Lymphatic system facts, massage points, cleanses, and more – mindbodygreen

The first and most obvious question is: What is the lymphatic system? Before that, I guess you might want to know what "lymph" is. Well, lymph is a fluid that has no color, and it contains white blood cells, which are our key immune cells. Lymph covers the tissues in our body, and it has its own drainage system, which is called the lymphatic system. There is an intricate system of lymph capillaries (basically small little drainage pipes) that collects all the fluid that occupies the spaces between different tissues in the body. Those little capillaries connect to larger pipes, called lymph vessels, which lead to lymph nodes.

Many of you probably know what a lymph node is; when you have a sore throat or a cold, you might notice that you feel some small circular bumps under the surface of your skin that go away after the cold resolves.


Those are lymph nodes, and that is a sign that your immune system is fighting something on your behalf. In the lymph nodes, the lymph fluid is cleaned by a special kind of white blood cell called a lymphocyte. After that happens, what is left drains into one of our major veins (the subclavian veins for those of you who are interested). Then the fluid mixes in with the blood, and circulation proceeds, and the whole process repeats itself.

Now that we know what lymph and the lymphatic system are, it’s important to know just how this system influences our health and how we can keep our individual lymphatic systems healthy. The lymphatic system helps with the fluid balance in our body, and it also plays a role in lipid metabolism and the immune system while influencing a wide variety of conditions, from infections to inflammatory diseases to metabolic diseases and cancer. The lymphatic system is a superhighway for lymphocytes and immune cells, which are directed to region-specific lymph nodes; it is here where our immune system comes into contact with pathogens, microbes, and other things that get it revved up. What makes the lymphatic vessels a superhighway as opposed to just a regular highway is that it actively participates in affecting the immune system itself by participating in the immune response rather than just serving as a simple roadway.

There are a number of conditions involving the lymphatic system that can affect our health. Lymphedema is a condition in which you might get swelling in your face, arms, legs, or abdomen as a result of fluid not draining well into the lymphatic system. Lymphadenopathy is another common condition, which basically means that there are l ymph nodes that are found during a physical exam. It’s possible that this may even be one of the first signs of cancer, especially if there are abnormally enlarged lymph nodes (like in lymphoma); however, the most common cause of lymph node enlargement and lymph nodes that can be detected on a physical exam is an infection. Sometimes people may also have an enlarged spleen or splenomegaly because the spleen is a major immune organ.

Another example of a lymphatic disease is LAM or lymphangioleiomatosis; this affects women of childbearing age, and it is a condition that affects the lungs in which muscle-like cells uncontrollably grow in other tissues and organs. These cells interfere with the normal functioning of the lungs and grow in the lymph nodes, lungs, and kidneys. When the brain’s lymphatic system is impaired, there may be implications for the development of neurovascular, neurodegenerative, and neuroinflammatory conditions in addition to brain tumors and injuries. These are just a few of the major diseases and conditions that can affect the lymphatic system.

Stress reduction and relaxation are also key ingredients of optimizing lymph flow. Just think of this as exercise for your circulation. In this case, laughing and deep breathing could be considered forms of exercise because you are using and contracting your muscles. As we discussed above, this helps keep the circulation going. Doing yoga, tai chi, qigong, or other movement-based practices would be an added bonus!

At the end of the day, the lymphatic system is important and plays a key role in our health. While there is good science to back many of the health claims reviewed here, there are still some areas where more research is needed to clarify the benefits of certain practices. Generally speaking, however, many of the treatments designed to address better lymphatic drainage and flow are consistent with recommendations for optimal health, anyway.

As always, you should still consult your health care practitioner to see what might work best for you, as there are some situations where certain practices may not be ideal or safe for your particular circumstances and health conditions. If you start by eating healthy, avoiding toxins, and moving more, you will be well on your way to keeping the ancient Roman deity Lympha happy!