The Lymphatic System: The Dust Broom of the Body
Did you know that you have a Lymphatic System?
The Lymphatic System? What's That?

The Lymphatic System, similar to the Circulatory system, is made up of thin tubes, called lymph vessels that branch throughout all parts of the body (except your eyeballs, hair and nails) mostly just below your skin surface. Along this network of vessels are groups of small, bean-shaped organs called lymph nodes. Many people mistakenly call them lymph glands. When you go to your doctors for a physical, that is what they check first, besides your heartbeat. If your lymph nodes are swollen, in your neck below your ears or in the groin area, that will indicate a sign of infection in your body.

Lymph nodes are small oval organs connected to the network of lymphatic vessels. Clusters of lymph nodes are mostly found in the underarm, pelvis, neck, abdomen, and behind your knee. The lymph nodes act like a filtration plant, trapping foreign substances, which are destroyed by lymphocytes produced by the lymph nodes. Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell made in the bone marrow and by the other organs of the lymph system.

Ok, so what does the Lymphatic System do?
These lymphatic vessels carry lymph, which is a colourless, watery fluid that contains plasma and appropriately enough lymphocytes. When you fall and scrape your knee, but not deep enough to draw blood, or you squeeze a pimple, you see a transparent liquid, that is what the lymph looks like. Lymph will flow through at least one but mostly several lymph nodes to filter waste and bacteria in order to prevent them from entering the bloodstream. All unwanted elements are trapped and destroyed by the lymphocytes that are present in the lymph nodes. Antibodies are manufactured as soon as they recognize the presence of a foreign substance.

There are two main categories of lymphocytes: T-cell and B-cell lymphocytes.
  1. T-cell lymphocytes destroy foreign substances directly or indirectly by releasing various substances. These cells recognize and destroy antigens (toxins, bacteria, etc.), often in conjunction with macrophages. There are many types of T-cells, which work in different ways, for example cytotoxic T-cells can release lymphotoxins to destroy foreign cells.
  2. B-cell lymphocytes respond to infection by differentiating into plasma cells, which in turn secrete specific antibodies to eliminate the foreign substances.
As well as the lymph nodes other organs associated with the lymph system are the spleen, the tonsils, and the thymus gland. The Lymphatic System is also part of your Immune system and interconnected with the Circulatory System.

Functions of the Lymphatic System:
  • Lymphocytes protect the body from microbes, foreign cells, and cancer cells. They change toxicity in the body to non-carcinogenic (non-cancer forming levels).
  • Lymphatic vessels drain tissue spaces that have fluid that escapes from blood capillaries.
  • Lymphatic vessels transport fat from the gastrointestinal tract into the blood.
Ok that's great, so what does this mean for my skin?
A net of lymph vessels are situated in the innermost layers of skin. A lot of skin health related problems can be traced back to sluggishness of the Lymphatics. Since the skin is your largest eliminating organ, approximately one-third of all the body impurities are eliminated, released through skin pores. The inability to eliminate most toxins can be blamed on this system. If the body is constantly exposed to toxic substances, through food, air, or many skin preparations, the lymphatics can do only so much to neutralize and eliminate the unwanted "stuff".

A lot of skin care products on the market today contain elements that the body finds unable to use or hard to eliminate. They tend to build up in the deeper skin layers, not only interfering with internal cleansing, but also restricting the skin's ability to absorb necessary nutrients.

Our Immune system's first line of defense is our skin. Toxic build-up and sluggish lymph circulation limits the body's ability to function optimally. A few examples of what skin health related problems that can be attributed to improper lymphatic functions are:
  • Acne breakouts that takes a while to heal, leaving marks
  • Bumps under the skin surface
  • Sensitive, allergic skin
  • Premature aging skin
  • Cellulite, inflammation of the connective tissue and lymphatics
  • Flabby, fatty thighs
  • Varicose veins
  • Excess scarring and stretch marks
  • Edema or phlebitis (inflammation of the veins) are other obstacles that can impede the lymphatics
Please note that we can not blame all these skin disorders on the Lymphatic System. There are other factors to be considered.

Ok, so now I know what it does. How can I support my Lymphatic System?

Exercise (yes again!)
Did you know that lymph in your Lymphatic System is not pumped by your heart? Many people don't know that lymph is circulated by the movement of muscles and the movement (take a deep breath!!) of your Diaphragm. In the center of your chest, behind your sternum (chest bone) a lymphatic duct is to be found. As you deepen your breath, your Diaphragm moves down and as you exhale moves upward, moving the lymph fluid. The Lymphatics can greatly benefit from a nice long walk in nature, through the forest. It is so much easier to breathe deeply.

Yoga breathing exercises are also excellent to increase the oxygen in your system and to get the diaphragm moving. A very simple exercise can be practiced daily that will greatly benefit you. Please note if you have high blood pressure or heart disease, consult your physician first.

I learned the following exercise from my yoga teacher:

  • Lay down on a carpeted floor (a towel or blanket can be used) right beside a wall facing upward. Your body should be parallel and touching the wall.
  • Take a few breaths to help you to center yourself. Now turn your upper body 90 degrees so your buttocks touches the wall and both your legs are elevated, pointing towards the ceiling.
  • Lay there for 5-10 minutes while focusing on your breath.
    This is an excellent way not only to get your circulation going, but to also have an effect on brain function and the Glandular System.

The benefits of massage are really more than skin deep. However there are certain types of massage that target areas like the lymphatic system. One such type is:
  • This treatment will support Body and Skin detox programs. Aromatherapy massage focuses on the cleansing of the Lymphatic System while it follows and encourages the flow of lymph in the lymphatic vessels.

  • Another simple thing you can do for your lymphatics is, when you are in the shower or the tub, always soap yourself with a circular massage movement. Start with the feet, moving up your legs to your chest, then circle massage your arms moving toward the shoulder, always following the direction towards your chest bone. Follow the same routine when you towel yourself. As we discussed earlier the lymphatic system is situated just below your skin surface. This simple massage technique will boost the flow of lymph in its system.
Dry Skin Brushing
Dry skin brushing is used primarily for the same reason as above in addition to its exfoliating effect on the dead skin cells. It is best to use a natural bristle brush about the size of your hand. In the same way as just described, apply a gentle pressure with the brush on your dry skin (before shower) in a circular movement. First start with the feet and legs, than continue over the entire body always moving towards the chest. Your pressure applied with the brush must be gentle enough not to cause any discomfort. Your skin should be a pinkish color. Follow with a refreshing shower. I recommend a good quality body lotion applied to hydrate the skin afterwards.
* Please note that a lot of inexpensive body lotions use a base that actually is a byproduct of petroleum. Although used to soften the skin, the base molecules are too large to penetrate the surface of the skin. Good thing, but remember this is NOT good either! These substance accumulate over time in the deep tissue and interferes with normal skin processes such as elimination. Choosing a good quality lotion is better instead.

Hot Baths!
Taking hot baths with Epsom salts or salt from the Dead Sea also helps to rid toxic substances from the Lymphatic System. The hot bath will open up the skin pores and stimulate circulation, and the salt will draw out impurities. If you can afford it, a mud-bath will also replenish essential nutrients, mostly minerals to your skin. Again always follow with a good quality body lotion.

So now you can see that the Lymphatic system, while not receiving as much press as other systems, is just as important to overall health. By doing simple things like exercise, receiving a massage, or taking a hot bath with salts can stimulate lymphatic activity. In the end, your skin as well as your body, mind and spirit will all be happy recipients of the added attention.
Written by Tunde A. Ertl
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