Reasons to Love Your Lymph: The Underappreciated Body System & Pathway

Love Your Lymph

The lymphatic system is one of, if not the most, under-appreciated “systems” in the human body. It’s considered secondary to the vascular system. In Western medicine, we tend to place more emphasis on mechanical structures that we can break down into parts and functions. The heart, blood, and cardiovascular systems are at the center of it all. We often leave out systems like the lymphatic, which are vaguer in structure and function, because we have yet to fully understand and appreciate their active roles in our body. I hope this article gets you excited about the lymphatic system and the way it impacts our everyday health.

Our Inner Ocean

I like to call the lymphatic system our “inner ocean.” I give full credit to Melissa Gallico for this name, which is coined in her book The Hidden Cause of Acne. “Lymph” means “clear water” in Latin. This rich and intuitive system is composed of lymph nodes, lymphatic vessels, and fluid that runs throughout the entire body—from the skin through the dermis, to the mucosal membrane covering major organs, the respiratory tract, the intestine, the diaphragm, and the heart and lungs.

The lymphatic system plays a key role in immunity, digestion, skin homeostasis, and detoxification. You are probably most familiar with the lymph system when you’re fighting a cold and feel the swelling or tenderness of the lymph nodes under the jawline. These small, bean-shaped nodes are located not only under the jawline, but also under the armpits, groin, and back of the knees.1 The intestinal lymph system contributes to the absorption of dietary fats, and the liver lymph system delivers essential proteins.

These systems communicate and work together to operate a rich network that drains and removes toxins and absorbs and delivers fluids, and proteins into the body.2 Flowing alongside other drainage pathways (the liver and colon) to remove wastes, the lymphatic system is involved in drainage and detoxification. When we ingest toxins—which is unavoidable in this modern day—they are absorbed into our lymph system through the small intestine by lymphatic vessels called “lacteals.” Too many toxins may overload the lymphatic system, leaving it unable to effectively detox the body. How can we support this critical system? The first step is opening the drainage funnel (e.g., the colon) through daily bowel movements.

Drainage Vs. Detox

The goal is to keep the lymph moving and the fluid flowing. We need to create movement in the lymph and open the drainage funnel so that these can work harmoniously to detox the body. The “drainage funnel” includes the colon, liver, and bile ducts, the lymphatic system, organs, tissues, and cells. Recommendations in the following sections are going to focus on these three areas: the colon, liver, and bile ducts, and the lymphatic system.

Let’s think about drainage as the normal pathways that need to move and flow: the colon, kidneys, and lymphatic system. Let’s also think about detoxing as the everyday process of “pulling” out and eliminating toxins from the body.

Why do drainage and detoxing matter? Understanding the drainage funnel and how to best support it is foundational, regardless of your health goals. Have you ever started a “cleanse” or tried a supplement routine, only to have your symptoms flare up and feel worse than before you started? This is often related to a sluggish or clogged drainage funnel. As we begin ramping up detoxification (i.e., moving toxins around in the body) without a way to properly eliminate them through bowel movements and drainage, we see this aggravation of symptoms.

Where To Start

  • Start with opening the drainage funnel and supporting daily bowel movements. 1–3 well-formed bowel movements per day are ideal.
  • Support the liver and bile ducts.
  • Identify things in the body that are contributing to fluid buildup and chronic inflammation.

Once you’ve addressed the above, we can move to lymphatic support.

You might identify with some of the symptoms below, indicating that the lymphatic system is overburdened and sluggish. Slow drainage pathways lead to stagnation, damp heat, and chronic inflammation with symptoms like:

  • Constipation
  • Feeling like the bowels don’t empty fully
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Waking up between 1 and 4 a.m.
  • Skin problems: rashes, itches, hives, eczema, acne
  • Swollen glands
  • Skin doesn’t sweat
  • Puffy eyes
  • Often sick, and can’t clear infections

Supporting Lymph Flow

Now that we’re excited about the lymphatic system and the beautiful and intuitive way it supports overall health, let’s explore how we can support lymph flow through daily rituals and routines.

  • Energize: Connect with and do things that bring you energy and make you feel alive.
  • Ground Down: Get your feet on the earth and ground yourself. If you can start each day this way, that’s the goal.
  • Breathe: Consider breathwork to regulate the parasympathetic nervous system.
  • Light: Get outside in the sun. If you can get morning sunlight within 30 minutes upon waking, this will balance and support your internal clock to promote quality sleep-wake cycles.
  • Connect: Human connection and human touch are life-
  • giving and lymph-flowing.
  • Move: Whether through breathwork, stretching, or yoga, the compression and movement of your diaphragm and abdomen help to push the stomach and liver, which stimulates digestion and bile flow, and drains lymph. Twists in yoga or stretching can be extra supportive, as the restriction of blood flow and its release promotes drainage and detox.
  • Sweat: Get in the sauna or bath to stimulate fluid movement to help drainage and detox through the skin. Use an infrared sauna for extra points!
  • Dry brushing: Gentle strokes along the skin help to get the lymph in the dermis of the skin flowing and moving. This is helpful for vitamin D absorption and calming inflammatory skin conditions like acne and dermatitis. Use a gentle, natural bristle brush and stroke toward the heart from the bottom up.
  • Burdock root: This is a supportive herb that is known to detoxify the blood and promote blood circulation toward the skin.

These steps are just the beginning. The more we learn about this beautiful and intuitive “inner ocean,” the more we can support our health goals. After all, we are nearly 70 percent water.