What exactly is the body’s lymph or lymphatic system? If you have ever had a wound that had clear fluid coming out of it, then you have witnessed your lymph system in action. The lymphatic system is a subsystem of both the circulatory and immune system. It plays a vital role in maintaining health because all the other systems in the body depend on it to clear toxins, wastes, bacteria, fat globules and infection from the body. The word "lymphatic" comes from the Latin word "lymphaticus," meaning “connected to water.” The fluid is clear or milky white in color, and can be found throughout your body. In fact, there is more lymph fluid in the body than blood! Because we are exposed to so many synthetic chemicals, processed foods and environmental toxins, the lymph system gets overloaded. When this happens, the cells that rely on the lymph system for elimination become less efficient and sluggish as they fill with their own waste. This can lead to many health problems, and can even impair your ability to lose weight.

Our lymph system is made of white blood cells called lymphocytes, and the interstitial fluid that bathes our cells, bringing our cells nutrients and removing their waste. All detoxification occurs first and foremost through the lymph. The system is comprised of lymph capillaries, lymph-collecting vessels, lymph nodes and the lymph ducts. If you have ever been to the doctor’s office with “swollen glands,” those are actually your lymph nodes. (Contrary to popular belief, endocrine glands do not actually swell.) The nodes fill with lymph fluid to fight off infection.

Did you know that anything you put on your skin gets into your bloodstream? This means it also has to go through the lymph system. In fact, the reason why tattoos fade is because most of the ink ends up in the lymph system. With this in mind, It is very important to pay attention to the chemicals we absorb through the skin, as they all have to go through our lymph system, which can create toxic buildup over time. This ultimately leads to illness, dysfunction and disease.

The lymphatic system also has a strong line of defense in the gut. The digestive tract is one of the main pathways for offensive substances, including bacteria, allergens, heavy metals, molds, fungi, chemicals and trans fats. Did you know that when you eat something it has to go through the lymphatic system? It protects us by checking to make sure what we are putting in our bodies is safe. The lymphatic capillaries in the gastrointestinal tract are one of the main routes for fats to be absorbed. So you can see how cleaning this system out is very beneficial for people who want to lose weight and be healthy.

Since the lymphatic system does not have a central pump like the heart, it depends on other factors, like muscular contraction, movement, pressure changes, spontaneous contraction of lymph vessels and external factors, such as massage and gravity. Jumping on a trampoline, swimming, deep belly breathing and massage therapy are some of the best things you can do in your daily life to activate this system.

Massage promotes healthy functioning of your lymph system by directly stimulating and relaxing your muscles. It flushes metabolic wastes and helps distribute nutrients to the body. Normally, 1.5 to 3 liters of lymph fluid are drained each day. Massage increases this up to 10 to 30 liters per day. Massage therapy also creates a response within the body that affects the cardiovascular system, lymphatic system and immune system. Massage increases the count and function of white blood cells, thereby strengthening the immune system.

Stimulating the lymphatic system provides energy, better health, better rest, weight loss and decrease in inflammation. Massage therapy used to be considered a luxury treatment for people. However, most people are becoming aware of all of the lovely health benefits this treatment provides, including cleaning out your lymphatic system and flushing away toxins.

In addition to professional massage, there are massage techniques you can incorporate in your daily life to stimulate the lymphatic system. For example: After showering, the next step is generally to towel dry. This is an excellent opportunity to do a little lymphatic massage. Dry yourself in the direction toward your heart. Starting with the legs (front and back), use light pressure and dry upwards toward the heart. Again, drying toward the heart, go to the arms, neck and torso (front and back). Do the same protocol when applying after shower lotion or oil. This may take a bit of conditioning to get use to, but the benefits are worth it! The important thing is to remember to use light pressure! Seventy percent of the lymphatic vessels are located just underneath the skin. If you use too much pressure, you bypass these vessels (more than 5 grams of pressure can temporarily collapse the lymph vessels). So, the lighter the touch, the more powerful the effect on the lymphatic system. Secondly, you're not gliding across the skin. Rather, you're very lightly stretching the skin. The lymphatic vessels are attached to the skin with small elastic fibers. When you stretch the skin, you're manually pumping the lymphatic vessels simultaneously.

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Angelina Breen is an licensed massage therapist, reiki master and dry brushing instructor practicing at The Center, 1 Hoffman St., Auburn. For more information, call 704-0319 or visit www.TheCenter4Wellness.com.


Features editor for The Citizen and auburnpub.com. I also cover local arts and culture, business, food and drink, and more.