What comes to mind when you think about your body’s circulatory system? If images of your heart pumping blood through your blood vessels springs to mind, you’re certainly not incorrect. But your cardiovascular system is only half of the equation when it comes to your body’s circulation.
You see, healthy circulation relies on two separate but closely intertwined circulatory systems – your cardiovascular system and your lymphatic system. Today we’re going to explore exactly what your lymphatic system is, the crucial functions it carries out, what happens when this significant system isn’t performing optimally, and most importantly – some straightforward steps you can take to support and enhance lymphatic function. Let’s dive in.
What Is The Lymphatic System? Lymphatic Structure and Organs
Your lymphatic system is a conglomeration of organs, tissues, and vessels that all work together to form a cohesive network. This network that makes up your lymphatic system permeates your entire body and includes:1,2
- Lymph: Lymph, also referred to as lymphatic fluid, is the fluid that flows throughout your lymphatic system. Lymph collects within your lymphatic system as it drains from cells and tissues and contains a fusion of substances like nutrients, damaged cells, foreign invaders (like pathogens and toxins), as well as infection-fighting immune cells.
- Lymph nodes: There are approximately 600 lymph nodes scattered throughout your body. These bean-shaped glands sift through and cleanse the lymph – filtering out damaged cells or mutated cells (like cancerous cells) and serve as a sort of storage unit for many important immune cells.
- Lymphatic vessels: Your lymphatic system is connected via a network of tubes ranging from microscopic to quite large. These vessels collect and transport lymph throughout your body – operating much like your veins with low pressure and a network of valves to keep lymph moving in one direction.
- Collecting ducts: Your lymphatic vessels eventually empty into collecting ducts or lymphatic ducts which are connected to subclavian veins that run just below your collarbones. These collecting ducts return the lymph fluid back to your bloodstream.
- Spleen: Your spleen (a fist-shaped organ located on your left side beneath your ribs and just above your stomach) filters and stores blood and produces the pathogen-fighting white blood cells that dwell within your lymph.
- Thymus: Your thymus is housed in your chest just beneath your breast bone and its main role is to produce and train specialized white blood cells called T-lymphocytes or T-cells that are important in lymphatic function.
- Tonsils and adenoids: These lymphoid organs sit in the back of your throat and serve as your lymphatic system’s first line of defense – trapping pathogens from the food you eat and the air you breathe.
- Bone marrow: This soft, spongy tissue found in the center of your bones manufactures important components of your blood like white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.
- Peyer’s patches: These are small patches of lymphatic tissue that line your small intestines and monitor and destroy any harmful microbes that make their way into your digestive tract.
- Appendix: Lymphoid tissue within your appendix destroys pathogens that sneak their way into your large intestine while also housing “good bacteria” to aid in repopulating your gut after an infection has cleared.
Now let’s take a look at the role this complex network plays in your health.
Lymphatic System Function: What Exactly Does the Lymphatic System Do?
Your lymphatic system plays a number of crucial roles, with some of its most important jobs including:3,4,5,6
- Maintaining proper fluid levels: Excess fluid that is leaked from your bloodstream is collected in the lymphatic system to be transported and returned to your circulatory system. This ability to collect and recirculate fluid makes your lymphatic system a key player in regulating the amount and the composition of fluids in circulation and within your tissues.
- Absorbing dietary nutrients: Lymph includes fluid from your digestive tract that contains important nutrients like fats and proteins which it then transports back into your bloodstream to be properly absorbed.
- Immune function: While the lymphatic system is not formally considered a part of your immune system, it undoubtedly plays a critical role in immunity. By producing, housing, and serving as a primary channel for the transportation of immune cells, your lymphatic system plays a pivotal role in initiating and executing a proper immune response.
- Transporting and removing waste: The lymphatic system is sometimes called “the body’s waste removal system” because it carries and drains a fusion of waste like abnormal cells, cellular debris, and toxic molecules.
Now that you have an understanding of the components that make up your lymphatic system and the role it plays in your health, let’s take a brief look at some of the complications that can arise when this crucial network isn’t firing on all cylinders.
Lymphatic Dysfunction: Why Proper Lymphatic Drainage Is So Important
In order to function properly, your lymphatic system is designed to continuously move and recirculate lymphatic fluid. When something disrupts, slows, or even completely blocks the flow of lymph throughout the network of vessels and nodes, it can cause a build-up of lymph, causing things like:7,8,9
- Impaired detoxification
- Puffiness and swelling
- Dampened immune function
- Increased inflammation
- Pain (due to increased inflammation, trapped lymph, and impaired circulation)
- Lymphedema (major accumulation of lymph that results in severe swelling)
- Accumulation of abnormal cells which can promote the growth of cancerous cells
If your lymphatic system is functioning optimally, it can have a ripple effect that can put a serious damper on your health, appearance, and performance. But the good news is, there are some simple steps you can take to support your lymphatic system, improve lymphatic drainage, and ensure this crucial network is functioning at its best.
How Can I Support My Lymphatic System and Improve Lymphatic Drainage?
Supporting your lymphatic system and improving lymphatic drainage is an often overlooked strategy that can have a monumental impact on your health and appearance. Incorporating some simple practices can go a long way in keeping your lymphatic system in tip-top shape. Some of my favorite lymphatic system-boosting strategies include:
- Movement: When you engage in any kind of exercise it gets your muscles pumping and your blood flowing – both of which can help stimulate your lymphatic system and boost drainage. Having an exercise regimen is great, but it’s also highly beneficial to be sure you’re getting up and moving frequently throughout your day – even if it’s just taking a break and walking for a few minutes every couple of hours.
- Staying hydrated: Hydration is key when it comes to supporting your lymphatic system to ensure it’s got plenty of fluid to keep things flowing properly. To really support your lymphatic system, be sure you’re drinking high-quality, purified water and not water straight from the tap that’s likely to be tainted with toxins.
- Deep breathing: Similar to exercise, intentional deep breathing can help stimulate and move your lymphatic system.
- De-stressing: Chronic stress can spike inflammation and release a cascade of stress-related hormones that can impact your lymphatic system (and just about every other facet of your health). Taking steps to minimize stress and finding healthy ways to cope with unavoidable stressors is foundational to not only lymphatic health, but overall well-being.
- An anti-inflammatory diet: Refined oils, processed foods, and a high-sugar diet can spike inflammation which can cause fluid to leak out of your lymphatic system and impair drainage. Minimizing these inflammatory foods and building your diet around anti-inflammatory foods – like fresh veggies and fruits, quality protein, and healthy fats – can help lower inflammation and boost your lymphatic system.
- Upping your antioxidant intake: While an anti-inflammatory diet is a great place to start, sometimes an extra boost of health-promoting antioxidants can be useful. Antioxidants help pump the brakes on inflammation while promoting healing and optimal function. My favorite antioxidant supplements are Glutathione Essentials and ResveraMax.
- Lymphatic massage and dry brushing: Manually stimulating and moving lymphatic fluid by incorporating lymphatic massage or a technique known as dry brushing can supercharge lymph drainage – especially when done on a regular basis.
- Vibration therapy: Vibration therapy utilizes a specialized platform that does exactly what it implies – vibrates your entire body. These vibrations have a slew of health benefits – including boosting lymphatic drainage. Click here to learn more about the health benefits of vibration therapy.
- Coffee enemas: While the idea of brewing coffee to use as an enema might sound a little strange and awkward at first, coffee enemas actually have some pretty impressive health benefits – including supporting your lymphatic system. By supercharging your body’s ability to detox, coffee enemas can help lessen the load of your lymphatic system and subsequently help this crucial system operate more effectively. To learn more about the benefits of coffee enemas and how to do one properly, head over and read my article Can Coffee Enemas Really Help You Detox? A Look at the Surprising Benefits.
- Castor oil packs: Castor oil contains a concentrated dose of a fatty acid known as ricinoleic acid. This mighty compound has been used for centuries thanks to its ability to enhance digestion, boost detoxification, lower inflammation, and stimulate lymphatic flow – all of which support a happy and healthy lymphatic system. The best way to tap into the power of castor oil is by using what’s known as a castor oil pack, which is applied to your skin. To learn more about the incredible properties of castor oil and how to get started with castor oil packs, head over and read through my article Castor Oil: How It Can Heal Your Gut, Enhance Your Beauty, and Boost Your Health.
The best part is, these simple additions to your routine not only benefit your lymphatic system, but your overall health from head to toe.
Are You Ready to Take Your Health to the Next Level?
Your lymphatic system is a vital and complex network that is often overlooked when it comes to health. Taking steps to improve your lymphatic drainage can have a ripple effect that can have a dramatic impact on your well-being, appearance, performance, and more. If you’re looking to heal an ongoing diagnosis, get to the root cause of persistent symptoms, or simply trying to optimize your health and longevity, it’s small incremental shifts (like supporting your lymphatic drainage) that add up – and when combined can make monumental shifts in your health.
Starting with the suggestions outlined in this article is a great place to start. But if you’re looking for more ways to prioritize your well-being and take your health to the next level – whatever that may look like for your unique situation – I encourage you to browse through my blog and YouTube Channel. I’ve got hundreds of free resources available to educate and empower you to make healthy choices that are right for you.
Be sure to sign up for my exclusive weekly newsletter to be the first to know when I release new content. And if you really want to take it deeper and get a glimpse at how this incremental, root-cause approach to health, paired with a some science-backed strategies, and whole lot of faith helped me transform my health and my entire life from the inside out, you’ve got to check out my book Unexpected: Finding Resilience Through Functional Medicine, Science, and Faith.
Now it’s time to hear from you. Were you surprised to learn just how important your lymphatic system is? What strategies are you planning on utilizing to boost your lymphatic drainage? Leave your questions and thoughts in the comments below!
- Lymphatic System: Parts & Common Problems (clevelandclinic.org)
- Anatomy, Lymphatic System – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf (nih.gov)
- Lymphatic System: An Active Pathway for Immune Protection (nih.gov)
- A lymphatic waste-disposal system implicated in Alzheimer’s disease (nih.gov)
- The Lymphatic System: Integral Roles in Immunity (nih.gov)
- Lymphatic System: Parts & Common Problems (clevelandclinic.org)
- Frontiers | Impaired Lymphatic Drainage and Interstitial Inflammatory Stasis in Chronic Musculoskeletal and Idiopathic Pain Syndromes: Exploring a Novel Mechanism (frontiersin.org)
- Impaired lymphatic contraction associated with immunosuppression | PNAS
- Lymphedema: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment (clevelandclinic.org)
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The product mentioned in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is not intended to replace any recommendations or relationship with your physician. Please review references sited at end of article for scientific support of any claims made.