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The Lymph System- A Beginners Guide

Did you know a healthy lymph system can help you look and feel younger? Here’s how to keep it working efficiently

Our poor lymphatic system really is the Cinderella of the body. At best we ignore it, leaving it to its own devices. At worst we abuse it. Big mistake. A healthy lymph system is your secret rejuvenator and longevity promoter – it boosts the immune system and clears out toxins. It’s a potent beauty aid too – when your lymph moves easily, your skin appears clearer and your eyes are noticeably brighter. Research has shown that even cellulite finds it hard to get a foothold when the lymph flows freely.

The lymph is effectively your body’s refuse system. It transports white blood cells and waste products to recycling depots (the lymph nodes) where white blood cells clean out the waste and neutralise any dangerous pathogens. The cleansed lymph fluid then drains back and the whole process starts again.

Unlike blood, the lymph doesn’t have the heart to pump it around the body. So it relies primarily on us moving. Sedentary jobs, coupled with our love of slobbing out in front of a boxset, means our lymph often struggles. Add in a diet that may rely a bit too heavily on processed foods or those lacking in real nutrients, and our lymph is really up against it.

Imagine if you didn’t empty the waste bin in your kitchen – everything would start to overflow and fester. Well, that’s what happens in our bodies if we don’t have a well -functioning lymphatic system.

Fortunately there are plenty of simple ways to help our lymph function at its optimum.

Get moving

It doesn’t matter what type of exercise you choose – walking, swimming, dancing or even just being more generally active in everyday life – getting your body moving will help your lymph. However if you really want to pack a punch, start bouncing. Studies show that rebounding – bouncing on a small trampoline – for just 10 minutes a day is the most effective way to mobilise the lymph.

It works by changing the force of gravity in your body, allowing for greater blood flow, which, in turn, increases the amount of waste flushed from your cells. Lymph flow increases by as much as 15 times when you bounce, improving circulation, skin tone and detoxification.

Swing into a shoulder stand

Yoga asanas systematically squeeze and move the lymph. The lymphatic system relies on muscle contractions of the lymph channel walls and also on large muscle activity in the body so the rhythmical tensing and relaxing of the muscles during yoga flows really wrings out the tissues, pushing fluid into the lymph channels.

It doesn’t take much – just try a few rounds of sun salutations each morning. If possible, add a few inversions at the end of your practice – reversing the effect of gravity allows lymph to drain from the legs. Providing you don’t have any health issues, try the shoulder-stand pose and plough or, simply, place your legs up a wall (Viparita Karani).

Brush away

One of the simplest ways to boost your lymph is to start a regular practice of dry skin brushing. This helps move the lymph and softens any impacted lymph mucus from the nodes. Use a natural bristle brush and brush smoothly, from the tips of your fingers up to your armpits; from your feet up to the groin. Always move in the direction of your heart. Brush for around five minutes before taking a bath or shower. Every day is ideal but even once a week will help. It also makes your skin look great – an added bonus.

Add aromatherapy

Most essential oils support the immune system in general but some stimulate lymphatic circulation in particular and so can help with the efficient elimination of toxins. For the best effects, make up a massage blend, using a light carrier oil such as sweet almond, and gently massage the oils into your body. You can also add a little of your oil blend to a warm bath.

Which oils are best? Cypress and cedar wood oils are decongestant and astringent – they contract and tighten tissues, squeezing out areas of excess fluid in a sluggish lymph. Lemon, bay leaf, bergamot, rosemary, thyme and juniper are all excellent lymph-supporters too. Remember to consult a qualified aromatherapist if you are pregnant or have any health issues before using these.

Eat well

Nutritional therapists all agree that an alkaline diet rich in plant-based nutrients can strengthen the entire immune system, including the lymph. Most suggest cutting back on dairy and red meat.

A deficiency in B vitamins especially B6, folic acid and B12, can cause the lymph nodes to shrink and impair white blood cell function. Iron, zinc and selenium deficiency also affect the lymph in a similar way. So boost your diet with whole grains, pulses, seeds (especially sunflower seeds), green vegetables (especially spinach and broccoli), tofu, fish, poultry, eggs and seafood which are all high in these nutrients.

Finally your lymph needs good hydration so drink plenty of liquid throughout the day.

Use herbal helpers

When you have a strong immune system and good bowel health, there is less stress on the lymph. Aloe vera is a powerful immune booster. Echinacea also helps neutralise acid conditions of the blood associated with high toxicity and lymph stagnation. It appears to promote the production of lymphocytes and increase the body’s resistance to infection.

Other herbs such as cayenne, poke root, burdock, mullein, cleavers, golden seal and chaparral are also used to encourage lymphatic elimination. Cleavers, in particular, is a great lymph cleanser. It filters waste out of the body whilst helping to stimulate white killer cells.

Treat yourself to a massage

Back in the 1930s in France, Dr Emil Vodder noticed how people suffering from chronic catarrhal and sinus infections tended to have swollen lymph glands. Much against medical practice at the time, he started to work with the lymph nodes. The gentle circular pumping effect of the massage he developed increased the movement of the lymph. Doctors now take manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) very seriously. If the massage is given to burns victims soon after the accident it can rapidly bring the burn down. Many cancer specialists also recognise the value of MLD, using it to tackle the painful and unsightly condition of lymphedema which often develops following mastectomy or surgical removal of lymph nodes, or after radiotherapy.

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