Did you hear that our bodies are exposed to thousands of toxins and waste every day? The air, water, food, and even our own cells give off toxins. If the body doesn’t remove this waste daily – through urination, bowel movements, or perspiration – it can lead to many health problems. That’s where the lymphatic system comes into play. It is one of the main routes our body uses to eliminate toxins and harmful substances. Our bodies work hard to keep us healthy, but we can do a lot to support their efforts by how we care for ourselves from the inside out. So what exactly is the lymphatic system? And, how can you boost its natural cleansing ability? Read on!
What Is The Lymphatic System?
The lymphatic system is a major part of our circulatory and immune systems.
It’s made up of the following (16):
- Lymphatic vessels – a system of thin tubes that carry lymph, a colorless fluid containing immune cells, to the blood vessels
- Lymphocytes – white blood cells that fight off infections and tumors
- Lymph nodes – small bean-shaped organs where lymphocytes battle external invaders such as viruses and bacteria
- Tonsils, Adenoids, Appendix, and Peyer’s patches – smaller collections of lymphocytes found in the digestive, respiratory, and genitourinary systems
- Thymus – an organ in the chest that produces T-cells
- Spleen – filters waste from the blood and breaks it down into substances that can be carried safely through the body by the lymphatic system
- Bone marrow – where new blood cells are produced, including immune cells such as red and white blood cells and platelets
How Does The Lymphatic System Work?
The body’s tissues have tiny spaces between cells called interstitial spaces.
In these spaces, fluid and waste circulate freely through the body. For example, blood brings oxygen and nutrients to the cells via capillaries.
The cells then produce waste products that need to be transported elsewhere. The spaces between them contain lymphatic fluid, which will enter larger lymphatic vessels if they are open – through simple movement or massage (16).
When lymphatic vessels are blocked, that can increase your risk of developing serious health conditions such as cellulite, edema, and lymphatic fluid buildup (16).
That’s why it’s so important to help your body eliminate those toxins and waste products. That helps maintain the normal function of all the cells in the body – including those that make up your skin!
The Benefits Of A Well-Functioning Lymphatic System
The lymphatic system helps maintain proper fluid balance in your body by draining excess fluid and bringing it back to the bloodstream. The lymphatic system also removes toxins and other harmful substances from the tissues, helping to protect your body from disease (16).
Lymphatic vessels can be found throughout the body – including in your neck, underarms, groin area, and intestines. They help maintain normal immune function and prevent disease.
When the lymphatic system doesn’t work properly, it can lead to an overgrowth of microbes in some areas of the body. This can result in swelling known as lymphedema, which is a common problem for people with lymphoma.
Signs That Your Lymphatic System Is Backed Up
There are several signs that you may be suffering from lymphatic congestion. They include:
You may experience sluggish bowel function, constipation, or bloating (5).
These symptoms are often associated with eating a diet high in processed foods containing hydrogenated oils, trans fats, added sugars and salts, animal fats, chemical preservatives, food additives, refined carbohydrates, artificial sweeteners, food dyes, gluten, soybeans, dairy products, or alcohol.
Skin Irritations And Disorders
Unexplained skin irritations and rashes, such as eczema, psoriasis, acne, rosacea, hives, itching, and redness can be warning signs of a buildup of toxins (16).
Muscle Soreness And Stiffness
You may feel less mobile with an achy or stiff feeling in your muscles, especially after sitting or standing for long periods of time (10).
Other areas that are more prone to lymphatic fluid retention are the lower legs, ankles, feet, and stomach. Your arms may fall asleep, and you may experience pressure on your chest, as well as a feeling of fullness (10).
Fatigue And Low Energy
Lymphatic congestion can sap your energy and leave you feeling drained all day long. It can interfere with detoxification processes, making it harder for your body to eliminate toxins (7).
Generalized Aches And Pains
You may feel pain in your muscles and joints, or even all over the body. This is a sign of lymphedema, which happens when lymphatic fluid builds up (10).
Ear, Nose And Throat Irritation And Infection
You may experience recurrent sore throats, sinus drainage or infections, itching in your ears, or ear aches. This is a sign of lymphatic fluid buildup around the inner ear (2).
Headaches And Brain Fog
If you feel headaches or pressure in your head, this can be one of the signs that your lymphatics are blocked. The same goes for brain fog, difficulty focusing, headaches, and memory loss (9).
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What Causes Your Lymphatic System To Be Backed Up?
A backed up lymphatic system can be caused by internal and external factors such as:
Lack Of Movement
Proper lymphatic flow requires that you move around and get the body pumping (8). The more sedentary your lifestyle, the harder it is for your lymphatic system to work properly.
The balance of hormones in the body has a big impact on your lymphatic system. Low estrogen levels can cause an accumulation of fluid in the lower legs and feet, as well as a sluggish lymphatic system (3).
Your lymphatic system needs healthy, nutrient-rich foods to work properly, such as leafy green vegetables and high-quality proteins. Eating highly processed foods especially those containing gluten, trans fats, hydrogenated oils, refined carbohydrates, chemicals, and additives will block the function of your lymphatic system (11).
When you’re experiencing a lot of stress, your body is flooded with cortisol, which inhibits your lymphatic system from functioning optimally (12).
Your lymphatic system is very active when you sleep, but if you’re awake for most of your sleeping hours, your body can’t properly flush out toxins.
Your body can’t flush out toxins properly if your cells are dehydrated, which dries up the extracellular fluid.
Poor Gut Health
When you have an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in your digestive tract, the toxins are not being properly eliminated. This allows them to build up in the body, which can block lymphatic drainage (5).
Toxicity And Pollution
Even if you eat clean and healthy foods, if you’re exposed to toxins on a regular basis, they can build up in your lymphatic system (17). This includes pollutants you’re exposed to through the environment, household products, food additives, processed foods, synthetic ingredients, alcohol, and pharmaceuticals/medications.
What Can You Do To Boost Your Lymphatic System?
There are several things you can do to help your body get rid of toxins and waste products.
Practice Deep Breathing
The lymphatic system has no pump like the heart in the circulatory system. It relies on movement, muscle contractions, and gravity to push fluid throughout the body.
It needs the downward pressure of deep breathing to help get things moving along. Practice long, slow breaths whenever you remember to do so. Deep, slow diaphragmatic breathing for even 10 minutes each day will oxygenate the blood, circulate the lymph especially in the torso, and help your body detox (6).
Your body needs water to help flush out the toxins. Ensure you’re drinking enough pure, clean water throughout the day to keep your lymphatic fluid moving along. Without it, your body can’t eliminate waste products well and they can build up in tissues causing a toxic overload in your system (6).
Take A Hot And Cold Shower
Hydrotherapy is a great way to boost lymphatic flow and circulation. It will help get your blood pumping, increase detoxification, and ease muscle tension (15).
It does so by contracting and dilating your lymphatic vessels as you alternate the temperature of your shower water. Take several minutes to warm your entire body, then turn the water as cold as you can stand it. This will flush out toxins and stimulate lymphatic vessels for improved detoxification.
Massage Your Lymph Glands
The lymph glands are located all throughout the body, including the neck, armpits, chest, abdomen, groin, pelvis and under the feet.
Massaging these areas can boost lymphatic fluid draining. This will help your body eliminate toxins to prevent them from building up in tissues and causing cellular damage.
You can stimulate them by hand or with a massage tool, either during or after a hot shower, or if you have time throughout your day. You can also use a dry brush to help massage your lymph glands throughout the day.
Practice Dry Brushing
Dry brushing is a great way to stimulate your lymphatic system and improve circulation. It will help with detoxification by increasing lymphatic flow and draining, which helps rid the body of toxins.
It’s easy to do – simply use a natural bristle brush and gently brush your skin in circular motions towards the heart. Start at your feet and move up toward your heart.
Detox Your Home
Your home environment can also cause poor detoxification in your body, depending on what chemicals you’re exposed to in cleaning products, plastics, paint, furniture, carpets, etc.
There are many cleansing protocols you can use specifically designed for homes that will help you eliminate the toxins and clean your environment.
Certain supplements can also help with lymphatic system function, including nettle leaf, dandelion root, parsley leaf, cleavers herb/leaf, burdock root tincture, L-lysine amino acid, vitamin C, thymus glandular (especially if you’re over the age of 40), and whey protein.
Eat For Detoxification
Eliminating foods that are difficult to digest, inflammatory, or that cause food sensitivity is important for lymphatic drainage.
This includes foods like gluten, dairy, eggs, corn, soy, legumes (including peanuts), nightshade vegetables (such as peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant), and processed foods.
It’s also helpful to limit high-sugar fruits like oranges, bananas, grapes and pineapple , which can feed yeast overgrowth in the gut. Other fermented foods may be well tolerated by some people but not others depending on how your body responds to them.
Certain fruits that are high in antioxidants can help boost antioxidant levels in your body , which is necessary to help prevent cellular damage, especially after exposure to free radicals. This includes berries of all kinds, pomegranates, grapefruit, oranges, plums, currants, cherries, and pineapple (4).
Adding lemons to water throughout the day, and using fresh-squeezed lemon juice in your water or as a flavoring to your foods is also helpful for lymphatic flow and cleansing.
Processed sugar of all kinds (including agave, honey, maple syrup, coconut sap sugar, brown rice syrup, cane juice, etc.) should be eliminated from the diet because these will feed yeast and parasites in your gut, causing them to flourish.
Limit or completely eliminate caffeine, alcohol, fried foods, hydrogenated oils/margarine, processed meats, smoked meat products, and fast food from your diet as well.
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Remember that lymphatic drainage will improve when we move our bodies and get the blood pumping.
We can do this through exercise. Remember to keep it simple and start slowly, especially if you’re not used to moving your body regularly.
Some people find rebounding (jumping on a mini-trampoline) is helpful for stimulating lymphatic flow.
You can also practice lymphatic yoga, which is gentle and restorative in nature. It focuses on holding poses for long periods of time to help stimulate lymphatic drainage through movement within a pose rather than moving from one pose to the next.
Use A Far Infrared Sauna
Using a far infrared sauna is also helpful for detoxification. The far infrared waves penetrate deep into the body and cause an increase in core temperature which will help boost lymphatic flow and elimination through sweating (1).
It’s important to drink plenty of water before, during and after using a sauna because it can further enhance elimination through the kidneys and the skin.
Wear Natural Fibers And Loose Comfortable Clothing
It’s helpful to wear natural fabrics and loose comfortable clothing when detoxing your lymphatic system because it will allow for optimal flow of the lymph fluid. Choose fibers such as cotton, linen, silk, tencel, merino wool and hemp .
Avoid Tight Underwire Bras And Underwear
This can also include wearing a bra that does not have an underwire, as this can create more blockage in the lymphatic system. Remember, you have a large cluster of lymph nodes right under the bust line where your breasts rest.
For men, tight pants and briefs are not good for lymphatic flow either, so you’re better off wearing loose boxers or pants with an easy elastic waistband rather than tight briefs.
Carefully Select Cosmetics And Skin Care Products
Your skin is the largest organ of elimination and absorption- much more so than the liver, kidneys, and lungs.
So it’s important to take care of your skin by wearing natural cosmetics and skincare products that are gentle on the skin, free of toxins and metals, fragrances, colors, gluten, parabens, formaldehyde donors, phthalates, toxic preservatives, etc.
Seek out products that are biocompatible with your body, containing only natural minerals, plant extracts, and essential oils.
Use Essential Oils Safely
Using essential oils can be helpful for detoxification because they have the ability to penetrate deep into the layers of cells where toxins are stored (13). Oils that are particularly helpful include grapefruit, lemon, ginger, fennel, cypress, peppermint, lavender, and eucalyptus.
Mix these oils together in a glass spray bottle (avoid plastics!) along with filtered water. Spray the mixture into your hair or on your skin, or inhale it 3-4 times throughout the day.
If you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or suffer from a medical condition, please consult with your health care provider prior to using essential oils.
Drink Herbal Teas
There are herbal teas that boost lymphatic action (14). They include:
- Red clover blossom
- Red raspberry leaf
- Yarrow root
- Wild indigo root
- Olive leaf tea
- Cleavers leaf
You can enjoy 2 to 3 cups of herbal tea blends daily.
The Bottom Line
Your lymphatic system is your body’s natural waste management system. Unfortunately, the majority of people fail to gently detoxify their lymphatic system on a regular basis. This can lead to fluid retention, cellulite, edema, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, autoimmune conditions, and much more.
For this reason, it’s important to make sure you are eating a healthy diet, reducing your toxic load, exercising regularly, and gently detoxifying your lymphatic system as often as possible.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Clinical Effects of Regular Dry Sauna bathing: A Systematic Review (2018, nih.gov)
- Connection between the inner ear and lymphatic system (2001, nih.gov)
- Edema: diagnosis and management (2013, aafp.org)
- Enjoy the Health Benefits of Berries (2020, aicr.org)
- Gastrointestinal Lymphatics in Health and Disease (2011, nih.gov)
- Keeping your lymphatic system healthy (n.d., piedmont.org)
- Lymphatic drainage of the neuraxis in chronic fatigue syndrome: a hypothetical model for the cranial rhythmic impulse (2007, pubmed.gov)
- Lymphatic pumping: mechanics, mechanisms and malfunction (2016, nih.gov)
- Lymphatic System’s Connection with Migraines and Sleep (n.d., mpateldds.com)
- Lymphedema (2020, clevelandclinic.org)
- Lymphedema and Nutrition: A Review (2019, pagepressjournals.org)
- Psychological Stress and the Human Immune System: A Meta-Analytic Study of 30 Years of Inquiry (2006, nih.gov)
- Recent advances on the efficacy of essential oils on mycotoxin secretion and their mode of action (2021, pubmed.gov)
- Role of herbal Teas in Regulating Cellular Homeostasis and Autophagy and Their Implications in Regulating Overall Health (2021, nih.gov)
- Scientific Evidence-Based Effects of Hydrotherapy on Various Systems of the Body (2014, nih.gov)
- The Lymphatic System in Health and Disease (2013, nih.gov)
- Toxic effects of environmental chemicals on the immune system (1989, pubmed.gov)