What is the Lymphatic System and How Does it Contribute to Your Health?
By Dr. Susan Saccomanno
The lymph system is part of the blood circulatory system and it has many important roles in our health. “Lymph” refers to a clear, alkaline fluid that drains from the capillaries. It is this fluid that directly bathes our cells. The lymphatic system is comprised of the lymph nodes, the spleen, and the thymus.
The three main roles of the lymphatic system in our health
The lymphatic system detoxifies the extracellular space (the area between the cells)
This includes detoxifying waste products from normal cellular functions as well as environmental pollutants. All cell processes—including growth, death, and differentiation-- depend on the action of signaling molecules and pathways. If the extracellular space is clogged, cells are not able to process this information correctly and this is where cellular function can start to go awry. Clean extracellular space is an unsung hero of health!
Immune system headquarters
I think of the lymph nodes as an army headquarters - when we are exposed to viruses or bacteria, white blood cells carry a portion of the pathogen back to the lymph nodes and show the immune cells the “face” of the pathogen, so they know who they are fighting. Lymph nodes are the filters of the lymph system.
The lymphatic system channels fluids
Once the lymph separates from the blood it is moved only by the action of our muscles. Unfortunately this passive system can be easily disrupted by surgical removal of lymph nodes or tissue trauma. If your lymphatic system is healthy and lymph flow is optimal your skin is brighter, hair is shinier and your immune health is is tip-top shape. If lymph flow is not optimal you'll notice that your energy levels are low, there will be a dullness to your skin and hair, fluid may build up near the lymph nodes and you may feel a general feeling of toxicity.
Keys to a healthy lymphatic system
As a physician, I treat the lymph system when I sense sluggish metabolism or fluid stagnation, a need to detoxify, or a desire to optimize immune function. These are my favorite therapies for keeping a healthy lymphatic system:
Deep breathing, walking, and rebounding on a trampoline are all excellent ways to promote lymph flow. Rebounding has been shown to be up to 68% more effective at oxygenating tissues (ie, moving fluid and getting nutrients to the cells) than running.
Dry skin brushing
This is a lovely therapy out of the Ayurvedic tradition that entails lightly brushing the skin of the whole body with a dry loofah or sponge in short quick strokes aimed towards the heart. This stimulates lymph movement through the tissues and feels so invigorating.
This is a great way to stimulate fluid movement and is easily done as part of your daily shower. After allowing yourself to become thoroughly warmed, you turn the water to cool for a minute, then back to hot for 2-3 minutes, then to cool (usually for 3 cycles, ending with cool). The alternating temperatures act like a pump to the tissues: the warm water relaxes the tissues, then the cool tightens them up.