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Activating the Lymphatic System for Increased Immunity

The lymphatic system is a crucial part of your immune system. Through a network of lymph nodes, vessels, and organs, it carries a fluid called lymph throughout the body, ridding the body of metabolic wastes and toxins. It also produces, stores and carries white blood cells that the body uses to fight infection and disease. The lymphatic system is sometimes called the second circulatory system, and when it becomes slow or congested, the immune system weakens. Having a well-functioning lymphatic system contributes to good health and there are some simple ways to help it along.

How do you know if your lymphatic system is congested?

The most common sign is swelling (edema) but other signs might include inflammation, skin issues, enlarged lymph nodes, fatigue, or chronic infection (such as increased number of colds). Inactivity from illness or injury, or a sedentary lifestyle can contribute to congested lymph, since breathing and muscle contractions propel lymph fluid through the vessels. Movement is essential so activities like yoga, exercise, and deep diaphragmatic breathing keep lymph circulating so it can efficiently detoxify and purify the body. Aging is another factor that can lead to sluggish lymph.

Here are some suggestions that can help improve lymphatic flow:

1) Rebounding– which is simply bouncing up and down on a mini trampoline – does wonderful things for the lymphatics. But if you don’t have a mini tramp or don’t have room for one, brisk walking, jogging, and jumping rope are good alternatives. Even a few minutes a day can be beneficial.

2) Dry Brushing –The majority of the lymph vessels reside just below the surface of the skin and brushing on dry skin is a good way to stimulate the lymphatic system and remove dry skin in the process. It is a good daily practice, and simple to do before you hop in the shower. You can use a soft bristle body brush but my favorite way to dry brush is with exfoliating gloves and using both hands.

  • Start at the foot, use long upward strokes toward your heart, from the tips of your toes, moving up the leg, first one side and then the other. No pressure or scrubbing is needed, keep your hands soft and gentle.

  • Continue up the sides and front of your body stroking toward the heart. For the belly, do gentle clockwise strokes.

  • Starting at the fingertips, work toward your armpits. And for your chest, start at the middle and stroke gently toward your armpits.

  • Never use a body brush on the face or neck, as the skin is far too delicate.

  • Once you are finished, your shower will wash away the dead skin loosened by the treatment.

3) Hot and Cold Contrast Shower – hot water increases blood flow to the surface of the body and cold water drives blood to the core of the body, creating an “accordion” effect to move lymph and increase blood flow to bring oxygen and nutrients to the tissues and organs. This process in your home shower can reduce build up of fluids and ease inflammation, as well as stimulate the immune system to fight infection.

4) Deep Breathing – Just the simple act of breathing gets lymph moving. And the practice of deep breathing enhances body health by bringing oxygen and nutrients into the tissues, organs, and skin. Deep breathing can also decrease stress and promote relaxation.

  • Breathe in through your nose and first fill your abdomen with air, then fill the chest (keeping shoulders down and relaxed)

  • Breathe out through your mouth and empty the chest first, then the abdomen

  • Repeat

5) Lymph Drainage Therapy (LDT) – This is a deeply relaxing massage modality that consists of very gentle, rhythmic movements that improve the efficiency of the lymphatic system. It increases the rate of removal of waste products, toxins and excess fluid from the body's tissues. LDT can increase the lymphatic flow up to 10X the normal rate, which means the tissues get premium nutrition and improved detoxification. As a full body wellness treatment, LDT offers a sense of overall health and wellbeing and is integral to supporting a healthy immune system.

LDT benefits include:

  • Reduction in edema (swelling)

  • Reduced pain and swelling during recovery from surgery including plastic and cosmetic surgeries

  • Relief from sinus infections/sinusitis

  • Relief of chronic inflammation and skin conditions such as acne, rosacea, and eczema

  • Immune system stimulation for preventive and therapeutic effects

  • Reduction in the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia

  • Anxiety and stress relief

My purpose inwriting this article is to offer suggestions for persons who are generally in good health, who do not have major illness, or an otherwise compromised lymphatic system. This is in no way to be construed as medical advice. If you happen to have a major illness, lymphedema, or other concern please consult with a physician before incorporating any of these suggestions into your wellness regimen.

Mary-Brooke is a licensed massage therapist and has been practicing LDT for 16 years, using the method developed by Dr. Bruno Chickly, MD, DO, LMT, and member of the International Society of Lymphology.

"Lymphatics are the next frontier of discovery in human disease. Long ignored because of their subtlety and complexity, the mysteries of our cellular ‘waste disposal’ system have been comprehensively deciphered by Bruno Chikly."
Mehmet Oz, M.D., Cardiothoracic surgeon, Author of “Healing from the Heart”
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