The lymphatic system plays a crucial role in defending the body against bacteria and viruses that can affect long-term diseases. It is usually described as the disposal of viruses, germs, or toxins that enter the body and are carried into various lymph nodes in the body that fight off those bacterial invaders before it does more damage to the body.
Swollen lymph nodes are a sign that the body is doing its job in fighting an infection, but in rare cases, the swelling can flare up and develop into lymphatic diseases.
What is the Lymphatic System?
The lymphatic system is part of the immune system and the circulatory system that consists of lymph vessels and lymph nodes that produce white blood cells called lymphocytes to fight infection from foreign bacteria and viruses that enter the body. A fluid called lymph flows through the lymphatic system and can contain water, sugars, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, cell waste, bacteria, germs, and damaged/abnormal cells which is drained into lymphatic vessels and eventually into larger ducts called the lymphatic duct.
The main function of the lymphatic system is to drain lymph fluid from tissues and return it into the bloodstream. It also protects the body from diseases by removing bacteria and viruses and destroys old, damaged, or abnormal cells that can be harmful to the body. It also absorbs vitamins and minerals from the digestive system and transports them into the bloodstream.
What Makes Up the Lymphatic System?
The lymphatic system is made up of primary organs which include the bone marrow and the thymus. Bone marrow has a sponge-like tissue that is found inside the bones. It is where immune and blood cells are produced from undeveloped cells called stem cells. These cells can multiply into red/white blood cells and platelets.
The thymus is located just above the heart and produces thymus cell lymphocytes, or T-cells, that help to detect cell changes such as the appearance of cancer cells.
The lymphatic system is also made up of secondary organs which include the lymph nodes, the tonsils and the spleen. Lymph nodes are bean-shaped and located on lymphatic vessels in the neck, armpit, chest, abdomen, and groin. They trap bacteria and viruses before it can affect other parts of the body. It contains white blood cells called lymphocytes and produces chemicals that activate other parts of the immune system in order to fight upcoming infections.
The spleen is located beneath the diaphragm and has several jobs in filtering the blood. It produces white blood cells to help fight infection. It also filters the blood by removing cellular waste by getting rid of unwanted or damaged cells and improving blood circulation. It also functions to maintain fluid levels in the body and stores a small supply of red blood cells and platelets in the case that the bone marrow is unable to make new blood cells.
The tonsils are located at the throat and palate and stop bacteria and germs from entering the body through the mouth or the nose. Tonsils also contain many white blood cells which are responsible for killing those bacteria and germs. There are different types of tonsils: palatine tonsils, which are found at the back of the throat, adenoids, which are found behind the nose, and lingual tonsils, which are located on the base of the back of the tongue.
Lymphatic Drainage: How Does it Work?
Lymphatic drainage is the process in which different techniques are used to reduce swelling and discomfort caused by blockages in the lymphatic system. Blockages can be caused by health conditions such as obesity, infections, autoimmune diseases and cancer. The process of lymphatic drainage utilizes gentle to mild, natural movements that push lymph into lymph nodes in order to release existing toxins from the body.
The lymphatic system mainly works within the body and does not have a pump to push unlike the cardiovascular system, so it requires bodily movement and muscle action to encourage its functionality. Luckily, there are many procedures and regimens that can be done at home or at a low cost to help drain and purify the lymphatic system.
Photo by Nothing Ahead.
- Lymphatic Drainage Massage
Lymphatic massaging manipulates different parts of the body through a stretch-and-release technique in the direction of lymph flow. A consistent massaging routine can improve lymphatic circulation and reduce swelling and discomfort. At-home massages can be done on oneself or with the help of another by using different techniques such as stretching, gliding, compression, and cupping around areas of the body with lymph nodes to help detoxify and improve circulation.
Photo by nappy.
Exercise activities are the most effective way to improve the lymphatic system by utilizing muscle contractions to increase blood circulation as well as excrete sweat to release toxins from the body. Light to moderate exercises such as walking or jogging for more than 20 minutes are great exercises to start with. For a little more intensity, workouts that get the heart rate up such as pilates and cardio also require more muscle contraction which helps to pump the blood and get more fluids moving.
Photo by Vlada Karpovich.
- Deep Breathing
Deep breathing exercises help to activate the lymphatic system by stimulating the flow of the lymph and encouraging a larger flow of the cleansing lymph fluid. Once a breath is taken, the lymph ducts send the lymph into our blood flow, then into the liver where it metabolizes and into the kidneys where toxins are filtered. Deep breathing first thing in the morning and right before bed can also help decrease the heart rate and release the body of a hard day or set the intentions for the day ahead.
Photo by Cliff Booth.
Stretching is a great way to relax and contract the muscles and allow blood to flow easily throughout the body without having to strain the muscles in vigorous activity. Stretching can be done anytime, anywhere and can take on a variety of levels depending on how deep of a stretch is desired.
The practice of yoga is a great way to incorporate stretching into lymphatic draining. The slow flow of each session allows the mind to be in tune with the body and can allow the focus of each stretch to target areas that are affected by lymph nodes to help stimulate lymph flow and decrease any swelling or tension.
Photo by Ella Olsson.
- Consume Healthier Foods
There are many foods that contain unnecessary chemicals, are highly processed and have high levels of sugar, sodium, carbohydrates, and fats that can negatively affect the lymphatic system by adding more toxins into the body and can cause the body to become sluggish, inflamed and decrease metabolism overtime.
Foods that cause inflammatory symptoms include dairy, gluten, soy, refined vegetable oils and processed foods. Implementing whole foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, seeds, and nuts can help to detoxify the body by absorbing the vitamins and minerals that these foods contain and excreting unwanted toxins that the body does not need.
Photo by Pixabay.
- Stay Hydrated!
The easiest and simplest thing to do to help with lymphatic drainage is to drink water! Staying hydrated is an essential part of maintaining the lymph by trapping bacteria and keeping immune cells functioning properly so they can destroy unwanted bacterial invaders.
Written by Chloe Galvey
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