The lymph is critical to detox and immune function. Luckily, supporting it can be as easy as adding a few self-care steps to your routine. Hot baths with some ginger tea, dry brushing your skin before a shower, or some gentle gua sha.
So let's get to right down to it. What causes a sluggish lymph?
Pathogens. Stealthy pathogens like mold and parasites can often make it difficult to sweat and make for sluggish lymph. Sweating is one of the best ways that the body detoxes pathogens, so when this pathway is blocked, toxin and pathogen symptoms can be exaggerated.
Sedentary lifestyle. The health of fascia (connective tissue) and muscles is incredibly important to lymph health. Because most of the lymph system lives in the superficial fascia, it is critical for muscles to be flexible and strong in order to be able to move the lymph through the lymphatic vessels.
Chronic stress. Stress contributes heavily to inflammation, which can lead to damaged cells that clog up the lymphatic system. Stress also raises cortisol, which in high amounts can cause the lymphoid tissue to atrophy.
Shallow breathing. A common reaction to stress, shallow breathing decreases movement in the lymph which makes it more difficult to pump lymph fluid through the body.
Symptoms of a sluggish liver include:
Swelling in the body
Cold hands and feet
Feeling sore and stiff upon waking
Frequent cold and flu
Enlarged lymph nodes
If you identify with any of these symptoms, here are some ways to support your lymph:
Exercise. Although there is no pump to move the lymph fluid through the body, as fascia and muscles contract, the lymph fluid gets pushed through the body. As you exercise and build muscle, you strengthen your body’s ability to move the fluid and flush out toxins from your lymphatic system.
Rebounding. Similar to exercise, rebounding activates the lymph valves which increases the flow of lymph. An alternative to rebounding is doing calf raises throughout the day.
Dry brushing. A traditional Ayurvedic practice, brushing dry skin with coarse bristles can stimulate the lymph, as well as open the pores to help with sweating. Since sweating allows for the removal of toxins from the body, dry brushing can be an easy routine to add for those who have trouble sweating. An added benefit is very soft skin.
Breathwork. Practicing deep breathing, such as the Wim Hoff method, will not only help to stimulate lymph movement, it will also significantly decrease stress.
Gua Sha. Originating in ancient China, gua sha is the practice of “scraping“ the skin with a smooth stone to manually move the lymph fluid. It’s often used in skincare practices to drain liquid and reduce puffiness in the face, but the same method can be applied to the whole body. Larger stones or rocks are used to massage the whole body.
Lymphatic massage. This is done by a professional massage therapist who uses special techniques to move the lymph fluid through the body.
Cold therapy. Cold plunges work by contracting the lymph vessels, thus improving lymphatic circulation. Cold showers and baths are easy ways to incorporate this regularly.
Herbs. Astragalus, turmeric, echinacea augustifolia, cleavers, red clover, and angelica are all excellent options for supporting lymphatic drainage. Work with a local herbalist for formulations!
Sauna. A tradition that is practiced all over the world, saunas are a great immune system support as they help to sweat out toxins. Infrared light in saunas also helps to target toxins in the fat cells, further increasing the effectiveness of the detox. Those who struggle with sweating might find benefit in dry brushing before hopping into a sauna. Start slow if your tolerance to heat is low, and slowly work up in temperature and duration. A hot bath with Epsom salts is a great alternative to saunas!
Supporting the lymph drainage pathway is one of my favorites because it’s so enjoyable. I don’t really need an excuse to take a bath and gua sha my face, but it certainly helps to have one if I’m looking for a reason to stay in for the night.
The cold showers took some getting used to it, but now I look forward to it in the mornings because it helps to wake up (and good for the nervous system!). If you hate the cold like me, I suggest starting to incorporate cold therapy in the summer months instead of jumping straight into the cold or end your warm shower with a cold spritz. It’ll help to keep your hair shiny + frizz-free and it’ll liven you up.
I challenge you to pick one way to boost your lymph this week and give it a try!
Leave a comment below with what you're doing to support your lymph.