8 Ways To Boost Your Lymphatic System
Supporting Your Lymph System to Prevent Disease, Infection and Cancer
Mary is a spry 78-year-old woman with her left arm significantly larger than her right. Several years ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The surgeon removed her breast, along with most of the lymph nodes in her right axilla (armpit). Since that time, she has had swelling of the right arm, which bothers her, especially at night.
Two Circulatory Systems
Most people don’t know that they have two separate circulatory systems in the body: the cardiovascular and lymphatic.
The cardiovascular system basically moves blood throughout the body. The blood system is a closed system that keeps the red blood cells and most proteins inside at all times. The blood system allows only the plasma to leak into the tissues and around cells bringing nutrients such as sugar, oxygen, vitamins and minerals – everything a growing cell needs.
However, while most of the fluid is taken up into the veins after it feeds the cells, a significant portion is left behind. This fluid builds up over time and can create a lot of swelling. In order to get that fluid back into circulation, the body has a separate system of vessels – twice as many as the blood vessels – called the lymphatic system.
Rather than blood, the lymph system carries a clear fluid called lymph unidirectionally towards the heart through lymphatic vessels.
Functions of the Lymphatic System
The lymphatic system has three functions:
- To bring fluid from around the cells back into the blood circulation
- To remove bacteria, viruses, other infections, and cancer
- To remove waste from the cells
Mary’s discomfort came because when the surgeon removed the lymph nodes it cut off the lymph vessels. Now her lymph system can no longer bring the excess fluid back to the heart so her arm just gets bigger as the fluid increases.
Thus, the primary function of the lymph system is to act as drainage of excess fluid that accumulates around the cells. This amounts to about 15% of all the fluid that comes out of the blood to bathe the cells. As we move around, this fluid is pushed through the lymph vessels, which have valves that allow the fluid to move only one way, towards the heart. There it enters the veins, and ends up back into the blood circulation. Amazingly, the vessels themselves also have muscles that contract and push the lymph through them.
Mary needs to wear a pressure sleeve to keep her arm from continuously getting larger. The extra pressure squeezes the fluid into the venous system to get back into the circulation. This doesn’t get all of the fluid back, but it keeps her arm from becoming gigantic.
Even health care professionals ignore the lymphatic system; we take for granted the importance of this system – until it doesn’t work. For example, in many areas of the world mosquitoes can inject a parasite that gets into the lymph system and completely blocks it. The area affected continues to get larger over time without stopping. After this happens, there is no way to clear the lymph system, even after killing the parasites. Without constant treatment the limb just continues to grow, causing a disease known as elephantiasis.
Another function of the lymph system is to aid the immune system in fighting infection. Lymph nodes contain white blood cells that can detect and fight infection locally. They stop infections from spreading through the body by trapping disease-causing germs and destroying them.
Because the lymphatic system extends to the far reaches of the body, it also plays a role in telling the rest of the immune system where there is an infection.
The lymphatic system is like the fire department in a city. If there is a small fire, the local fire station is well equipped to handle it on their own. However, if the fire is raging out of control, then the local station calls other stations to send more personnel and equipment to put out the fire. Each lymph node is like a local fire station, taking care of local infections, and getting help when an infection is out of control.
Cancer is another fire that needs to be extinguished. The lymphatic system is also important in preventing and destroying cancer cells. We all have cancer cells that travel through the lymph drainage system and into the lymph nodes, where immune cells eat the cancer and destroy it. This probably happens to everyone every day! When we are diagnosed with cancer, it is because this system didn’t work properly.
Lastly, the lymph system cleans out the excess waste from cells. Lymph is composed of:
- Protein molecules
- Lymphocytes (white blood cells)
- Other substances
Since the blood vessels only take up fluids and salts, the lymph system has to take care of the larger molecules and debris left behind.
The lymph vessels are very porous, allowing proteins, bacteria, viruses, and cell parts to get into the lymph. Dead tissue and other foreign matter or invaders are removed by the lymph nodes. Other debris goes into the blood circulation and is removed by the spleen.
By the same token, the lymphatic system absorbs larger nutrients, like fat, from our digestive system. The lymphatic vessels transport fat to the veins of your chest, and the blood carries fat to be stored in adipose tissue throughout your body.
Therefore, the lymphatic system deposits fat directly into circulation, without going through the liver. This has incredible implications for toxicity. The fat is not detoxified by the liver before getting access to our cells.
All the blood from the intestines has to go through the liver first, before it can get to the circulation and the rest of the body. The liver is our primary defense against toxins because it can detoxify almost any molecule. However, since the lymphatic drainage from the intestines doesn’t go through the liver, some toxins from your food may be able to get direct access to your body, brain, and organs.
The lymphatic system takes up all the constituents of blood, such as proteins and minerals. But by far the most important component is the absorption of fat. Most of the fats from the diet end up in the lymph system and are dumped directly into the blood.
Now that you know what the lymphatic system is and what it does, you can guess what will happen if it isn’t functioning well. Some of the problems associated with a poorly functioning lymphatic system include:
- Edema, or swelling
- Regional pain syndromes
- Toxic overload, including heavy metals
- Poor digestion
- Weight gain
- Rashes and skin problems
- Frequent infections, colds/flu or skin infections
- Cancer, especially lymphoma or Hodgkin’s Disease