Your lymphatic system is probably one of the most important systems in your body for the simple reason that it is linked to your immunity.
Your lymphatic system consists of an entire network of tissues and organs that help your body get rid of toxins, waste and other unwanted materials. This very important system essentially moves lymph (a clear fluid that contains infection-fighting white blood cells) throughout your body.
Despite being a vital part of your health, your lymphatic system is also one of the last things most people worry about.
Doctors routinely warn you of the dangers of heart disease and diabetes. They caution you about high cholesterol and blood pressure, and even the risks of cancer, but they rarely tell you how critical lymph drainage is for your overall health.
What is the Lymphatic System?
There is still much that remains unknown about the lymphatic system, but here are a few things we can say for sure.
Lymphatic Quick Facts (1, 2)
- The lymphatic system was first discovered in 1652 by a Danish physician, Thomas Bartholin.
- You have between 500 and 700 lymph nodes in your body that are responsible for filtering lymph fluid.
- Your spleen is the largest organ in the lymphatic system.
- Lymph is not circulated like blood—it has no pump such as your heart to push it through your body. It only flows in only one direction — upward toward your neck.
- Lymphatic system diseases can go ignored or unnoticed for many years.
- There are an array of mild, slowly progressing, serious and even deadly diseases that are known to attack your lymphatic system, causing issues and even complete failure of this vital system.
You need a healthy lymphatic system to help excrete toxins, so if it is not working properly, organs such as your liver and kidneys can quickly become contaminated as they are overloaded with toxins and chemicals. Other systems can also be affected.
It is a well-known fact in the natural health industry that the conventional medical community typically ignores lymph stagnation as a possible cause of disease. Ultimately, a poorly functioning lymphatic system can lead to any number of health issues such as digestive disorders, increased illnesses, hormonal imbalances, chronic fatigue, allergies, prostatitis, chronic sinusitis, heart disease, and eczema and other skin conditions.
It has also been linked to (3):
- Poor circulation
- Fibrocystic disease
- Repetitive parasitic infections
- Lupus erythematosis
- High blood pressure
- Bacterial and viral infections
- Puffy eyes
- Low back pain
- Ear or balance problems
- Excessive sweating
Top 14 signs of a congested lymphatic system
Here are some tell-tale signs that your lymphatic system is not working ideally (4, 5).
- Swollen fingers—rings get tight on fingers
- Occasional constipation, diarrhea, and/or mucus in your stool
- Sore or stiff joints upon waking
- Exhaustion and general fatigue
- Weight gain, extra belly fat and cellulite
- Dry, itchy skin, rashes or acne
- Swollen glands
- Low immunity
- Brain fog
- Breast swelling or soreness with each cycle
- Mild headaches
- Elevated histamine—increased allergies and irritation due to common environmental allergens
While these are some of the most commons signs of a congested lymphatic system, there are others such as cold feet and hands, digestive disorders and multiple sinus infections.
The bottom line, however, is if you have any of these symptoms for an extended period of time and your doctor cannot find a logical explanation or the symptoms worsen or multiply, you should speak to a naturopath or other holistic doctor who will investigate lymphatic issues.
In the interim, there are many easy ways to improve your lymphatic circulation, which is always a good idea even if you are not suffering from any immediate symptoms.
10 Lymph Drainage Tricks
The number one best way to increase lymph flow is through exercise. The lymphatic system does not have a pump like your heart, so the only way it circulates is by actual movement. And one proven way to do this is by using a rebounder or small trampoline (6).
Even small movements, just simple bouncing for 10-20 minutes a day, can significantly increase lymph flow 15 to 30 times more than being sedetary.
If you do not have a rebounder, try taking a brisk walk for 20 minutes, four times a week, preferably outside among the trees, grass and fresh air. Walking is so beneficial for health that the Japanese have a name for it—“forest bathing.” (7).
Walking not only increases lymph flow but it brings vital oxygen to your lungs and other cells while being outside improves your mental health and mood.
3. Deep Breathing
Apart from exercise, deep breathing is one of the most important things you can do to increase lymph flow because your lungs help to push your lymphatic fluid through the rest of the body.
The expansion and contraction of your diaphragm caused by deep breathing can stimulate your lymphatic system and massage your internal organs, which, of course, helps your body to remove toxins. This further promotes optimal oxygen exchange within your cells (8).
Take several minutes a day to simply concentrate on your breathing, taking in exaggerated deep breaths and then exhaling all the air. Do this several times and then repeat throughout the day.
4. Lymphatic Drainage Massage
Massage in general is good for circulation but you can also specifically have a lymphatic drainage massage that targets the lymph areas (9).
The theory of yoga supports lymphatic flow and circulation but according to some experts, specific types of yoga may be more productive for moving fluid quickly, particularly, Lymphatic Yoga and Yin Yoga.
These types of yoga require you to create poses that are held from 3 to 10 minutes and the resulting change in gravity you experience while doing these poses, and the differences in pressure, can help to improve lymphatic flow.
Studies show these types of yoga are also helpful self-care interventions for breast cancer-related lymphedema (BCRL) (10).
6. Legs up on the Wall
Simply raising your legs above your body can improve lymph flow and drainage in that area.
Just lie down on your back and place your legs up against the wall at a 90 degree angle. This daily practice helps elimination toxins and even promote sleep (11).
7. Stand More
Many of us sit almost all day at a desk. Then we sit when we drive home.
We sit again when we eat and then when we watch TV before retiring for bed, where we lie prone for another 6-8 hours.
That’s a lot of sitting and stationary positions, especially when you think about how little movement there is of lymph when you are immobile.
To get things moving, try using a standing desk. Standing allows fluid to flow more easily and tiny muscles move and twich to keep you upright. There small but powerful muscle contractions help to push lymph throughout your body (12).
8. Dry Skin Brushing
Many experts suggest dry brushing your skin, which is a way to remove dead skin cells, thus unclog the underlying skin. When these pores becomes clogged, toxins and chemicals can begin to backup resulting in rashes, dry, flakey skin.
Dy brushing also helps to increase circulation to your skin, which of course, encourages the elimination of metabolic waste. In fact, studies show that dry skin brushing can even reach much deeper than the initial dermis by supporting your digestion and various organ functions.
9. Hydrotherapy Showers
A hydrotherapy shower is simply a shower in which you alternate hot and then cold water.
Because lymph vessels contract when exposed to cold, and relax in response to heat, the change in temperature causes the lymph to flow. This can help to release any blockages or stuck fluid.
When you are nearly finished, turn the water to completely cold and stand in it as long as you can before getting out.
10. Eat Healthy and Drink Plenty of Water
Since lymph is a liquid, it only makes sense it gets thicker when you are dehydrated.
In fact, dehydration is one of the main causes of lymphatic system congestion so make sure to drink enough throughout the day.
What you eat is also very important. Obviously, foods that are free of excess chemicals and toxins are best. Additionally, you should always eliminate all processed foods and sugar.
Certain foods have also been shown to be more helpful than others for prompting lymph drainage such as: cranberry, garlic, ginger, turmeric, citrus, leafy greens, and nuts and seeds. As well, adaptogenic herbs such as goldenseal, Echinacea, and astragalus have been shown to be helpful for alleviating inflammation and congestion of the lymph nodes and vessels (13).
There are also three main reasons why your lymphatic system and lymph nodes can become congested, according to Dr. John Douillard, a renowned certified Ayurveda Practitioner.
If you can also keep on top of these, it can go a long way to improving your lymph health and ultimately, your overall health.
Stress: Stress is a factor in all disease. It can both cause disease and as well, come about as a result of disease. The two are intrinsically linked. In fact, according to health officials, stress is directly related to about 80 percent of all chronic health issues including lymph congestion.
Digestive imbalances: The majority of lymph in your body surrounds your gut (Gut Associated Lymphatic Tissues – GALT). As such, it is imperative that these tissues remain healthy and in good working order. Digestive issues can irritate the miniscule intestinal villi and can result in lymph congestion that can further lead to improper lymph flow, toxin buildup, an inability to assimilate nutrients and a weakened immune system.
Iodine deficiency: Finally, iodine plays a big part in lymphatic health. Iodine is needed to mitigate the effects of toxins and support your lymphatic system on a cellular level. A deficiency in iodine can, therefore, lead to lymph congestion and weakness.
Now that you know how the lymphatic system works, don’t forget to add lymph drainage to your daily self-care.