Winter is tough on your lymphatic system. Its dual roles of waste removal and protection from invaders can be put to the test.
With this in mind, here’s an introduction to the world of your lymph system and how you can give yours some support.
Your lymph system is a network of organs and tissues working together to rid your body of unwanted potentially harmful substances like cell debris, bacteria, viruses and other toxins.
It’s made up of three components: lymphatic fluid, often simply called lymph, vessels and nodes.
Lymph fluid contains white blood cells called lymphocytes. The job of these cells is to attack invaders and produce antibodies, fighting infections. In fact, your lymph system is a critical part of your immune system.
The network of lymph vessels are your body’s motorway system transporting the immune cells around your body. The system helps to regulate immune activity by allowing your immune cells to monitor your cells and tissues, as well as responding to signals they send, increasing and decreasing immune activity and inflammation. Because the lymph vessels form a complex of connected channels, immune cells can access any area of your body, giving immune support where it’s needed and raising the alarm wherever necessary.
Another important job for your lymph system is filtering away toxins from your tissues. As the fluid reaches your lymph nodes, toxins are filtered out and passed into your bloodstream to be removed from your body. If waste products aren’t cleared away because your garbage removal system isn’t up to the job, chronic inflammation will be sparked off in your body.
Lymph nodes not only act as filtering stations, but they’re also little hubs of activity for your immune system.
You have over four hundred lymph nodes in your body, especially concentrated just under the skin in your neck and armpit, as well as in your abdomen, throughout your digestive tract.
Lymph flows in one direction only: upwards towards your neck. Because it’s usually travelling against gravity, problems can occur because its transport relies on the contraction and relaxation of surrounding muscles to propel the fluid along. So any activity in your skeletal muscles, the muscles in your arterial walls, and even the muscles involved in breathing can all send your lymph on its way.
If your lymphatic system isn’t working well, fluid can begin to build up in your body, often around your ankles and legs, and you may suffer from swollen glands and pick up infections more easily.
This annoying dimply fat develops because the connective tissue separating fat cells from your skin begin to stiffen and weaken. The fat then protrudes through the connective tissue, bulging towards the skin. If meanwhile your lymph system isn’t working efficiently, stagnating toxins and fluid can pool in amongst the fat cells. Making sure your lymph is flowing well may reduce the risk of cellulite developing.
Encourage your lymph to move with these simple techniques.
You can stimulate your lymph flow by exercising. Any kind of movement, however gentle, helps to pump lymph around your body.
Try rebounding on a mini-trampoline, squats and lunges or simply walking briskly.
Yoga is particularly effective at stimulating the lymph system because it helps tone muscles and improves blood flow, while some poses gently compress the lymph nodes to help lymph flow freely through them. Particularly useful are downward facing dog, cat-cow, forward fold and sun salutations.
Massage, particularly a branch of massage called lymphatic drainage massage, can be great at encouraging lymph flow. It uses light pressure massage techniques to move lymph towards your lymph nodes.
The simple act of breathing can help your lymph, too. Breathing deeply using your diaphragm rather than taking shallow breaths involving only your upper chest uses your diaphragm’s ability to act as a natural pump. This encourages lymph flow through the vessels deep inside your abdomen.
As you breathe in you should feel your belly expand, and your chest and shoulders shouldn’t move much.
Using a soft, natural bristle brush, gently sweep upwards towards your heart for 5-10 minutes before your bath or shower.
Even slight dehydration can inhibit lymphatic flow. In winter it’s still important to drink water, even if you’re not sweating as much as in summer.
If you think your lymphatics could use a helping hand, I can closely examine your diet, lifestyle and nutritional status and health history to assess how your lymphatic system is coping. I’ll provide you with a completely personalised wellbeing programme to support your immune health and detoxification capacity.
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