Updated: Apr 28
Everyone knows they have a heart and a pulse. We can feel them pushing the blood that carries oxygen and nutrients around our body to feed our cells. But you may be surprised to hear that there is a whole separate network of vessels carrying fluid around the body: the lymph system. The body is a wonderful thing and it is constantly making new cells to replace the old and damaged ones. The ongoing turnover of old cells makes debris that needs to be cleaned up. Also, when we get an infection, the immune system springs into action. That kind of cellular battle leaves a mess behind. In addition, our nutrients and hormones do their biochemical work and in the process, are changed into other chemicals that may be toxic to us. Those chemicals need a route for removal too. This is where the lymph system comes to the rescue! The Lymph system has been likened to the sewage system of the body. It carries away all the unwanted chemicals and cellular debris of daily living. It isn’t part of the nourishment team but just the cleanup brigade, so it only flows in one direction: from our periphery to our core, where it empties near the heart. You are likely more aware of your lymph nodes than the lymph system as a whole. You have probably felt lymph nodes swollen up like little beans in your neck, behind your ears or even at your groin when you were sick. The lymph system is so quiet that it goes unnoticed in everyday life. We only become aware of it if it raises an alarm to fire up the immune system, when we notice swollen lymph nodes. We know the blood has the heart to pump it, but the lymph system doesn’t have the luxury of a pump. We were made to move, and it is movement that powers the flow of lymph. As we move, muscles contract and relax, pushing the fluid through the vessels. Valves along the vessels stop the lymphatic fluid from flowing backward. So we need to move every day to keep the lymphatic fluid moving in the right direction! If the lymph system isn’t working well, we may get edema as the fluid backs up. You may have noticed this if the elastics of your socks leave an indentation on your shins: that’s mild lymphatic edema.
What are other signs your lymph system may need some help? You may notice swelling of your small joints, tight rings and shoes, morning stiffness, a bloated or boggy feeling in your tissues, swollen lymph nodes and even mental fogginess. Supporting your lymph system may alleviate many of these symptoms. Here are some important ways to keep your lymphatic system moving well: • Drink plenty of water. A good rule for most people is at least 6 glasses of pure water daily. A glass of water with lemon is a great start to the day, and good for your lymphatic system too. Ditch the sodas, sports drinks and fruit juices: they don’t count! Take our water quiz here. • Use herbal teas that benefit lymph flow: some wonderful herbs to consider are Calendula flowers, Cleavers, Dandelion leaf, Echinacea, Nettle and Mullein. You can make your own mix of some or all of these dried herbs, using equal parts of each, avoiding any known allergens. Simmer a half cup (15 gm ) of herb mix in one litre of water for thirty minutes. Strain the mixture and refrigerate. Drink 2 cups (500 ml) daily for 10 days to stimulate and cleanse the lymph system. • If you have access to a sauna, this is a great tool for moving the lymph. Stay in the sauna until sweat begins to flow, then do three minutes of lukewarm showering, towel off and enter the sauna again, until sweat flows. You can repeat this several times, ending with a cool shower. • Dry skin brushing has been used for generations to help the flow of lymph in the smaller lymph vessels that lie close to the skin. Before showering, gently brush your dry skin in small circles, moving up from your fingers and toes, always toward the heart. You will need a loofah or bristle brush to do this, but even a coarse terry cloth towel will do. You will move the lymph and brush off dead skin cells, leaving yourself smooth and shiny!
We SHINE doctors embrace the philosophy: “Don’t let the best be the enemy of the good”.
Penny confesses: Ruth Anne gave me a lovely bristle brush for dry skin brushing, and I was thrilled and duly hung it on the back of the bathroom door to use before stepping into the shower. That was the plan. But daily I would get out of the shower, and THEN see the brush on the back of the door and go “Oh Shoot, I forgot again!!”. After a while of this I realized that this wasn’t happening as planned. So, in the spirit of “Don’t let the best be the enemy of the good”, I forgave myself and compromised. Now, as I wash and dry my body, I move the washcloth and the towel in the directions that move superficial lymph: the same directions used for dry skin brushing. I have replaced the guilt of not doing something I know is really good for me, with the positive of multi-tasking, doing something that is still good for me and takes no additional time out of my life. Now it’s just part of my shower routine.
It took me about 2 weeks to make the new habit, and now I don’t even think about it: it’s a habit for life!