Let's talk about... The Lymphatic System
We’ve been talking about the Lymphatic System these past few weeks and how to incorporate caring for it into our clinical practice. I wanted to share with you some of the reasons why it is so important to our overall health.
In very simple terms, when you get sick your cells stop functioning in an optimal way. We need nutrients to get into our cells and we need our cells to clear waste products (what your cells excrete as waste comes out of us when we go to the loo). If either of these two processes don’t happen properly, that’s when disease begins. How this process begins is a larger discussion (digestive health, poor diet, lack of movement, toxic exposure, high stress) but let’s narrow it down for the purposes of this newsletter: nutrients in and toxins out.
We are constantly exposed to toxins that our bodies are not designed to live with, but modern life has changed so much that it is a fact of life that we are exposed to chemicals on a daily basis. Many of our organs are designed to clear toxins away very efficiently and keeping up healthy habits and avoiding consumption of toxins where possible can be enough for many people. But for others, especially when there is a chronic illness in the mix, it’s time to start thinking about what more you can be doing to get rid of toxic build-up within your system and encourage the flow of nutrients in, and toxins out.
Many of our organs are detoxifying; the skin and liver are the major detoxifiers that most people are familiar with - waste products pass via the liver to be processed and excreted and our skin is dotted with millions of pores which release toxins all the time. But there is another detoxification system which often falls by the wayside and which many people won’t really know much about; the lymphatic system.
What is the lymphatic system and what does it do?
There’s a fantastic Chiropracter practitioner called Dr Perry Nickleston. I’ve taken this analogy from him. Think of the body as a large and vibrant fish tank. There’s water, coral, stones, many fish species, algae, etc. The inside of the tank is about 80% water, and the many different kinds of fish are your cells, the stones are your bones. The tank needs to be a certain PH in order to encourage a thriving environment. The thing that a healthy environment within a tank absolutely depends on is a filtration system, we know that but often the filtration system in a tank is hidden away behind the back, but it is always there keeping the tank clean and fresh. When this is happening in an optimal manner the fish are happy - feeding on nutrients and happily swimming around and interacting with each other. When the fish poo the filtration system cleans up the water and the circle of tank life continues. So now imagine what a fish tank looks like when the filter breaks down. It becomes murky and the fish are no longer in clear and healthy water; the nutrients continue to be put in, but the waste has nowhere to go. So what happens to that water? It is no longer clear; there is a build up of fungus, viruses, bacteria and it becomes stagnant. The fish start to slowly deteriorate and they are no longer thriving. Now flip this back to the person - what happens in the body when the filter breaks? This is when fatigue creeps in, poor sleep, inflammation, mood swings, pain. The body is burdened with waste matter that has nowhere to go. Generally, in the medical world this is when medications begin being introduced to treat the symptoms, and in extreme cases removing or operating on specific organs (i.e. replacing the fish and the stones, killing the pathogenic growths). But then the problems return and the patient needs more medicine and more interventions. Why? Because the filter system hasn't been fixed, and the waste is not being cleared - only the contents of the tank are being replaced. The lymphatic system is the body’s filtration system. And it can be nourished and cared for, like any other system in the body. Dr Nickleston believes that disease cannot be improved until the filtration system is up and running. I find this really compelling and hopefully you’ve found the fish tank analogy as helpful as I have in understanding this.
From our head to toes there are hundreds of lymph nodes throughout the body. They are located deep inside and around our organs, and some are closer to the surface, such as under the arm or groin.
The spleen, which is located just above the kidney, is the largest lymphatic organ. The spleen filters our blood and controls the amount of blood cells in the body. It also helps to fight infection; if the spleen detects potentially dangerous bacteria, viruses, or other microorganisms in the blood, it - along with the lymph nodes - creates white blood cells called lymphocytes, which act as defenders against invaders. One of the reasons why chronic pain can be continuous is because the lymphatic system stops working as well as it should, and the build up of toxins creates a constant burden on the body and healing cannot progress.
The number one system that removes swelling and inflammation in the body is the lymphatic system. That’s it’s job. And you have the power to support yours.
Signs your lymphatic system isn’t functioning as efficiently as it should be:
Swelling in your fingers / rings fitting more tightly
Skin problems / dry and or itchy skin
Enlarged lymph nodes
Feeling sore or stiff when you wake up in the morning
Cold hands and feet
Increased colds and flu
If you’re experiencing any of these systems, or a combination of them, it could be that your lymphatic system isn’t operating as effectively as it could be.
How can you support your lymphatic system and keep your tank in tip top condition?
When you exercise and move your body, it activates lymphatic flow throughout the body. Exercising is the best way of increasing lymphatic function. It doesn't have to be vigorous exercise, gentle to moderate intensity is all you need, the key is doing it every day.
Relaxed and deep breathing activates the lymphatic system. Focus on filling up your belly and noticing your diaphragm move upwards. Most people do not breathe deeply throughout the day. Try to be more in tune with your breath and avoid shallow mouth breathing.
Skin brushing and lymphatic massage
Ensure you are drinking 2 litres of water every day. Your whole body needs regular hydration in order to function properly. The lymphatic system is no exception. The lymphatic system is made primarily of water and so it is vital that you are getting enough clean, filtered water for it to function.
Focus on whole foods, buy organic where possible and avoid processed foods with additives, colourings and sweeteners.
Your tank has the ability to thrive and care for itself. Simple daily habits such as these will ensure you have a fully functional filter system.
We'd love to hear how you get on with some of these things or if you have any more tips to support lymphatic health. Best wishes Florence Nutritional Therapist Julia Davies Nutrition