymph System Moving

The good news is that keeping our lymph system moving doesn't take much.  As with most things related to health, the biggest keys are being aware and using common sense.

Kind of fun to note that most of these tips are long-term beauty habits practiced by Europeans.

Daily exercise – Unlike blood, our lymphatic system doesn't have a pump.  It relies instead on the relaxation and contraction of our muscles and joints to keep it moving.  The perfect excuse to go for your daily walk(!)

Yoga – Yoga is incredible for so many reasons.  Lymph collectors run along our muscles, and if you can stretch them out, they'll function a lot better.  All of the twisting during yoga class squeezes our organs and muscles, which forces the lymph out of the tissues.  Inversions (if you can do them!) or even putting your legs up the wall, helps to reverse the effects of gravity.

Bouncing on a Trampoline – Remember the days when we did it for fun?  Ten to thirty minutes of gentle bouncing is all you need

Deep Breathing – Deep breathing is a huge part of lymphatic therapy.  As we bring our lungs back down and the rib cage presses on the thoracic duct, lymph will be drawn from our abdomen and lower extremities.  Yet another reason to relax and breathe more(!)

For a demonstration of diaphragmatic breathing, or how to drain lymph from your abdomen, this is such a good video

Video Credit:  YouTube.com – Abdominal Lymphatic Drainage of the Abdomen – MassageByHeather.com – Heather Wibbles, LMT in Louisville, KY

Drink plenty of water – Lymph is 95% water, and dehydration is one of the most common causes of congestion (remember, if you have cellulite that's a good indication your lymph is congested)  Want a little boost?  Add lemon; it's an alkaline fruit that helps mineralize our body and lymph.  (How much water should we be drinking every day.. here)

Nutrition –   Whole foods are always the goal when it comes to staying healthy and preventing disease.  Although within this umbrella there are a couple of interesting topics to note.

 Raw foods –  Raw foods offer high levels of naturally occurring enzymes.  These enzymes are important because they break down and clear toxic buildups.  Raw foods are also a great way to boost water levels in our bodies.  Finally, they're primarily alkaline, which helps neutralize harmful pathogens, lessening the burden on the lymph

Minimizing inflammatory foods – Our lymphatic systems are in charge of our body's level of inflammation (in 2011, the AMA declared that inflammation is the root of all disease).  Therefore, eliminating inflammatory foods from your diet is important (as I discovered first-hand!)  

Dry skin brushing –  Brushing our skin towards the heart with a dry brush is a great way to get your lymph system flowing.  It also stimulates the sweat glands, open pores, and gets rid of dead skin cells.

Lymphatic Massage –  A simple, relaxing, and incredibly effective means of getting our lymphatic system moving.  Because it sits just beneath the skin, this will be the lightest massage you'll ever have.  It's amazing that something so basic can have such a large impact.

I've included a couple of Heather Wibble's videos within this series, although I'd encourage you to check out the others at her YouTube Channel.  Of note: Lymphatic Drainage Massage for the head .. arm .. leg .. abdomen and trunk (Part I and Part II)

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Photo Credit: tlacuilolan.com

Beneficial Herbs

There are several herbs that we can use to help our lymphatic health.  They work mainly by increasing lymphatic flow and drainage, or by helping to clear toxic substances.  A few of note:

Red clover and cleavers are popular for helping increase the flow of lymph.  Clivers (or goosegrass) has been used for centuries. Manjistha (from the Ayurvedic tradition) is used for stagnant lymph and works by detoxing the tissue, which in turn supports lymph flow.

Bupleurum and Rehmannia are herbal tonics in traditional Chinese medicine and used to treat lymphatic conditions.  These are well-known in Asia for maintaining the cleanliness of the lymphatic system.

Where do we go from here?

As this series draws to a close, my sincerest wish is that the information will give you a jumping-off place to explore the topic on your own.  That it's offered some food for thought or sparked additional questions that you can now talk about with your doctor,  nutritionist

or health professional

As always, thank you for reading.  I'm so very grateful for the community of people who stop by The Veggies every now and again. I hope it's of service to you, whether it's a new recipe, some food for thought, or a small bit of happiness to

brighten your day


ps:  You can read more about Lymphedema in Part I  |  Part II  |  Part III  of the series

References used for this series include The One Simple Thing Podcast – Julia Loggins .. Lymphatic System (Human Body Systems) by Julie McDowell and Michael Windelspect .. How the Immune System Works by Lauren Sompayrac .. LiveScience.com .. National Lymphedema Network 

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1 Comment

  • Reply Ravi May 17, 2017 at 5:53 am

    A deal of information and tips on Lympy care here. You’ve covered Ayurvedic treatment as well that i believe has the capacity to not only cure but also re-generate. Wish you see great results and improvement..

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