You might have heard about the lymphatic system if you’ve ever been sick and experienced swollen lymph nodes. However, we don’t often think about taking care of our lymphatic health, even though it has a direct and critical effect on our immune system.
While the cardiovascular system works because of the pumping actions of the heart, the lymphatic system has no pump of its own and relies on muscle and fascia movement and the pulses from the nearby vascular system to keep things flowing. Every single cell in the body interacts with the lymphatic system at one point or another, making it critical to our overall health.
The lymphatic system is a network of vessels and nodes that flows through the body, collecting fluid from tissues and transporting it back to the heart. It also helps to fight infection and remove waste from the body.
The lymphatic system includes:
- Lymph vessels, which carry lymph fluid into the bloodstream.
- Lymph nodes, which filter and store fluid and white blood cells from the body’s tissues.
- Spleen, which stores red blood cells and filters out damaged ones.
- Thymus gland and bone marrow, where white blood cells are made.
- Adenoids and tonsils, which trap germs coming in from the mouth and nose.
So how exactly does it work? When extracellular, or interstitial fluid enters the lymph capillaries, it becomes lymph, a clear and watery fluid. Lymph channels make up a large network of vessels that contain lymph fluid and are how the lymphatic system has such a vast influence on the rest of the body. Lymph is made up of extracellular fluid, white blood cells, and a fluid called chyle.
Chyle is a special kind of lymph fluid that can carry fatty acids, proteins, and vitamins and helps to maintain fluid balance in the body. Its primary function is to provide nutrients to our body’s tissues, although it also transports immunoglobulins and T lymphocytes (parts of our immune system that will be covered later on).
Lymph fluid can carry waste out into the liver, essentially detoxing the body. When there is lymph stagnation, the fluid is not able to flow freely and cellular waste is not able to make it out of the body. This can cause swelling and pain, as the lymph nodes become clogged. This typically occurs when there is not enough stimulation to keep the lymph fluid flowing, so a regular exercise routine is recommended. Aside from physically moving the body to stimulate lymph movement, exercise can also strengthen the arteries, whose pulsing movements help to move lymph along.
Furthermore, lymph stagnation can exasperate cellulite, by trapping the fluid and pressing it up against the cross-hatched fibers under the skin. Since our superficial fascia houses our lymphatic system, the free flow of lymph depends on a fascia that is well-hydrated and unrestricted. Fascia can become constricted as a result of bad posture, injury, immobility, and inflammation. When constrained, fascia can have a tensile strength of up to 2000 pounds per square inch. Deep stretching can help to release fascial tension, though should be done with caution so as not to overwhelm the body with a sudden release of built-up toxins, known as a herxheimer reaction.
Our immune system also contains lymphocytes, which are a type of white blood cell, and are the first cells to identify a foreign toxin. The healthier our lymphatic system is, the more lymphocytes our body can create, making for a more robust immune system. In the event of an autoimmune disorder or sluggish lymph, lymphocytes struggle to identify foreign toxins, which can lead to a slow and weak immune system. As mentioned earlier, the chyle transports a type of white blood cell called T lymphocyte. This type of cell is a defense mechanism that allows the body to recognize intracellular pathogens (ones that evade the cells and are not found in fluids), and can’t be reached by antibodies. T lymphocytes, which are produced in the bone marrow and thymus gland, give way to the possibility of cell-to-cell combat and can identify compromised cells that have been overtaken by pathogens or cancer. B lymphocytes, on the other hand, produce antibodies known as immunoglobulins, which are then transported by the chyle.
Taking care of the lymphatic system is luckily not as daunting as its responsibilities to our health. Daily exercise, ample hydration, and a well-balanced diet that includes lymph-stimulating foods are typically enough to maintain healthy lymph flow. Deep breathing, specifically abdominal (diaphragmatic) breathing can also aid in moving lymph. Other treatments can include manual drainage in the form of lymphatic massages, rebounding, and far-infrared saunas, although none of these should replace a healthy diet and regular movement.
Because we love the lymphatic system so much, Velle formulated a body oil specifically to stimulate the lymph. Want to give it a try? Shop for it here!