Week 32 | The Lymphatic System: A Case For Increasing Your Self Care Rituals and Booking a Massage A
I know a guy who gets a massage every week, I know right, #goals. While I am not a banker and I cannot afford these things (yet), there is argument to strive for allowing for self care rituals such as massages - they help strengthen your lymphatic system and general immunity against infection.
Gettin' Around: An Introduction to Circulatory Systems
The lymphatic system is one of two circulatory systems in your body. The other circulatory system is called the cardiovascular system or vascular system and it is responsible for moving blood filled with nutrients and oxygen from the heart through to the body and back to the heart, where blood gets filtered, reoxygenated and circulated once more. To help move blood to as far away extremities as the tips of your toes, the heart acts as a pump. In week 6, I outlined the importance of sustaining and strengthening circulation in your cardiovascular system for the reason that proper maintenance through for example, exercises will help your entire body have access to beautifully oxygenated and nutrient filled blood.
The lymphatic system is a circulatory system as well, but there are major difference to the one responsible for spreading blood through your body. Often overlooked, it is important to maintain self care rituals to help upkeep this system in the body responsible for immunity and overall well being.
What is Lymph?
Lymph is a clear or yellowish fluid that contains white blood cells. White blood cells, “are an important component of your blood system, which is also made up of red blood cells, platelets, and plasma. Although your white blood cells account for only about 1% of your blood, their impact is significant. White blood cells are essential for good health and protection against illness and disease. Think of white blood cells as your immunity cells. In a sense, they are continually at war. They flow through your bloodstream to battle viruses, bacteria, and other foreign invaders that threaten your health. When your body is in distress and a particular area is under attack, white blood cells rush in to help destroy the harmful substance and prevent illness”. (Rochester University)
What is the Lymphatic System?
The main function of the lymphatic system is to move lymph around - the fluid carrying white blood cells responsible for fighting infection (Live Science); “The lymphatic system is one of the most overlooked yet significant systems in the body. This expansive system travels throughout the body to remove waste from every cell while helping to regulate the immune system” (Mind Body Green). The tissues and organs that make up the lymphatic system include your tonsils, spleen, thymus, ducts and vessels that, “help rid the body of toxins, waste and other unwanted materials” (Live Science).
How Do I Know If My Lymphatic System or
Immunity is Compromised?
The lymphatic system acts, “like a giant drainage system for the body that needs to stay clear for it to work properly. Just like in your home if the drains are clogged in your toilet or sink, you can’t get rid of waste effectively—the same is true for your body. Stagnant lymph flow leads to waste and toxin buildup, weakening immunity and leading to a wide variety of health issues. Almost every part of the body can be affected by poor waste removal in the lymphatic system. When your lymph drains become congested you may notice:
Stiffness, especially in the morning
Itchy and dry skin
Breast swelling with each cycle
Holding on to water
Stubborn weight gain
Chronic sinusitis, sore throats, colds, or ear issues
Our Lymphatic System Doesn't Have a Pump: You Have to Put in Effort
The cardiovascular system has a pump: the heart - it helps to move blood throughout the body.
In contrast, the lymphatic system does not have a pump or major organ to flow fluid through to the extremities; Rather, “the lymph system is stimulated by gravity, muscle contraction (exercise), hydrotherapy (alternating hot and cold water on the skin), breathing, lymph drainage therapy, and massage. If your lymphatic circulation slows or stagnates, toxins will accumulate and immune cells won’t be delivered to the areas of the body where they’re needed, causing a variety of ailments, the very least of which are aches, pains, and swelling (lymph edema). This can also cause deterioration of your thymus gland, tonsils, and spleen – key components of your immune system — and weaken your body’s ability to fight infection and disease” (Gaiam).
Go Ahead and Book That Massage: Self Care Tips for a Well Functioning Lymphatic System
Without the lymphatic system or proper movement within it, “our bodies would swell up like balloons, swamping our cells with stagnant fluid” (Real Body Work). While we may not all be able to afford a weekly massage, there are methods to help maintain a strong lymphatic system - and most feel great and are treats to yourself in disguise. Time to take care of yourself, and your immunity at the same time.
Because the lymphatic system does not have a pump to move lymph around like the cardiovascular system has the heart to move blood around, it is important to engage in activity that encourages muscle movements that directly influence the movement of lymph throughout the body; “Laughter and deep breathing involve movement of the diaphragm and abdominal muscles that help push lymph through the vessels” (Mind Body Green).
2. You Are What You Eat: Foods That Keep Your Lymphatic System Happy
“A sluggish digestive tract also congests the lymphatic system. Ayurvedic medicine teaches that naturally red foods like berries, pomegranates, cherries, cranberries, and beets keep the lymph moving freely. Beets are particularly valuable as they help thin the bile for healthy fat digestion, scrub the intestinal villi where the lymphatic vessels originate, and help keep the lymph flowing” (Mind Body Green).
3. Get a Standing Desk, Walk Around: Opt Out of a Sedentary Lifestyle
“The lymphatic system depends largely on large muscle activity in the body for its circulation. Stagnation from sitting all day is a major problem. People who sit at their computers without taking breaks develop a sluggish lymph system because they do not move. Lymphatic congestion is a major factor leading to inflammation and disease. If the lymph is not flowing well, the cells are poisoned from their own waste and the lymph fluid becomes a toxic cesspool, resulting in fatigue, swelling, infection, inflammation, disease, and more symptoms. A combination of a sedentary lifestyle, poor diet, and a toxic environment all contribute to this backup. Rapid improvements in the quality of the cells and blood occur once easy lifestyle changes are made so that the lymphatic system is activated and working efficiently” (Branch Basics) .
“The lymphatic system relies on the contraction and relaxation of the muscles and joints to move the lymph. The rhythmic tensing and relaxing of the muscles during physical movement wring out the tissues and propel fluid through the lymphatic channels” (Mind Body Green). Have I convinced you to start working out yet?
4. Dry Brushing
“Dry brushing your skin will kick start your lymphatic system, which helps you remove toxins from the body. The stiffer the bristles on the brush, the better the lymphatic stimulation you’ll create”(Mind Body Green). “Dry skin brushing promotes lymphatic drainage of toxic waste, which results in many other benefits such as improved immunity, refreshed skin, and reduction of cellulite. Hard pressure is not necessary – the lymphatic system is close to the surface of the skin and it only takes a light pressure to release congestion. Start a habit of dry skin brushing a few minutes before your shower or bathe using an inexpensive natural bristle brush” (Branch Basics).
5. Get a Massage
The effects of massage and lymphatic massage specifically are that they, “open up the lymphatic vessels to let excess fluid drain” (Healthline). “Lymphatic massage reduces swelling, helps detoxify the body, and helps speed regeneration of tissues and cells. You can go for a whole body massage or focus on targeted areas. For example, backed up lymphatic fluid in the head can contribute to head congestion, stuffiness, feeling of pressure in the head or ears, sinus congestion, vertigo, dizziness, even insomnia” (Branch Basics).
6. Drink Hot Water
Although, “dehydration is a common cause of lymph congestion - lymph becomes thicker and less mobile when you are dehydrated, but flows well when hydrated” so drink any water all throughout the day, opting for hot water is, “the best lymph-moving re-hydration technique” (Branch Basics).
7. Head to a Russian or Turkish Bathhouse or Take a Cold Shower
If you can’t make it to a Russian or Turkish bathhouse who often offer hot and cold pools and rooms, you can adopt a technique of alternating temperatures in your shower. This helps the lymphatic system because, “lymphatic vessels contract when exposed to cold, and dilate in response to heat. A hot and cold shower is a type of hydrotherapy that uses the properties of water temperature and pressure to move stagnant lymphatic fluid, increase circulation, boost immune function and metabolism” (Branch Basics).
8. I Stopped Wearing Bras About Two Years Ago Now
“Avoid underwire bras (particularly with metal underwires) or any tight-fitting bra that is constricting. The breast, arm and upper chest area are drained by a large cluster of lymph nodes found in the armpit. Underwire bras or any bra that leaves red marks or indentations from being too tight interferes with lymphatic circulation and may contribute to swollen lymph nodes, fibrocystic breast tissue and breast cancer” (Branch Basics).
9. Breathe Deeply and Do Yoga
“Although the lymphatic system has no pump like the heart in the circulatory system, the movement from the act of breathing, that we do 24/7, is a lymphatic pump in itself and can help direct lymph through the chest. Proper breathing is the most important facilitator of lymphatic function. Constant shallow breathing leads to lymphatic congestion. Augment the circulation of lymph through deep diaphragmatic breathing. Breathe in slowly through your nose, deeply pushing the stomach out. Slowly let your breath go out through your mouth. Deep, slow diaphragmatic breathing for even just 5-10 repetitions (or up to 10 minutes a day) will oxygenate the blood, circulate the lymph especially around the liver, and provide many other benefits. If possible, do this exercise outdoors in fresh air. Stretching and yoga poses are especially effective for moving lymph. Holding stretches combined with conscious deep breathing can help direct lymph through the deep channels of the chest” (Branch Basics).