Spring is one of my favourite times of the year; Increased daylight, crisp mornings that develop into warm days and the first delicate blossoms prompt me to clear out the clutter that has accumulated during the long winter ‘hibernation”. Husband and children run for the hills as I turn out every cupboard, and drawer before tackling the attic and cellar. My body too seems to want to take advantage of this special awakening time, and as many of you have asked me about Lymph flow recently, I thought it timely to write about the body’s behind-the-scenes cleaning system.
The Lymphatic System has long been recognised in Ayurveda and Chinese medicine for its importance in preventative health care. Why? Because it supports every other system in the body including immune, digestive, detoxification (the subject of many column inches) and nervous system.
• You have twice as much lymph fluid in your body as blood
• The lymph continuously bathes almost every cell and drains away the detritus
• It is powered by your breathing and movement (muscular contraction)
What is it?
A system of thin tubes and lymph nodes that run throughout the body. This diagram shows lymph vessels, lymph nodes and organs involved.
The vessels carry lymph, a colourless liquid that contains a high number of a type of white blood cells (lymphocytes) that fight infection and destroy damaged or abnormal cells. The lymph nodes serve as a series of cleaning filters, as the lymphatic fluid passes through it is cleaned and immunologically boosted.
In addition to these vessels and nodes, lymph organs include bone marrow (birthplace of white blood cells called B-lymphocytes), the spleen (filters your blood rather than lymph), tonsils (protect the entrance to the digestive system and lungs) and thymus gland (birthplace of T-lymphocytes).
It may surprise you to know the largest concentration of lymph tissue in the body surrounds the intestines. This specialised lymphatic tissue actively separates desirable nutrients from undesirable pathogens and helps mount a defence whenever necessary.
In a nutshell –
The Lymphatic systems’s primary function is to isolate infection and cellular detritus from the rest of the body and deal with it.
How does it Work?
Throughout the body, blood travels to and from tissues delivering nutrients, oxygen, water – ‘passengers” and removing carbon dioxide and other wastes – ‘returners”. Whole blood never leaves the capillaries, but the passengers can and are carried by a derivative of blood plasma called interstitial fluid to the tissues. This fluid circulates delivering passengers and collecting returners, but when it has finished its job not all of it can re-enter the blood capillaries because the pressure is too high. The excess fluid is picked up by lymphatic capillaries; these have larger pores than blood capillaries and are at lower pressure, enabling large molecules, fragments of damaged cells and foreign matter such as micro-organisms to enter. This fluid (lymph) is filtered in the lymph nodes and collected by the larger lymphatic ducts before returning to the bloodstream via the subclavian veins.
How does Lymph Move?
The lymphatic system has no pump to make lymph move. Instead the fluid is circulated as a result of movement and heartbeats. When the muscles in your body contract, they squeeze your lymph vessels and the fluid is moved on. Valves inside the lymph vessels prevent back flow and keep the fluid moving towards the heart.
What happens if there is a blockage?
If lymph fluid is blocked in one lymph node it will usually take a detour, but when blockage is extreme it can cause the lymph fluid to back up and cause swelling in the surrounding tissue.
Negative effects if chronic lymph blockages are beyond the scope of this general information blog; you should consult your doctor if you have chronically swollen or inflamed lymph nodes.
Is partially the result of impaired lymph flow to certain areas, causing immobilised pockets of fat and trapping toxins. For some this is the result of genetic predisposition, but for most it is due to weight gain or inactivity.
Improving lymph flow and reducing toxic load are two ways to reduce cellulite from the inside out.
What can you do to Improve Lymph Flow?
- Reduce your toxic load – clean up your diet by avoiding processed food, simple sugars and eating organic when possible.
- Reduce your alcohol intake.
- Investigate food allergies or sensitivities, then act on the information. If you feel bloated after eating pasta, maybe your body is trying to tell you something you shouldn’t ignore.
- Drink plenty of water (refer to 18 Oct 2014 blog)
- Practice deep breathing (refer to 13 Oct 2014 blog )
- Include regular moderate exercise such as walking, stretching, yoga, Pilates and of course Method Putkisto in your routine.
- Get Sweaty! Whether it is through exercising or in a sauna/steam bath, sweating supports lymph function. Avoid Aluminium based deodorants which block sweating and add to toxic load, there are plenty of natural ones available.
- Practice self-massage or consider treating yourself to lymphatic massage
Lymphatic Massage/ Manual Lymph Drainage
I am a great believer in prevention and self-maintenance – Regular exercise. Deep breathing and self-massage techniques like the horseshoe massage we often use in class, are great on an every day basis. However there are circumstances such as prior to, or post surgery when lymphatic massage/ drainage by an experienced massage therapist is required.