What is the lymphatic system?
The lymphatic system is a network of vessels that runs through your body, playing a key role in your immune system. It transports lymph (a clear fluid that contains immune cells) towards your heart and, like your cardio-vascular system, is it circulatory. But unlike your cardio-vascular system, it doesn't have a pump to help it circulate effectively.
In order to move lymph around your body, your lymphatic system must rely on the contraction of your muscles when you move.
As lymph moves around your body, it passes through stations called lymph nodes. We have thousands of them, varying in size from teeny tiny to around the size of a walnut.
What does all this have to do with my immune system?
When it comes to viral infection, your lymphatic system is really important.
In a healthy body, immune cells float through the lymph, hoping to bump into antigens such as bacteria and viruses. Lymph nodes act like meeting points for these antigens and immune cells, providing a space for them to connect. Think of it this way... if you were just wandering aimlessly through the streets, looking for your perfect match, your chances of meeting that person would be much lower than if you went to a dedicated bar already full of people.
That’s exactly what happens in the lymph nodes. If your immune cells are just roaming around in your body, the chances of them accidentally bumping into a virus is small. The lymphatic system brings everyone together. So... the more effective you are at moving lymph around your body, the greater the chances of your immune cells interacting with a virus and dealing with it appropriately.
When the lymphatic system is in good working order, the body will be able to respond to infection earlier and more effectively.
How can I support my lymphatic system?
Lymphatic support is important when dealing with infection and also with recovery from infection. Incorporating these simple and inexpensive methods into your routine can have a significant impact on how your body responds to a virus.
- Legs up the wall. Lie down on the floor, next to a clear wall, and put your legs up the wall. Your lower back should be flat on the ground. This is a lovely restorative posture that helps with circulation of both blood and lymph. You can even try it whilst lying on your bed - simply put your legs up the headboard.
- Dry body brushing. This invigorating Ayurvedic practice is great for circulation, exfoliation, and is said to stimulate the flow of lymph. It is possible to buy a purpose-made brush for dry body brushing, but any soft bristled brush might do - test it first on your skin; you want it to feel stimulating but not too abrasive. If you don’t have any suitable brushes, then a dry flannel would work. First thing in the morning is a good time for this practice, before you shower. Start at your feet and brush upwards in long, medium pressured strokes, covering all areas of your skin. Be gentle with the delicate skin around your chest and neck. Always brush towards the heart (where the lymph fluid will re-enter the bloodstream). Shower as usual afterwards.
- Gentle movement. Tai chi or yoga is ideal. Many teachers are offering remote classes at the moment, and there are some great apps available for pre-recorded classes. Postures that encourage the body to twist are particularly good for lymphatic drainage.
- Diaphragmatic breathing. Encouraging this large muscle to expand and contract will encourage your lymph to flow. Sit or lie down comfortably. Put one hand on your chest, and the other on your abdomen, just under your ribcage. Feel yourself breathe in and out and become aware of how deeply you are breathing. Take a deep breath for a count of 4, feeling your abdomen rise as you breathe. Your upper hand should move very little, while your abdomen lifts your other hand. Hold the breath for a count of 4. Exhale slowly through your nose for a count of 4. Hold the breath out for a count of 4. Five minutes is a good amount of time for deep breathing to have an effect but even one or two abdominal breaths can be helpful.
- Red clover tea. Red clover may ease lymphatic congestion. In tea form, Red Clover is generally considered safe. Consult your doctor before taking Red Clover as a supplement or tincture, due to possible interactions with prescribed medication.
Massage is another great way to support your lymphatic system but at the time of writing, the UK is in the midst of the Covid-19 lockdown and professional massage is unavailable.
About the Author
Julie Hypher is a BANT registered Nutritional Therapist and the founder of Wildwood Nutrition, a dedicated nutritional therapy clinic in Hamble, Hampshire.
She runs private clinics every Tuesday and Thursday.