We are familiar with many parts of our body and how they relate to our health, however, when it comes to our lymphatic system, we just don’t “Know our Nodes.” Many of you hear about lymph nodes and know they are somewhere in the body but, beyond that; details about their function remain a mystery to most — unless all of a sudden faced with a disease like lymphoma. Here are important lymph facts and functions you should know:
- A lymph node is a small, kidney bean-shaped organ about the size of a jellybean — they expand when more power is needed to do their job fighting bacteria and viruses. Anytime your nodes are swollen and/or tender they are doing their job of fighting an infection.
- In a global survey about lymph nodes, only 39 percent surveyed knew some about their function. Lymph nodes are actually the filters of the lymphatic system — cleaning lymph fluid and lymphocytes, removing bacteria, viruses, and other foreign health-depleting substances. The nodes are also responsible for manufacturing and storage of infection-fighting cells called lymphocytes.
- Lymph nodes can be found anywhere but are strategically located throughout the entire body where bacteria are most commonly found.
- Lymph nodes are often incorrectly called “glands” or “lymph glands,” when in reality they do not secrete anything and are therefore not glands. They act as filters with an internal honeycomb of connective tissue filled with lymphocytes that collect and destroy bacteria and viruses.
- The lymphatic system looks like a tree. It contains many branches called lymphatic vessels that act like channels carrying colorless liquid called lymph — much like the blood circulatory system only much more expansive.
- Our tonsils, the best known part of the lymphatic system, are actually lymphatic organs that work with the immune system to help prevent infections.
Despite that our lymphatic system is at the center for maintaining overall health, it’s the most misunderstood, overlooked, neglected AND abused system in our body, except maybe our liver!
The lympathics are an intricate network of vessels running through the entire body, EXCEPT through the central nervous system. The lymph system is the drainage system that cleanses fluid surrounding the cells in your body — removing impurities and waste products to protect you from toxins that could be disastrous.
Unlike the blood system, the lymph is a ONE-WAY street — draining and filtering lymph from the tissues and intestines and returning it cleansed to the blood. Lymph fluids are composed of water, protein, salts, glucose, urea, lymphocytes (white blood cells) and other substances. The main lymph components include bone marrow, lymph nodes, spleen and the thymus gland. Lymph nodes, like a chemical processing station, are strategically located throughout the lymph system and are especially clustered in the underarms, abdomen and neck. The lymphatics defend the body against disease by producing lymphocytes as well as by absorbing lipids (fats) from the intestinal tract and delivering them back to the blood.
- Poor or congested lymph function is associated with many conditions but I find particularly so in fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, muscular aches/pains, bloating/poor digestion, cellulite, fat deposits, obesity, and at the extreme end of the spectrum lymphoma (cancer).
- Since lymphatics flow TOWARD the BLOODSTREAM returning fluid from body tissues to the blood, if excess fluids have no way of returning to the blood, the tissues become swollen. Swollen lymph nodes occur because lymph vessels collect those excess fluids and carry them to the veins through the lymphatic system. This inflammation is health-depleting because waste, proteins, and other molecules continuously leak out of tiny blood capillaries into surrounding body tissues.
Without the lymphatic system, we CANNOT live; yet most people do not know about the importance of its complex work — and its contribution to better health and improved immune responses.
Two Circulatory Systems
The lymphatic system is closely related to the cardiovascular system and is sometimes referred to as the body’s secondary circulatory system. The lymphatic system includes the lymph vessels (four times more than blood vessels), lymph nodes, tonsils, spleen and thymus gland. Lymph is the colorless fluid containing white blood cells that bathes the tissues and drains through the lymphatic system.
Disposing of the Body’s Cellular Waste
Substances resulting from cellular metabolism are extruded from the cell and into lymph fluid for removal — in other words — the lymph system gets rid of cellular waste. The blood also dumps waste toxins from the intestinal tract into the lymphatic system via the liver, another reason a sluggish or constipated intestinal tract is so health-depleting. When the lymphatic system becomes overworked and congested, its filtering and neutralizing functions are dramatically decreased so the build-up of toxins creates an increased risk of inflammation, reduced immune responses, and at the far end of the spectrum cancers such as lymphoma.
Suspension of Fat
Furthermore, when toxins are produced within the body faster than the body can process and release them, the body suspends those toxins in fat and interstitial spaces in an attempt to protect the organs. This, in my clinical experience, is where most of the pain and inflammation in disorders like fibromyalgia get their start. This toxic buildup results in soft and connective tissue inflammation and excessive buildup of lymph fluid which contributes to a whole host of immune system disorders and where lymph congestion is the last place most health professional consider as an underlying cause of pain and inflammation.
Lymphatic System Support — Tips
Unlike the blood system that uses the heart as a pump, the lymphatic system relies on skeletal muscle contractions to pump it along. The following are methods which assist lymph flow and cleansing activity, and boost overall immune response:
1) Dry skin brushing is a highly effective technique for assisting the lymphatic system and boosting circulation. Today’s sedentary life-style, general lack of exercise, and use of antiperspirants keep people from perspiring sufficiently. As a result, toxins and metabolic waste products become trapped in the body instead of being released with sweat. Dry skin brushing stimulates the sweat glands and opens pores, allowing your body to breathe and enhance proper organ function while also increasing blood circulation to underlying organs and tissues of the body. In addition, it reduces cellulite and promotes weight loss.
Use a natural bristle brush and always use dry. Brush gently over the skin starting at the extremities toward the center of the body. Best results are achieved by brushing twice daily and before bathing or showering. You’ll feel an invigorating, tingling sensation. As a bonus — the skin will become more soft and supple, with a healthy glow. (Never dry skin brush on your face). To sterilize your brush place in a microwave for 3–4 minutes on high. Make sure there is no metal or plastic it should be wood and natural bristles!
Note: Dry skin brushing done concurrently with a gastrointestinal fiber-cleansing protocol improves overall detoxification. It is estimated the skin has the capacity to eliminate over one pound of waste per day, not counting excess toxins from a sluggish colon.
2) Lymphatic massage is done much like dry skin brushing only with gentle kneading motions starting at the outer most points and working inward. At home, you can elevate your feet for five minutes every day, then gently massage lymph node areas.
Note: Ask your professional massage therapist for a lymphatic massage.
3) Exercise on a Rebounder NOT a Mini Trampoline.Gently jump for 3–6 minutes without your toes or ball of foot never leaving the mat — bounce ONLY your heels. Be sure to hold onto either a bar or piece of furniture to avoid losing balance. Best results are achieved when performed 2–4 times per day.
Note: Start any exercise activity with deep breathing which helps release toxins and boosts circulation.
4) Avoid food preservatives and additives — besides being toxic, they cause swelling and fluid retention. Be especially careful to read all labels because the following usually contain monosodium glutamate (MSG) disguised with other ingredients and listed by their aliases. MSG is an “excito-” and “neuro-toxin” identified by leading neuroscientists because of its degenerative and deadly effects on the brain and nervous system — neurons are overstimulated to the point of exhaustion and cell death.) Be especially sure to avoid:
- Hydrolyzed “Anything”
- Autolyzed “Anything”
- Natural Flavor/Flavorings (when individual ingredients are not listed—BEWARE)
- Seasonings/Spices (when generically listed like this instead of specific herbs)
- Commercial Soup or Sauce Base
- Aluminum Cookware
5) Nutritional Recommendations: Squeeze juice of a ½ fresh lemon into a cup of warm pure water and drink every morning — it helps purify the blood and alkalize the body.
Include fresh vegetables and potassium-rich foods like broccoli, kale, and bananas in your diet. Drink 8 to 10 glasses of pure water every day.
Supporting your lymphatic system is vital for good health and is a natural way to assist with the prevention of pain, inflammation, circulatory and immune disorders. A healthy lymphatic system boosts the body’s overall immune responses, Naturally.
In our next issue I’ll expand on the importance of the lymphatic system and how it responds when faced with a serious infection such as cellulitis and staph. I’ll share with you how to protect yourself from a misdiagnosis when an injury or surgery site becomes infected, your symptoms are discounted, and how to become your own best advocate.