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With the New Year comes the optimism and desire to turn over a new leaf for better health, success and prosperity. Most resolutions, while set in good intentions, usually require big changes and as such, are usually not sustainable. A much more effective strategy is to implement smaller changes that you can incorporate into your daily life with ease. Today, I would like to remind you of an often overlooked component to optimal health. The lymphatic system is a critically important body system that most people don’t appreciate or know much about, yet it is key for optimal immune function, circulation and detoxification.
Your lymphatic system is your body’s largest circulatory system. It consists of the superficial vessels near the surface of the skin that branch out from the main circulatory system. Its primary functions include:
- carrying away the metabolic waste products of every cell, tissue and organ
- absorbing & delivering fats and fat-soluble vitamins
- maintaining proper fluid balance
- fighting infection and producing white blood cells
Garbage In = Garbage Out
Imagine how it might feel to live in a house where there was no garbage collection. At first, it might seem manageable, but day after day, month after month, you might not think so. That is exactly what happens to each one of the trillions of cells of which your body is comprised. The metabolic waste products from each cell is excreted from the cell, but there is no flow to carry it away. So the cell ends up sitting in their own waste – resulting in fatigue, swelling, infection, inflammation and degeneration. Once the lymphatic flow starts again, you can experience rapid and significant improvement in your overall sense of well-being.
Signs & Symptoms of Lymphatic Congestion:
- allergies/headaches/recurrent colds & flu
- swollen lymph nodes
- swelling of the feet
- brain fog/lack of energy
- ear popping/ringing
- mucus draining
- inability to lose weight
- soreness/stiffness on waking
- swollen breasts/uterine fibroids/ovarian cysts
- heaviness in extremities
- arms/legs “fall asleep”
- itchy/dry skin
Six Easy Ways to Improve Lymph Flow
1. Deep Breathing
Fact: The physical act of breathing creates movement that helps to mobilize lymphatic fluid. Many of us are shallow breathers without realizing it. Proper breathing is the most important facilitator of lymphatic function, especially in the chest region.
Tip: Breathe in slowly through your nose (over a count of 4), deeply pushing the stomach out. Hold for a count of 7 and slowly let your breath go out through your mouth (over a count of 8). Try doing 4 rounds of this 4-7-8 breathing 3-4x/day (I recommend just before meals and before going to sleep, as it also relaxes your nervous system for better digestion and sleep) will oxygenate the blood, circulate the lymph especially around the liver, and provide many other benefits. Whenever and wherever possible, do this exercise outdoors in fresh air.
2. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Fact: Water is important medium make your lymphatic fluid well, more fluid. Only good quality drinking water (I recommend using a water filter for municipal tap water) can adequately rehydrate the body. Monitor your hydration levels by checking on the color of your urine output – if clear, you are probably overdoing it. A pale or straw colored urine is best for hydration, without overtaxing your kidneys.
Tip: I find starting the day with water first thing turns “on” my thirst sensors and ensuring I have good quality water in a thermos, stainless steel or glass bottle with me at all times makes it easy to keep my water intake levels up. Avoid drinking bottled water, as it is contaminated with chemicals that can cause hormone disruption that leach from the plastic, as well as having no sanitation requirements and not being environmentally sustainable.
3. Dry Skin Brushing
Fact: This is perhaps my favorite, but most overlooked lifestyle hack for improved lymphatic flow. Use gentle pressure to move lymph fluid in the direction of the heart. Dry skin brushing promotes lymphatic drainage of toxic waste, which results in many other benefits such as improved immunity, glowing skin, and cellulite reduction.
Tip: Start a habit of dry skin brushing a few minutes before your shower or bathe using an inexpensive natural bristle brush. Start with every alternate day (it is quite stimulating) for 3-4 weeks before brushing everyday. It feels fantastic!
4. Alternate Hot and Cold in Your Shower
Fact: All blood/fluid vessels contract when exposed to cold, and dilate in response to heat. Using hot and cold in the shower is a type of hydrotherapy that uses these properties of water to move stagnant lymphatic fluid (and blood) to increase circulation, boost immune function and improve metabolism.
Tip: After dry skin brushing, super charge your morning shower experience by alternating hot and cold water for between 90 seconds and several minutes at the end of your morning shower, taking care to always end on cold. The greater the temperature difference between the two, the greater the stimulation on the circulation. Note: Avoid this if you are pregnant, or if you have a heart or blood pressure condition.
Fact: The lymphatic system depends largely on muscle activity in the body for its circulation. One needs to move in order to activate lymph flow.
Tip: The good news is any movement helps – whether it is one minute of jogging in place, knee bends, jumping jacks, stretching or going for a brisk walk at lunch, it all counts, so find something you enjoy and can fit in your schedule. I personally favor body squats – 1 minute 2-3 x/day to get the blood (and lymph) going and to get a nice tush in time for summer weather 😉
6. Eat Whole Foods, Especially Vegetables, Healthy Fats, & Fruit (in moderation)
Fact: Chlorophyll (found in all plant-based food, especially green ones) purifies the lymph and blood. Eating whole foods will naturally decrease your intake of processed foods. Plant based foods also have a higher water content, which adds to your overall hydration status.
Tip: Have at least three different colored vegetables make up half of your plate volume-wise at each meal. Eat fruit in moderation (I recommend 1-2 pieces/day as they are still high in natural sugars) and be sure to consume healthy fats as nuts and seeds, avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil, organic ghee and butter to support hormone production, immune function and nervous system health.
An active lymphatic system will help to reduce your body’s toxic load, improve circulation and revamp your immune function. Pick two to three of these suggestions that work for you and put them into practice for 10 days and experience the benefits it creates to making a happier, and healthier you!