And if I asked about your digestive system, you’d say to digest foods and eliminate wastes.
But what if I asked you what your lymphatic system does?
<Insert sounds of crickets chirping.>
Most people have no earthly clue what their lymphatic system does, but trust me, if yours isn’t working right, it’s only a matter of time before you get seriously sick.
Your internal cleaning crew
Your lymphatic system works with your circulatory system, but the main fluid is lymph—not blood.
Lymph is a milky liquid made up of white blood cells, nutrients and chyle (a fluid created in your intestines when you digest fats).
Here’s what happens:
After you eat, chyle and nutrients from your foods are absorbed into your bloodstream.
Your blood cruises through your blood vessels—from the main arteries, then eventually to your tiny capillaries.
Then lymph trickles out of your bloodstream through the ends of the capillaries. From there it gets to work washing your cells, delivering nutrients and mopping up wastes.
Then the lymph heads to your lymph vessels (you have just as many lymph vessels as blood vessels!). When it reaches one of your lymph nodes, the node filters out the wastes and destroys any viruses, bacteria or cancer cells picked up along the way.
Once the filtering is done, then the “clean” lymph rejoins your blood.
Note that when there are a lot of wastes or a virus in your lymph, the lymph nodes get overloaded and swell up. That’s when many people say they have “swollen glands” but they’re really swollen lymph nodes.
A big price to pay
If this cycle isn’t working right, you are susceptible to a number of health problems including:
- Lacking nutrients/deficiency diseases
- Low energy
- Repeated viruses or infections
- Fluid swelling in your limbs or other areas of the body (edema)
Your lymphatic system also partners up with your immune system, and the main lymphatic players here are your bone marrow, your thymus gland, and your spleen.
Your bone marrow is where the vast majority of your immune cells are produced from specialized cells called stem cells.
Your thymus gland produces hormones that trigger immune responses when you need them, such as when you get stung by a bee.
Your spleen also produces immune cells, plus it helps filter and cleanse your blood.
So without these players working like they should, you run the risk of having impaired immune functioning and heaven help you at that point—any sickness or disease is fair game for you.
Take care of YOUR lymphatic system!
Here are ways to make sure your lymphatic system is working in tip-top shape to cleanse and protect you:
Get regular exercise
Unlike your circulatory system which has your heart to pump blood through your body, your lymphatic system doesn’t have a pump to move lymph around.
So YOU have been the pump—by engaging in regular exercise!
No more excuses. Pick an activity, get your doc’s OK and GET MOVING.
Drink enough water
Water is essential for having proper blood levels and to flush wastes out of your cells. Eight 8-oz. glasses a day should be your minimum.
A great way to help your lymphatic system’s cleaning efforts is to create less garbage to begin with!
That means avoiding processed and fast foods and instead having a diet of real foods. Especially good choices for lymphatic health are leafy greens, citrus fruits and healthy fats (especially nuts, seeds and avocado).
Give those immune cells a good home
Although your bone marrow and spleen produce most of your immune cells, the majority of those cells (about 70 percent) take up residence in your gut.
So it’s crucial to make sure that you provide a healthy intestinal environment to house these life-saving protectors—and the key to that is a real foods diet and probiotic supplementation.
Practice deep breathing
Proper movement of air through your lungs also helps pump fluid through the lymphatic system:
1- Get comfortable in a sitting or lying position and put your hands on your chest and stomach.
2- Focus on breathing from your abdomen instead of your chest.
3- Breathe in through your nose, hold the breath for a few seconds and then exhale through your mouth. The time it takes to exhale should be about twice what it is to inhale.
4- Try to do four 8-breath cycles one to three times every day.
Consider possible iodine deficiency
Most people associate iodine deficiency with thyroid goiter, but it can also cause congestion of the lymphatic system.
If you suspect you may be deficient, ask your doctor to do a test.
And if you want some (non-salt) dietary sources of iodine, fish and shellfish are your best bets.
Congratulations! You are now an expert in your lymphatic system and hopefully have an appreciation for how it is keeping you healthy and, well, alive.