This is ‘Operation Lymphatic System’ month at JFC!
Umm, ok. Why?
One of the things I love most about my AIP Reset program is that it’s an interactive and iterative process. Resetters let me know what they want to focus on in any given month. That means no two AIP Resets are ever the same, and that I’m never exactly sure where they will lead. And, I love that.
In the September AIP Reset, there was a great deal of interest in the lymphatic system. As I dug into the subject, I realised that my lymphatic system hasn’t been receiving the attention I suspect it deserves, so I’m dedicating some time to this over the coming month as a sort of N=1 experiment. I’m calling October my ‘Operation Lymphatic System’ month!
Ahhhh. but what exactly is the lymphatic system?
To answer this question, let’s go first to Sarah Ballantyne, who says the lymphatic system is:
That’s helpful, but perhaps a bit more detail is in order?
The thing about the lymphatic system is that it hasn’t received as much attention as the more well recognised and studied cardiovascular system.
One of two major circulatory systems in the body (the other is the cardiovascular system), the lymphatic system is a network of tissues and organs that help us to rid our body of toxins, waste and other unwanted materials. One of the ways it does this is by moving lymph, a fluid containing infection-fighting white blood cells, through the body. It is also responsible for carrying dead cellular debris through the body to where it can be either removed or reused.
This is important because when your lymphatic system is not functioning at optimal levels, you have increased risk for the development of chronic disease. It is a key part of your immune system, and plays a big role in protecting you from inflammation.
In addition to the lymph vessels and nodes, the lymphatic system includes:
- your tonsils – the glands at the back of your throat responsible for filtering bacteria before digestion takes place
- your adenoids – a gland at the back of your nose that protects the entrance to your digestive system and lungs
- your spleen and your thymus – these are you ‘filtering organs’ responsible for scanning your blood and producing white blood cells)
See why the lymphatic system is important for immune health?
In the AIP community, we spend a lot of time talking about adding nutrient density and making healthy lifestyle choices. The lymphatic system can be likened to a drainage system. A bit like when we have a blocked drain at home which has potentially unpleasant consequences at best; when there is a blockage in your lymphatic system it can lead to serious illness and further chronic disease complications which stem from our weakened immune state.
A blockage in your lymphatic system drain can lead to the accumulation of toxins which the body initially tries to remove. This can manifest in symptoms like stiffness, headaches, bloating, skin concerns, and cold extremities may be the result of a sluggish lymphatic system.
So, when our immune state is already compromised, it stands to reason that we want to do all we can to strengthen our lymphatic system…
These are some of the ways I’m choosing to experiment with during my month of ‘Operation Lymphatic System’, and quite possibly beyond:
1. Exercise (with a particular focus on improving circulation)
Moving your body is arguably one of the most effective and easiest ways for you to improve your lymphatic system function. When we exercise, we increase the supply of oxygen to our tissues and cells. This stimulates our blood circulation. When we don’t regularly move, toxins remain in muscle. (Spoiler alert: We really don’t want these toxins to stagnate in the muscle.)
One of the ways that I’ve been experimenting with moving my body more of late, as a way to increase my incidental movement, is by jumping on a rebounder for a couple of minutes every half-hour. I set an alarm on my phone, and unless I’m on a coaching call, I get up from my desk and bounce for a couple of minutes. It’s surprisingly fun!
The good news for me is that rebounding on a mini trampoline is a low impact form of exercise that has the added benefit of improving your circulation. It’s great for your lymphatic system! As your body moves against gravity, the lymphatic system is stimulated to pull lymph fluid carrying toxins through the vessels and circulate. And, if you are just starting out, your feet don’t even need to leave the mat to do you good.
[If you’re wondering, I use a Needak Soft-Bounce Folding Rebounder (affiliate). I absolutely love my Needak. If you are considering a rebounder, I do recommend that you invest in a quality trampoline – both for the lifecycle of the rebounder and for your safety.]
2. Eat a healing, anti-inflammatory diet
One of the primary reasons for those of us following an AIP template is to heal our gut. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that there are lymphatic vessels around our intestines. These vessels are highly susceptible to destruction from unhealthy diets.
Regardless of whether or not you are following the Autoimmune Protocol, one of the best ways for you to actively protect all those lymphatic vessels and ‘nodes’ that span almost your entire body is to eat a healing diet.
Specifically, aiming for a diet rich in both antioxidants and healthy fats is important to support our lymphatic system, especially as we get older.
Some of the inflammation-fighting foods you should aim to eat are red foods:
- Cranberries, raspberries, and cherries
- Vegetables, especially beets (and if, like me, beets aren’t your favourite – I have a great recipe for beet kvass and roasted beet dip)
3. Legs up the wall
Actively reducing your stress levels is important for a healthy lymphatic system.
If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you’re probably already aware that I’m a great fan of legs up the wall, It’s one of my favourite tools in my health toolbox for quickly activating my parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest).
It’s free, it doesn’t take much time, it’s seriously effective and almost anyone can do it.
This particular yoga pose is also great for the health of your lymphatic system. It promotes blood flow from the lower extremities. Poor circulation often means areas furthest from the heart get very little action in terms of blood flow. Legs up the wall can help.
4. Hydrate yourself
Your lymphatic system is primarily composed of water. To keep it performing as you want it to, staying hydrated is important. Drinking purified water, especially if you add a squeeze or two of lemon or lime is a great way to ensure you are pushing all those pesky toxins from your body.
5. Dry Brushing
Dry brushing has been around in the holistic health community forever. It involves using a coarse, natural brush to gently be moved along your skin in the direction of your heart. This daily practice is said to boost your lymphatic system by stimulating sweat glands, supporting circulation below the skin, and aiding in the removal of toxins.
I’m using the dry-brushing download from Mindy Beck at the Nest Integrative Health Spa to help me find my dry brushing groove.
6. Sweat it out in an infrared sauna
We know that sweating is one of the ways your body eliminates toxins. Infrared saunas can be an especially good alternative to sweating through exercise, especially for those of us within the autoimmune community who can’t easily use vigorous forms of exercise to detoxify.
As the heat from infrared saunas increases your core body temperature, your circulation increases, too. Regular infrared sauna sessions, have been shown to stimulate blood flow, improve muscle recovery, and decrease pain and inflammation.
7. Lymphatic Massage
Looking into Operation Lymphatic System made me realise it’s been an awfully long time since I last had a massage. When was your last massage?
Massage therapy has been shown to improve our immune function and relieve symptoms of fatigue and pain. We know about the importance of touch and how it can improve our health, too.
Receiving a massage of your connective tissue is said to promote the flow and drainage of your lymphatic system. To be honest, I’ve been hard pressed to find actual scientific evidence of the benefits of lymphatic massage. Given the gentle nature of this type of massage, I’m pretty confident it’s not going to hinder my operation lymphatic system strengthening efforts during October. And, I love me a good massage – so, I’m adding this as my final piece of the experiment!