When we think about the human body, we often look at it as being made of multiple separate parts, we see the gut as one part, the immune system as a separate part, etc… In reality, however, while the human body is made up of many systems, they all function together and affect one another.
Your lymphatic system is just one of them, however, it is one of the most important ones. Let’s get to know your lymphatic system and how it affects your body. Your lymphatic system is an organ system that plays into your immune system. It is an open system, made up of a network of lymphatic nodes, vessels, tissues, and lymphatic organs that recover fluid, inspect it, and activate immune responses. Though you have many lymphatic ducts and vessels throughout your body, the primary lymphatic organs include the tonsils, the thymus, the spleen, and lymph nodes.
If you are somebody who may be struggling with detox issues, digestive issues, fat absorption, and more, keep reading to learn more about your lymphatic system and how to heal it.
Let’s keep talking about what makes up our lymphatic systems and why it’s all so important.
Let’s Talk Lymph – What is the Lymphatic System?
So, what is lymph? Your body has about 20 liters of plasma, the main fluid component in blood, circulating through it. About 17 liters are returned to the circulatory system while the rest is collected by the lymphatic system and becomes lymph or lymphatic fluid. Lymph also contains fluids from your intestines, including fats and proteins.
Your lymphatic system also produces lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, along with other immune cells, and releases it into lymph to be redistributed into your blood. These immune cells in the lymph monitor and destroy foreign bodies like bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi that the immune system identifies.
Lymph is also responsible for the transportation and removal of waste products and abnormal cells. Specific parts of the lymphatic system like lymph nodes are used for the filtration of lymph before it is returned to the blood. The lymphatic system uses this lymph to maintain appropriate fluid levels throughout the body.
So bottom line, lymph is a collection of extra fluid from the body that contains fats, minerals, and nutrients, damaged cells, abnormal cells, foreign invaders, and immune cells like lymphocytes. Now that we understand lymph, let’s understand how it all works together.
The Role of the Lymphatic System
Your body is a complete unit, with all systems working together and being interconnected. The lymphatic system is no different. It is part of your immune system and works with the circulatory system. Capillary filtration removes plasma from blood but it leaves about 3Liters behind in the interstitial fluid. Your lymphatic system provides a method of return for this fluid back to the heart to re-circulate.
Once in the lymphatic system, this fluid is known as lymph which contains many different filtration by-products and most importantly, lymphocytes also known as white blood cells, an incredibly important aspect of our immune systems. Lymphatic organs, made up of lymphatic tissues, are classified as either lymphocyte production sites or lymphocyte activation sites. Some of these include lymph nodes, the spleen, the thymus, tonsils, bone marrow, and more.
Lymphatic tissues are also associated with the mucosal membranes that line many parts of our body. This association is known as MALT or mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue. The lymphatic system also has a major circulatory component in carrying nutrients from circulating fluid into the cells of the body.
GALT and MALT
So now that we understand the functions of the lymphatic system, let’s dive deeper into the lymphatic tissues of the body. Mucosa-Associated lymphoid tissue or MALT is a subsystem of the lymphatic system that includes concentrations of lymphoid tissues found in submucosal membranes in the body. One component of MALT is GALT or gut-associated lymphoid tissue.
GALT is mainly found throughout the intestines and is made up of villi, little finger-like projections, to increase surface area for absorption in the gut. Knowing that the lymphatic system is a huge part of our immune systems we can understand that GALT (and its associated tissues such as Peyer’s Patch in the small intestine) acts as an intersection between the immune system and antigens such as food antigens or pathogens from the microbiota of the gut.
The lymphatic system of the gut specifically plays a key role in the transportation of lipids or fats from the intestines to the bloodstream. In the last 2 decades, much research has been done to better understand the physiology of the lymphatic system and understand the metabolic implications of GALT, and its potential as a center for obesity management.
Researchers have also focused on the genetic aspect of GALT and obesity management to single out different genetic components that may affect the lymphatic system, specifically how ones body may be transporting and absorbing lipids and its implications on weight/obesity management as well as dietary changes that can be made to counteract it. Studies have shown how important GALT and gut lymphatics are in lipid metabolisms including new research on how treating impacted GALT has the potential to help reverse diet-induced obesity.
Why Lymphatic System Cleansing Is Important?
Now, I’m sure you’re wondering why all of these things matter and how we can take care of our lymphatic systems even if we don’t think we’re “sick”. We can all agree that we are constantly exposed to environmental toxins like the water we drink, the air we breathe, and everything else around us. So let’s talk about getting the lymph flowing and restoring our lymphatic systems for optimal health all around.
Cleansing your lymphatic system is very beneficial to restoring optimal conditions and improving subsequent digestive health. It’s no secret that about 70% of your immune system lives in your gut, taking care of your immune system and gut goes hand in hand. There are many ways to cleanse your lymphatic system, most of which are great when done in conjunction with one another.
One of the better-known ways to cleanse the lymphatic system is through MLD or manual lymphatic drainage which helps motivate the natural drainage of the lymph, carrying away waste from tissues and bringing it back to the heart to circulate out. MLD consists of massaging specific areas of the body, usually in circular movements, to spark the lymph to flow. MLD helps drain the individual lymph nodes as well. Research has shown MLD to help with fat deposits, improve circulation of the gut, and support detox.
You Can also Maximize Your Lymphatic System’s Functionality by Eating the Right Foods, Exercising, and Dry Skin Brushing.
Another method of cleansing and detoxing the lymphatic system is using herbs. Calendula, echinacea, and dandelion are a few of the more commonly used herbs that help encourage lymphatic drainage which in turn also helps boost the immune system as the two are heavily interconnected. Drinking adequate amounts of water, roughly half your body weight in oz per day is also crucial in keeping your lymphatic system flowing.
Another method of cleansing the lymphatic system is dry brushing, an Ayurvedic approach. Dry brushing not only stimulates the lymphatic system, but also exfoliates the skin, helps the body get rid of toxins, improves leg circulation and energy, and helps to break down some of the fat deposits also known as cellulite. The lymphatic system helps the body fight infection thus if you are sick or exposed to toxins, your lymphatic system may become clogged. Dry brushing is said to help release these toxins through sweat as the course bristles stimulate the pores to open up.
The lymphatic system does not have the heart to pump it, it relies on muscular contraction, pressure from gravity, and massage to help it flow. Exercise is crucial to helping your lymphatic system flow, and prevent the backup and buildup of fluid and toxins. While any exercise is helpful, some suggest underwater exercise as that extra pressure from the water helps increase lymphatic flow as well.
Rebounding is another method of stimulating and cleansing your lymphatic system through exercise. Some research has shown that bouncing on a mini trampoline helped to stimulate the lymphatic system. Rebounding on a mini trampoline uses all three of the methods as the rapid changes in gravity cause lymphatic channels to expand and increase lymphatic circulation. Another method of rebounding is using vibrating plates to stimulate circulation and dislodge clogs in your lymphatic system.
There is emerging research on intermittent fasting in regard to lymphatic function. Some research has even shown intermittent fasting to “reboot” the immune system as well. Intermittent fasting helps your body break down some of its fat and get rid of it through the lymphatic system. However, if your lymphatic system is clogged or backed up, intermittent fasting can cause other issues. So if you are someone who wants to try intermittent fasting, it is highly recommended to do so in conjunction with one of the lymphatic cleansing methods above.
However, intermittent fasting is not for everyone. If you are someone struggling with adrenal dysfunction, blood sugar imbalances, underweight, pregnant/breastfeeding, hold off on fasting, and as always, talk to your providers before implementing this regimen.
What Foods Contribute to or Support a Healthy Lymphatic System?
Fueling your lymphatic system is just as important as cleansing it. There are many foods and herbs that are incredibly beneficial to the lymphatic system. So I know you may be thinking, what are the best foods and best herbs for the lymphatic system? VEGF, vascular endothelial growth factor, is a protein in our bodies that promote the growth of new blood vessels which can cause the formation of leaky lymphatic vessels which can lead to swelling and inflammation among other things. Eating nutritional genomic foods that promote the inhibition of VEGF can play a large role in inflammation reduction and healing of lymphatic diseases.
These include things like: green tea, soybeans, tomatoes, watermelon, salmon, cruciferous vegetables, spinach, onions, parsley, beets, thyme, lettuce, chicory, arugula, cacao, cinnamon, cranberries, apples, grapes, currents, persimmons, turmeric, fermented foods, and nuts. These foods contain things like Catechins, Genistein, Lycopene, Omega 3 fatty acids, Glucosinolates, Isothiocyanates, Flavonoids, Polyphenolic flavonoids, Proanthocyanidins, Anthocyanidins, Vitamin K2, and Beta-cryptoxanthin. Additionally, maintaining a low-salt diet is crucial for those struggling with lymphatic diseases.
Now, let’s talk about MCT oil too. MCT oil is formally known as medium-chain triglycerides but let’s stick with MCT. MCT oil is a great way to get in fat without clogging your lymphatic system. Because of its chemical structure, the body is able to absorb it directly into the bloodstream without going through the lymphatic system.
Conversely, there are foods that are known to cause inflammation in the body as well and should be avoided when healing the lymphatic system. These include things like pasteurized dairy, gluten, shellfish, and non-fermented and/or processed soy as well as low-quality animal products, refined seed oils, and processed foods.
Who and What is Affected by the Lymphatic System?
Healing and cleansing your lymphatic system is especially important if you are someone who struggles with lymphatic diseases/disorders. Two of the most common conditions affected by the lymphatic system are lymphedema and lipedema.
Let’s break down lymphedema into two parts, edema, meaning swelling, and lymph. Lymphedema is a condition in which excess lymphatic fluid or tissue accumulates and can be unilateral or bilateral, meaning can affect one side or both sides. Primary lymphedema is usually diagnosed at birth or puberty and is usually due to genetics whereas secondary lymphedema can be caused by damage to the lymphatic system from things like cancers, injury, trauma, etc…
An important thing to note is that obesity, a fairly common diagnosis, is quite often misdiagnosed and is in fact lipedema. Because lipedema is highly underdiagnosed and requires a knowledgeable practitioner or specialist such as a vascular surgeon to confirm, physicians will often miss it and instead diagnose obesity and weight loss including conventional weight loss methods which often will not work with lymphatic disorders. This is yet another reason why getting appropriate testing is SO important.
Lipedema, also known as “painful fat syndrome”, is generally below the waist and above the ankles though rarely upper extremities can be involved and unlike lymphedema, it is bilateral. Lipedema is quite common in the United States and underdiagnosed as it is a relatively new diagnosis. Lipedema causes a buildup of fat that bruises easily and can be quite painful. It is a progressive disease that affects women much more than men and is most commonly identified during weight loss when the body will aggressively hold onto the lipedema fat areas. Lipedema can also contribute to secondary lymphedema, both together are known as lipo lymphedema.
Currently, decongestive lymphatic therapy using manual lymphatic drainage is the primary therapy for both lipedema and lymphedema though compression is also recommended for both as well. Some research has also shown that a leaky gut may be contributory to these conditions as the gut and lymphatic systems are heavily interconnected.
As we now understand, the lymphatic system plays a key role in detoxing our bodies. We have already talked about how the lymphatic system plays a role in detoxing our bodies from toxins and infections. But, the lymphatic system also helps the body detox and get rid of heavy metals, internal infections, and so much more. This is yet another important reason to test for lymphatic function and cleanse the lymphatic system.
Don’t Guess, Test!
Being self-aware and knowing your body is crucial in knowing if a system is out of sorts. But functional lab testing is a great method of knowing exactly where a system may be failing or needs extra help. Specifically, the following tests are incredibly important in evaluating all parts of the body that can be affected or can affect the lymphatic system.
The Genova Adrenocortex Stress Profile (AKA Adrenal Test)
Performing an Adrenocortex Stress Profile looks at specific hormones produced through the adrenal system such as cortisol and DHEA, which can be affected by long-term chronic stress. Imbalanced adrenal hormones can affect the gut barrier, think back to when we talked about MALT and GALT, which consequently affect our detox system such as that of the lymphatic system. Going back to MALT and GALT, remember, these act as a gut mucosal barrier in our bodies which if compromised, will affect gut permeability and subsequently make us more susceptible to infection. If our adrenal system is out of order, our body goes into a catabolic state meaning a state of breakdown, a state of fight or flight.
The biggest takeaway here (and why this is so important), a compromised lymphatic system can affect our gut barriers which will lead to the degradation of the gut mucosa and gut permeability which ultimately will compromise the immune system. So, if you’re asking yourself why you care about your gut, in this case, it is because it directly affects our immune systems.
The Genova GI Effects Test
The GI Effects Comprehensive Stool Profile helps assess digestive health and how it is affecting the gut microbiome, inflammation, immunity, and infection, all of which translate and can tell us about the lymphatic system. Lipopolysaccharides (LPS) are endotoxins that go into our blood and overwhelm the liver. They require the lymphatic system to detox as well.
The Genova ION Test
The Individualized Optimal Nutrition test (blood and urine) presents an amino acid profile containing your levels of essential and non-essential amino acids and their assessment of the levels, homocysteine levels which is an important marker for cardiovascular disease (something that highly affects the body and lymphatic system), a panel specifically to asses toxic and heavy metals in the body, a coenzyme Q10 panel to measure the levels of vitamins specifically involved in antioxidant function, oxidation markers which help us understand the level of oxidative damage to membranes in the body, and a fatty acid profile which is crucial as fatty acids impact inflammation.
The ION test also includes organic acids. Organic Acids are intermediates or by-products that are produced by the body during a detox, energy synthesis, and more. This test helps us look deeper at oxidative damage, blockage of detoxification pathways, and markers for bacterial overgrowth. This test also helps us look at fatty acid metabolism from which results can be indicative of certain lymphatic disorders.
This nutritional genetics test results in a full genetic blueprint. Once we get this blueprint, we are able to look at pathways or whole subsets of gene variants. The 3×4 genetics test is best interpreted when paired with current biomarkers from the ION test along with your medical history and lifestyle. Nutritional genetics helps us understand where certain deficiencies and imbalances may be arising from, while the biomarkers in the ION test can illuminate how to mediate them.
Ready to Get Results
Now you may be asking yourself if you might be someone struggling with your lymphatic system and if it is time to get started in cleansing your lymphatic system. So who needs lymphatic cleansing the most? Those with detox issues, those with digestive issues, those with issues absorbing fats, and so many more! So, what are you waiting for? If you’re wondering about your lymphatic health, click here to schedule your free consultation call!