It’s pretty amazing that one of the most important parts of your immune system is rarely talked about, your lymphatic system.
We became very aware of the importance of the lymphatic system when my husband was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease, cancer of the lymphatic system. The first thing they did was remove his spleen, your biggest lymph gland, because it was full of cancer. We had know idea what the lymph system did before his cancer diagnosis, and I wonder how many cancer patients (no matter what kind of cancer), focus on supporting this crucial system.
What Does it Do?
The lymphatic system is part of your immune system and helps remove toxins and waste from the body. These are removed out of the tissues (cells) and put back into the bloodstream so they can be transported to the liver and flushed out of the body through our bowels, kidneys, lungs, and skin.
Your lymphatic system has communication with your immune system to monitor and respond to signals to increase or decrease immune and inflammatory responses. It protects us from infections, bacteria, and cancer.
It produces and releases lymphocytes (white blood cells) and other immune cells that monitor and then destroy the foreign invaders — such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi — that enter the body. Lymph nodes are like little “hubs” found around the body in places like the armpits, neck, and abdomen. My husband discovered his cancer because he had swollen lymph nodes on his neck. I’m sure you have felt these when you’ve had the flu or bad cold. The lymph nodes in the abdomen are much deeper and you rarely can “feel” these if they are swollen.
Another important job of the lymphatic system is to collect excess fluid that drains from cells and tissues and returns it to the bloodstream. If you have had any lymph nodes removed, you’re fully aware of how good a job they do! When my husband had many lymph nodes removed from his neck and under his arm, he retained a lot of fluid as the lymphatic system was no longer able to do its job.
Lymph includes fluids from the intestines that contain fats and proteins and transports this fluid back into the bloodstream as well.
What Are The Parts of the Lymph System?
- Lymph – Lymphatic fluid is the collection of extra fluids from cells and tissues. Other substances in the lymph fluid include proteins, minerals, fats, nutrients, damaged cells, cancer cells, and foreign invaders (bacteria, viruses, etc). Lymph also transports infection-fighting white blood cells (lymphocytes).
- Lymph Nodes – these you are most familiar with. Little glands that are primarily in your neck, groin, and armpits. You have about 600 lymph nodes scattered throughout your body. They are like a filter for damaged cells and cancer cells. These lymph nodes also produce and store lymphocytes and other immune cells that destroy bacteria and other harmful substances.
- Lymphatic Vessels – Lymphatic vessels are the network of capillaries a large network of tubes located throughout the body that transport lymph away from tissues. Lymphatic vessels collect and filter lymph at the nodes, as it continues to move toward larger vessels. These vessels work like your veins, keeping the fluid moving but the main difference is your lymph system does not have a pump, like your heart.
- Collecting Ducts – Lymphatic vessels empty the lymph into the right lymphatic duct and left lymphatic duct (also called the thoracic duct). These ducts connect to the subclavian vein, which returns lymph to your bloodstream. Returning the lymph to the bloodstream helps maintain proper blood volume and pressure. This also prevents the build-up of excess fluid (edema).
- Spleen – Your largest lymphatic organ, filters, and stores blood and produces white blood cells that fight infection and disease.
- Thymus – This organ matures a specific type of white blood cell that fights off foreign invaders.
- Tonsils and Adenoids – These are lymph organs that trap pathogens from food and air. They are your body’s first line of defense.
- Bone Marrow- Bone marrow produces white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.
- Peyer’s Patches – These are small patches of lymphatic tissue in the mucous membrane that lines your intestine. These cells monitor and destroy bacteria in the intestines.
- Appendix – Your appendix contains lymphoid tissue that can destroy bacteria before it breaches the intestine wall during absorption. We now think that your appendix may house “good bacteria” and help repopulate the intestines after an infection has cleared.
What Can You Do to Support Your Lymphatic System?
By now you are probably amazed at your lymphatic system! As a cancer patient, you can see why it’s so important to support it to do its job of detoxifying the body and building immune cells. So what can you do to help it perform optimally?
#1 Lower Your Toxic Load
We are all exposed to toxins every day from our foods, air, water, clothing, carpet, furniture, cleaning products, skincare products, etc. etc. The goal is to lower the toxic load that your lymphatic system is constantly dealing with.
Eating organic foods, drinking purified water, and having an air filtration unit in your home is a great start. Along with that, you will want to gradually replace toxic home cleaning products with non-toxic products. A great product line is the Branch Basics line. This cleaning product line was created by a mother and daughter who were highly sensitive to the chemicals in cleaning products. All you will need is a couple of products to clean your whole house!
Next, gradually replace your skincare, personal care, shampoo’s, conditioners, and soaps with non-toxic products. A great resource to search out “clean” products is the website www.ewg.org (environmental working group). You can look up personal care products and see how they are scored. You can also grab their “clean fifteen” and “dirty dozen” list of most heavily sprayed fruits and vegetables while you’re there!
#2 Move Your Body
As I mentioned above, your lymphatic system does not have a “pump” as your circulatory system does. The only way it can move efficiently is for you to move your body.
Simply walking will do it, but to amp up the system using a “rebounder” takes it to another level! You can buy these on Amazon and they have folding rebounders that you can easily store. Rebounding for 5-10 minutes daily gives your lymphatic system great support.
Yoga is another great exercise to incorporate into your lifestyle. There are specific “poses” in Yoga that help the lymphatic system “pump” more efficiently YouTube has many great videos for beginners if you are new to Yoga.
Once your lymph system has filtered out the pathogens, the lymph fluid sends this to your bloodstream. From there it goes to your liver, then to your bowels, kidneys, lungs, and even your skin if you sweat.
It’s absolutely essential to have at least one bowel movement daily (two is better!). It is also vitally important to drink pure water to flush these toxins out of your kidneys and skin.
#4 Dry Brushing
Dry brushing is like a self lymphatic drainage massage! Some other side benefits may be better respiration, better digestion, skin exfoliation, and reduced cellulite! There are many YouTube videos on “how to” do this type of skin brushing and brushes are easily found at bath shops and on-line.
#5 Lymphatic Massage
This is often used after surgery that has removed lymph nodes and edema has become a problem. It can also be used as detoxification for the lymphatic system in general. Make sure you seek out a Certified Lymphademic Specialist to assist with this. There are therapist that will teach you how to do the lymphatic massage yourself as well as many YouTube videos, but I would suggest having it done by a professional initially to receive proper guidance.
Even though my husband had his spleen removed thirty years ago, had six weeks of upper and lower body radiation and two years of chemotherapy, he is alive and well at 76 years old! He has lived well, with no recurrence of cancer, even though he no longer has one of the primary lymphatic organs.
He has focused on clean eating, lowering the toxic load, exercise, nutritional support, prayer, and lowered stress. We believe this has kept him cancer-free for all these years!
www.CancerresearchUK.org , About manual lymphatic drainage (specialised massage) for lymphoedema, 20 August 2019
www.healthline.com, How to Perform Lymphatic Drainage Massage, Elea Carey, February 27, 2019
https://daveasprey.com/blog/, Why Dry Brushing Should Be Your New Detox
https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/21199-lymphatic-system, Lymphatic System
www.Dr.ax.com, Yoga for Lymph Flow: A Gentle Practice to Support Your Immune System, Tiffany Cruikshank, February 20, 2020
About the Author: Chris McKee
Chris McKee is a Certified Nutritionist and Certified Diet Counselor with over 30 years of experience in whole-food cooking, healthy lifestyle coaching, individual nutritional counseling and speaking to 1,000’s of people about the role of good nutrition in preventing disease.
Chris is also a Certified Nutragenomix practitioner and this allows her to look deep into your genetic profile and personalize your nutrition program based on your unique genetic fingerprint.
She runs on-line courses including her 10 Day Clean Eating Challenge, 21 Days Prepping for the Keto Diet as well as her Hope 4 Cancer Recovery program.
Chris and her husband Ed love to travel, hence the name “The Nomadic Nutritionist”. She is a grandmother of four and a great-grandma of two! She loves to cook, explore new food finds, hike and fish.
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