The lymphatic system is one of the main bodily systems, and understanding how to drain the lymph nodes and how to cleanse the lymphatic system in general is crucial if you want to have great health, and live as optimally as possible.
In this article we'll be looking at how this system functions briefly, and then most importantly, how you can more consciously take your own health into your hands by learning how to drain the lymphatic system naturally, and at will.
The lymphatic system and learning how to activate or cleanse it, is especially crucial if you are going through a detoxification process, as it's one of the main systems involved with detoxifying the body.
Before we continue on, here's a quick Summary of Contents, and you can skip forth if you want to visit any particular section right away:
An Introduction Into The Lymphatic System
What Makes Up The Lymphatic System?
Cellular Health = Overall Health
What Causes Issues For The Lymphatic System?
Ways You Can Get Your Lymphatic System Working
Discussion On Lymph System Health
An Introduction Into The Lymphatic System
As briefly mentioned in the opening, the lymphatic system is just one of multiple major bodily systems . This system is basically the main system involved with detoxification and cleansing the body of toxins. A good way to imagine how this system works, is to think of it as the “plumbing” (drainage) system of the human body. It basically removes toxic matter from all the cells, tissues and organs in your body .
It's a part of both the circulatory and immune systems, and the main way it works is by carrying and transporting clear fluid known as “lymph” around the body. Another of this system's main functions is also to allow around 15% of the body's total blood to return to the body, after the rest of it is reabsorbed directly into the body's blood cells.
The lymphatic system is an essential function of the body for maintaining fluid levels, fighting infection and producing disease fighting white blood cells, and is also responsible for absorbing fats and fat soluble vitamins from within the digestive tract and making them available to the cells of the body .
The lymphatic system is obviously extremely important for preventing disease and toxicity build up, but the catch is that it relies on us to “activate it” if you will, unlike many of the other major bodily systems (such as the respiratory system, or the autonomic nervous system, it doesn't run automatically without our input). And thus the primary focus of this article, will be on some practical habits you can begin to set for yourself that will help your body to make full use of this detoxification system.
What Makes Up The Lymphatic System
The lymphatic system is made up of the following main components:
- Lymphatic Vessels – This includes a system of vessels that spans the entire body, and which gathers the clear lymphatic fluid which surrounds the cells. This special fluid collects the dead cells, toxins, and metabolic cellular waste and takes it to what are called the subclavian veins, which are found at the base of the neck, where it's then later eliminated from the body via the bowels, urine, and sweat.
- Lymphocytes – These cells are the main cells that are found in the lymphatic system. They come in 2 main varieties, or classes, these being either what are known as B cells, or T cells. B cells grow in the bone marrow of the body, and create special antibodies that mix with the antigens of foreign cells, so that the cells can be targeted for elimination.The T cells on the other hand, grow in the thymus (which is a specialized primary lymphoid organ of the immune system) . The T cells work to destroy invaders, kill any other foreign cells and can order the action of other lymphocytes.
- Lymph Nodes – These act like filtering areas, and are where the lymphocytes as well as other cells known as macrophages (which are another type of white blood cell) surround and kill off any bacteria or other foreign cells found in the lymphatic fluid.
- Adenoids, Appendix, Peyer’s Patches (aggregated lymphoid nodules) and Tonsils – These are basically small masses of lymphatic tissue that are found around what's known as the ileum area of the small intestine. They work to prevent infections in areas where there's large amounts of bacteria which needs to be controlled by the body so it doesn't run rampant .
- Thymus – A small gland, which is the main lymphoid organ of the immune system that has specialized features. It's located under the breastbone, and it assists in producing white blood cells.
- Spleen – An organ that's similar in structure to a large sized lymph node. It helps to produce Lymphocytes for the body .
- Bone Marrow – This is where the Lymphocytes (of which we just discussed) are created. The Lymphocytes then later will migrate to other areas of the body such as the other ones just listed (the lymph nodes, the spleen, and the thymus) .
Cellular Health = Overall Health
As a general concept, it's important to remember that we are made of cells, quite a few of them actually, approximately 37 TRILLION if you want to get into the nitty gritty, which doesn't even begin to take into account bacteria . For that reason, without going into any further details regarding this point, if we just take this simple fact into account and realize that everything we are doing, all of our “inputs” in terms of our health are either helping our cells to function well and thrive, or they are depleting and killing our cells.
If we can do things that help our cells to thrive, then we're going to experience better overall health, and likely feel much better too. One of the most fundamental ways to affect our cellular health is by allowing proper detoxification, and the lymphatic system is the master when it comes to detox. So regularly activating our lymphatic system is going to do wonders for our overall cellular health.
What Causes Issues For The Lymphatic System?
There are several reasons that you can develop a “clogged” lymphatic system, and quite often this seems to occur for people when they are going through another illness.
My theory being that because people often become much more physically inactive when going through any sort of chronic illness, their lymphatic system is not getting “pumped” enough, and so they can start to develop issues with this bodily system, as well as the previous issues they already had. This also would tend to make other issues worse, as all the bodily systems are so interconnected.
Here's a list of possible causes for a sluggish lymphatic system:
Stress and the hormones that the body uses (adrenaline and cortisol for example) to try and fight it create acidic byproducts, this can lead towards a congested lymphatic system.
Lack Of Movement
This is the biggie that we mentioned before. As discussed, the lymphatic system needs movement in order to switch itself on, and so of course a lack of physical movement will not allow this natural mechanism to function properly.
The general movement of the body along with deep breathing allows for proper lymphatic flow. This happens by the contraction of the body's skeletal muscles, which then pushes the small one way valves of the lymph system to both open and close and be able to move the fluid to the subclavian veins. The subclavian veins are simply paired large veins which run down either side of the body .
Poor lymphatic function and poor lymphatic drainage can result from being overly dehydrated. We've all heard and read numerous times how important it is to remain well hydrated, well here's just another reason.
An unhealthy diet in general will lead to poor lymphatic system function. This is especially the case with processes foods, which have higher amounts of unnatural toxins. So not only will your detox system be impaired by eating such foods, but you'll be taking more toxins on board. So it's a “double whammy” increasing the overall toxic load on the body.
In a similar way, when we get exposed to toxic chemicals, the body can have a hard time detoxifying quickly, which can thus slow down the lymphatic system's efficiency.
Your lymphatic system can suffer from sluggish functionality if you're suffering from chronic digestive issues as the result of damaged intestinal villi, which are the small finger shaped intestinal projections that are greatly important for our ability to digest nutrients .
Ways You Can Get Your Lymphatic System Working
Bounce On A Rebounder
Bouncing on a rebounder or mini-trampoline for 5-10 minutes (some say even as little as just 2 minutes at a time) is well known as one of the best ways to get your Lymph system moving. This is the reason that you'll often see “trampolining” as one of the top listed exercise activities for those wanting to stay in shape.
This is something that I've personally started employing, as I find it a great way to quickly get things moving, and it can still be done when the weather is not so good during winter, etc. You can pick up a standard quality brand new rebounder for around $35 USD (at least that's the case in Australia). Of course, if for some reason you can't source one locally, you can always try online.
The one pictured here is pretty standard, and looks pretty much exactly like the one I personally own, apart from the branding.
Tip – It's always a good idea to start off with more gentle movements and shorter exercise duration, and then move your way up from there as you get more and more comfortable with it. Some people may be really sick, with a really sluggish lymphatic system and a lot of built up toxicity, and those people will probably notice that it takes a while for them to feel okay with doing a 10 minute full intensity session on a rebounder.
Going For A Brisk Walk
Taking a walk whilst keeping up a good speed is another way to start the process of draining your lymphatic system and getting that detoxification process moving along nicely. This works to help activate the lymphatic system in a couple of ways.
Firstly, the movement of the main muscle groups used when doing any activity such as walking quickly or jogging will greatly help to get the lymph moving. Not only that, but by exercising you'll be “forcing” the body to begin to breathe more fully, which is particularly important if you're in the bad habit shallow breathing as many of us are (see the next tip).
Deep breathing will help to direct lymph through the chest, and is probably the most accessible tool that we always have available to use if we need something to help us begin that process of lymphatic movement. Many of us are in the habit of shallow breathing using mainly our upper chest, instead of breathing in a way that uses our full lung capacity, otherwise known as diaphragmatic breathing.
Here's a simple explanation of how to breathe diaphragmatically:
- Whilst inhaling through your nose, focus on breathing through the lower part of your belly, whilst breathing slowly and deeply. As you inhale, your belly should push outwards from the rest of your body, keep breathing in as far as you comfortably can, and as you approach the end of the breath cycle you should see that your belly is now retracting and flattening, and also you should feel the air filling the very last area of your lungs, which is towards the upper chest.
- Now release your breath slowly and evenly via your mouth (exhaling through your mouth allows for a more complete refresh of the air in your lungs, getting rid of more of the “stale air”), allowing your stomach muscles to release all the tension that may have accrued during the inhale. If you want to practice this with your hands on your belly to more easily see the movement in and out, this is helpful as you practice in the beginning .
You can find more specifics on diaphragmatic breathing practice on this page on clevelandclinic here. Shallow breathing is one of the common contributors to lymphatic congestion, so this is definitely a habit that's worth paying attention to if you want your detox system to function properly.
Tip – If you find this very hard in the beginning, it's simply because your diaphragm is weak from inactivity. It's simply like any other muscle, and the more that you practice using it, the stronger the muscle will become and the more natural this way of breathing will seem.
You can also practice strengthening the diaphragm by lying flat on the floor with a heavy book on your belly. This will help you to more quickly develop this muscle and be able to breathe diaphragmatically throughout your day with less effort.
Again, you've heard it everywhere, but it's worth adding it here within the context of improving the function of your lymphatic system. With water being accountable for roughly 60% of your body weight, it makes sense that it has such a close connection with the ability of your lymph system to function optimally. In fact, this is one of the most basic ways that you can quickly improve your body's lymphatic drainage. The lymph is thicker and so less mobile when your body is dehydrated.
Making sure to drink water at least every couple of hours is generally a good rule of thumb, and in terms of specifics, according to the Institute of Medicine, the adequate intake (AI) for men is roughly 3 Liters per day (0.8 Gallons), and for women it's 2.2 Liters AI (approx 0.6 Gallons) .
Everyone is different, and finding the right way to get that adequate intake (or maybe a little more for good measure) will depend on your preference. One little personal tip I might add, is that I think it's a good idea to drink a lot of water first thing upon waking, as you will generally be more dehydrated (at least that's the case for many of us).
Also I prefer to drink more of my liquids in the first half of the day, so I am not consuming a lot at night, which means I'm more likely to wake up and need to pee more times during the night.
In terms of drinking water specifically to increase lymphatic function, if you are really toxic and need to do everything possible to help things detoxify more quickly, then you might want to try the ancient Ayurvedic technique of sipping hot water that's recently been boiled, sipping at short intervals regularly, like every 10-15 minutes. This is said to not only help flush the lymphatic system, but also to soften hardened tissues, and help with the digestive system .
Tip – Watch your urine colour. If your drinking a lot of water and your urine is clear, then it's an indication that you're water consumption is too high. Your urine should be “Straw-Colored To Transparent-Yellow” in colour, indicating correct functioning in this area .
Natural Whole Foods Diet
For the most part, if you want to be healthy and live a long healthy existence, it's a good idea to minimize processed foods in all cases, no matter what type of specific type of diet you want to try in order to do this. Generally speaking processed foods increase toxicity and harmful acidity in the body, due to not only all the added toxic chemicals, but also just because of the high sugar content, the poor quality fats, and often the combination of these two things.
Let's remember that with diet, it's one of those areas that definitely benefits from something like the 80/20 rule. Which basically refers to the point that us humans find it very hard (impossible?) to keep up really good healthy habits all of the time, and it's far more realistic to just have a general goal that you're going to stick to a healthy diet MOST of the time, like roughly 80% or maybe a little more.
Here's a list of some good whole food diets that you might want to take a look at if you need more information on how to eat clean, which not only is a good idea for your health in general, but will help to take the pressure off your lymphatic system so it can work at its best:
I have to say that finding the correct diet can be a lengthy process that takes a LOT of experimentation, and several months if not years of tweaking before you may finally feel like you've got it right, at least that's been the case for myself.
Detoxifying Herbal Teas
Certain herbal teas have been used for centuries to help promote lymphatic drainage. Instead of list them all again here, you can find a great list on this page. In most cases you can find those herbs at your local food co-op or natural health shop. Making tea is pretty simple from there .
Hydrotherapy (Hot/Cold Alternation)
It's known that the lymph vessels contract and expand in reaction to the temperature (see this interesting PDF for a study discussing the effects of temperature upon lymph movement) . Based on this, by using heat/cold therapy via the use of changing the temperature of water touching the skin quickly for brief periods (such as changing the temperature back and forth in the shower from hot to cold) , we can theoretically stimulate the lymphatic system.
So this is something you can experiment with yourself. I know that I personally feel amazing and somewhat more “clear” after coming out of the sauna and entering a cold shower for 1-2 mins. Be aware that it's better to always end this process with cold, as it's said that ending in a hot temperature can aggravate inflammation. There is also a lot of people who believe that the skin pores “close” in reaction to cold temperature, though this seems to be one of those internet myths from what my research could find.
Regular General Movement
The lymphatic system responds and is “pumped” by the activity of the large muscles in the body. So this is why lengthy periods of inactivity are terrible for your lymphatic drainage, as you're simply not moving around enough for your lymphatic system to get it's exercise and be able to help detox your body.
I'm just theorizing here, but I would guess that this is the reason that most people feel better when they exercise as best they can after a big night of drinking, simply because they're allowing the detox process to take place more quickly, with the help of the lymphatic system. Whereas, when you sit or lie around all day after a night of drinking with a hangover, you tend to feel worse, and the hangover lasts longer. Just my theory.
Stretching or Yoga
On the same line of thinking, when it comes to stretching and moving the large muscle groups, Yoga or simply active stretch routines of your own choosing can do wonders for draining the lymphatic system.
Yoga is one of those exercise forms that has so many cross benefits as well, such as parasympathetic nervous system activation, and so is always a very healthy addition to make to your daily routine. Apart from the obvious movement and stretching of the large muscle groups that's involved with yoga, it also pushes you to employ proper deep breathing habits, which as we've discussed is another big factor when it comes to getting the lymph moving in your body.
Bouncing On An Exercise Ball
Similar in principle to the activity of using a mini trampoline or rebounder as we looked at above, by using an exercise or fitness ball you can begin “pumping up” your lymphatic system and moving that lymph to increase detoxification.
It's a good idea as with the rebounder to start off with smaller movements and have a shorter exercise duration period, and then increase from there as you are comfortable. This will greatly depend on how toxic your system is.
Here are some popular fitness balls on Amazon, that you might want to take a look at.
FAR Infrared Sauna
One of the many big recent fads in the health world is the use of FAR Infrared saunas. These types of saunas provide a powerful way to increase detoxification. They're also said to be an excellent tool specifically for detoxing the body of heavy metals like mercury and lead .
Not only is there the powerful detoxification effect from the FAR infrared itself, but there's the subtle benefits in the fact that the heat also again encourages deeper breathing (which as we've looked at is one of the most fundamental ways of increasing lymphatic flow), increases your heart rate, both of which either alone or in combination will help to increase the lymphatic drainage process even further.
A good way to use FAR Infrared, is to practice deep, conscious breathing whilst doing your sauna sessions. This will help to boost all the benefits you're already getting. You can then use the hot/cold therapy principle mentioned earlier too, and have a quick go in a cold shower after your sauna session, or even intermittently every 10-15 minutes as you please.
Whilst this particular method of detoxing is very effective, it's also very expensive in a lot of cases to get your own FAR infrared sauna. At least, when compared to many of the other methods for activating and draining the lymphatic system, which are mostly free. That being said, if money is no object, there's some great products available, and it's an excellent addition to your detox routine.
Natural Clothing Materials
When we consider that the lymphatic system is our bodies natural detoxification ability, similarly to eating a diet that's lower in toxicity, we'll want to minimize all environmental toxins, including toxins that are found in the clothing we wear.
Many of the clothes we unconsciously wear these days are made from synthetic materials such as polyester, nylon, Rayon and Acrylic fabrics, and the source of all of these materials is petrochemical, and therefore highly toxic . These clothing materials and their man made chemical source will be being absorbed into your skin to some degree. This is just another form of toxicity for your body to deal with, and should be minimized wherever possible.
Wherever possible, try and make sure your clothing is made from natural materials such as:
There are many masseurs who offer a specialist type of lymphatic massage, which is designed to move the lymph in your body and improve your body's detoxification process. This may be an especially good option for those who are so sick that they don't have the energy to move around a lot, and therefore are unable to get the lymphatic system moving using those methods.
A simple Google search in your area or for a major city that's close to you, like “lymphatic massage ___________” will quite often turn up several practitioners who can offer you this type of massage.
Overly Tight Underwear
This one might seem a little silly, but many people will overlook it because they don't realize that their lymphatic system's circulation can be hindered by overly tight underwear or bra usage. There are a lot of lymph nodes clustered around the breast/chest and upper arm areas especially, so for women wearing bras that are too tight, this can have a negative effect on the lymphatic system's ability to circulate properly.
Again similarly to watching the materials that your clothing is made from, so you can avoid taking in too many toxins in that way, you'll definitely want to be aware of the types of chemicals that are being absorbed into your body via your skin.
Apart from eating, the skin being the largest organ in/on the body  is one of the main ways that both healthy & natural and unhealthy, unnatural, and toxic chemicals get from the outside, to the inside of our bodies.
For this reason what you put directly on your skin is HUGE when it comes to possibly increasing your body's toxic load. So it goes without saying that you really only want to use natural products on your skin. I personally try to avoid putting anything at all on my skin, which at one point even included soap (unfortunately this doesn't bode so well for personal hygiene in a hot climate, so I had to end that little experiment).
If you have to use skin products, then you will want to try and stick to natural only ingredients as much as possible. Luckily there are many natural products which are wonderful for your skin in a variety of ways, with many uses. These include, but are by no means limited to the following (there are many many natural products that could be listed here):
- Aloe Vera
- Coconut Oil
- Papaw Oil/Ointment
- Lavender Oil
- Other Essential Oils For Skin (Frankinsense, Rose)
- Argan Oil
So we've given a simplistic overview of how the lymphatic system works here, and shown you several excellent and simple ways you can use to improve lymphatic system function. Ultimately, as it seems I'm always re-discovering, living in a way that's more true to our original nature of being outside and moving around a lot during the day is largely what it comes down to.
I would speculate that the reason we seem to see more health issues among those of us who work in sedentry careers (like office workers for an obvious example) is due to poor lymphatic system activation, and simply not moving around enough, often enough.
So for some of us, shifting to live a more active lifestyle might mean making some big changes, for others it may just be a case of adding in some healthy new habits to get in the routine of, such as jumping on a mini trampoline/rebounder 1-2 times per day for 5-10 minutes and taking more regular breaks away from sitting or working at a computer.
Either way, there's no escaping the importance of utilizing this very fundamental system of the human body, and it seems that we can only ignore it at the peril of our long term health.
Discussion On Lymph System Health
This is the part where I'd love to hear from you! Do you have any personal stories to share about possibly low lymphatic system function, and how you improved it? Or do you simply have any ideas about the above content. If so please do get involved in the conversation and tell me your thoughts! Thanks in advance to those who share.