Important Information About the Lymphatic System

The lymphatic system is one of the most important systems in our body, yet it rarely gets the attention it deserves. Our Lymphatic System - Thymuslymphatic system plays a primary role in detoxification and immunity, and some have said the lymphatic system is just as important as the circulatory system. The truth is that we have four times as much lymphatic fluid as blood. In spite of that, very few medical professionals encourage their patients to pay attention to their lymphatic system. The goal of this article is to explain the importance of the lymphatic system and to share simple techniques you can use to support it.

The lymphatic system’s primary job is to protect the body from bacteria, viruses, fungus, and other pathogenic invaders. The lymphatic system uses cells called “lymphocytes” to protect us. Lymphocytes are white blood cells whose job is to kill pathogenic cells. In a healthy human body, lymphocytes make up 20-40% of all blood cells. Lymphocytes’ main job is to determine what type of immune response is needed and to implement that response. Lymphocytes originate in the bone marrow and are found in various organs of the lymphatic system, including the spleen, thymus, lymph nodes, etc. Lymphocytes work by binding to pathogenic cells to neutralize them and eliminate them. For every pathogen we may be exposed to, we have a specific lymphocyte whose role is to bind to it and neutralize it. There are two main types of lymphocytes:

  • B Lymphocytes:  Also called “B Cells.” B Cells handle immunity controlled by antibodies. B Cells remain in the bone marrow, where they mature into cells that spring into action when we are exposed to an invader. Some types of B Cells create antibodies that play an important role in immunity, as they develop in response to a pathogen (antigen) and work to neutralize it. Excesses in lymphatic reactions can lead to antibody imbalances such as allergies.
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  • T Lymphocutes:  Also called “T Cells.” T Cells travel to the Thymus gland, where they mature to become either helper, regulatory, cytotoxic or memory T Cells. Helper T Cells stimulate the B Cells to turn into plasma cells to produce antibodies. Regulatory T Cells work to control immune reactions; while Cytotoxic T Cells work to bind to and kill cells infected with pathogens. Killer T Cells are the body’s primary defense against cancerous cells. Memory T Cells retain a memory of past immune responses. Memory T Cells remain in an inactive state until they are needed, at which time they quickly mobilize to combat the pathogen using the same approach that was effective previously. (Our body is pretty darn amazing, isn’t it?)

Although lymphocytes play a primary role in the functions performed by the lymphatic system, the lymphatic system is responsible for much more. The organs included in the lymphatic system include:

  • A network of 600-800 lymph nodes and lymph vessels
  • The thymus gland*
  • Bone marrow
  • The spleen
  • The Peyer’s patches in the digestive tract
  • The tonsils and adenoids
  • The appendix. (It is important and is not disposable.)

When you consider the fact that lymphatic organs exist from head to toe in virtually every portion of the body and that the lymphatic system plays a key role in protecting us from invading antigens, it’s hard to believe we aren’t encouraged to take better care of it. Each of the organs in the lymphatic system plays an important role in white blood cell production and in protecting the body from invaders. The lymphatic system also collects toxic debris from cells and carries it to the bloodstream for removal. Lymphatic fluid is the body’s mobile garbage system, so it’s important to keep it moving.

*On a side note, your thymus gland is located in the center of your sternum, about two inches below the ends of your collar bones. The thymus gland is highlighted in red in the graphic above. Tapping the thymus gland stimulates it to create lymphocytes and boosts immunity. I recommend tapping your thymus anytime you’re in an environment where people have contagious illnesses. I tap it frequently when I fly.

One of the challenges the lymphatic system has is that the system has no pump to move the lymphatic fluid throughout the body. The only way to get the fluid moving is via exercise, deep breathing or massage. This is just one more reason we should each engage in some form of movement on a daily basis. Our immunity and body’s detoxification efforts rely on some form of daily movement.

You can help your lymphatic system work most efficiently by:

  • Exercising daily in a way that gets arms and legs moving up and down and back and forth.
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  • Drinking plenty of water.
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  • Eliminating as many toxins as possible from your eating habits, skin care products and environment. Eliminating toxins will mean your lymphatic system will not need to work as hard to eliminate toxins.
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  • Bouncing on a mini-trampoline for a few minutes daily, or simply bouncing up and down on the balls of your feet for a few minutes daily.
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  • Getting a therapeutic lymphatic massage. If you have lymphatic blockages or stagnation, be sure to tell the massage therapist about it and request a specialize lymphatic massage.
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  • Sweating in a hot bath or sauna, or using detoxification methods such as an ionic foot bath or far infra-red session.
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  • Eating more healthy fat! The lymphatic system needs fatty acids to function correctly. Load up on healthy fats such as avocados, raw nuts and seeds, nut butters, organic butter, extra virgin coconut oil, organic eggs and bacon, etc. (For more information on why fat is healthy, please read Six Surprising Facts About Cholesterol.)
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  • Breathing deeply! Deep breathing is known to help circulate lymphatic fluid and to help the body use the lymphatic system for toxin elimination.
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  • Dry skin brushing. Dry skin brushing is a method of stimulating lymphatic flow using a natural bristled brush. Always brush toward the heart. If you don’t have access to a natural bristle brush, you can use a dry wash cloth to accomplish the same thing. Start at your feet, working upward and always brushing/stroking toward the heart.
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  • Detoxification. I recommend doing a total body detoxification every three to four months. To learn more about detoxification, please read How to Know You Need to Detoxify, How Your Body Detoxifies Itself and How to Cleanse and Detoxify on a Daily Basis.
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  • Eliminating tight clothing. Tight clothing restricts the flow of lymphatic fluid, so do yourself a favor and switch to comfortable clothing that allows your body to move freely.
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  • If necessary, herbs such as nettles, burdock, yellow dock, or goldenseal are known to support the lymphatic system. Please work with a trained professional to help you choose the best option for your specific needs. 

Your lymphatic system is your friend. Treat it well and you’ll benefit!

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Dr. Pamela Reilly is a Naturopathic Physician dedicated to helping people improve their health and eliminate symptoms using natural, integrative methods. She has over 25 years of experience and has helped men, women and children improve their health using a holistic, client-centered focus. She sees clients in Indianapolis, does house calls, and also conducts consultations via Skype or telephone. Please feel free to contact her or visit her Consultations page for more information. Dr. Pamela speaks nationwide on a wide variety of health topics and welcomes speaking invitations.

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2 Responses to Important Information About the Lymphatic System

  1. Andrea says:

    Dear Dr Pamela, I am glad to find your site and see that you also mention tapping in relation to the lymph system, because I have been using basic tapping for other topics and it works, so it gives me hope with dealing with my problem as well: after a cancer operation 6 years ago when my pelvic lymph nodes were removed, recently I got lymphedema in my right leg. I am optimistic that I can cure it and will be able to wear skirts again 🙂

    Do you have any more recommendations for tapping on this, or any other advice for lymphedema? Currently I do dry brushing, drink minimum 3 liters of water (water with a pinch of Himalayan salt, or green/white tea) and since a week or so, 10grams of vitamin C daily.

    Thank you in advance!
    Andrea

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