By Mariah and Rustina, Contributing Writers
You may have noticed people are talking about the lymphatic system a lot lately! There is a reason for that – it is really, REALLY important. There is so much that this huge waste remover, nutrient transporter, and immune system superhero does for us!
After dealing with an illness or suffering from a toxin overload, your lymphatic system can become “clogged up.” You might notice aching joints, tenderness behind your neck, heated pain in your lower back, a tugging fullness in your chest above your heart, or little swollen bumps on your armpits.
That is your lymphatic system asking you to help it out!
What is the Lymphatic System, and how does it work?
We have all heard about how our bodies are mostly water. All that fluid is getting pushed around through tissues into the lymphatic vessels, and it isn’t just fluid in there! In the lymph, our body is transporting hormones, fat, fat-soluble vitamins, and our big immune system fighters patrolling for invaders. Virus cells and toxins are also floating around in the lymph. These things come from all around the inside of our body (dragged out of the tissues) and outside of our body (absorbed through the skin).
It moves fluid differently than the blood’s circulatory system. It does not have a pump like blood has the heart. Movement is the key to lymphatic flow, especially from the centrally located diaphragm. This keeps the fluid going like it should. Deep breaths through the nasal passages are great for keeping fluid moving.
Here is an excellent video explaining the lymphatic system in a little more detail and how it is involved in many processes if you are interested.
The biggest roles of the Lymphatic System:
- Maintaining fluid levels
- A detoxing pathway for toxins and cellular waste
- Immune system staging and fighting area
- Absorbing digestive fat
You can read more about its role in detox and the immune system in The Immunity Tool Guide.
What happens when it doesn’t work the way it should?
Our lymphatic system is amazing – when it is working smoothly. Unfortunately, many things that can cause it to slow down are getting more common in today’s world. There are more pollutants around causing sludge to hold up our lymphatic fluid. More surgeries occurring has led to scar tissue building up blocking the common pathways (cesareans, joint replacement, and others). Many people also live a more sedentary lifestyle.
Making sure it runs smoothly and efficiently helps our body fight off viruses and reduces other issues like swelling and inflammation. It is also especially important while detoxing or healing the gut.
Chronic diseases can develop because of long-term stagnant lymphatic fluid, called lymphedema. It is when the lymphatic system is overloaded and blocked with fluid causing swelling and changes to the skin or tissues. If the issues persist long enough, cancer or sepsis can occur.
Here is a list of symptoms of lymphatic system congestion:(1)
- Swollen lymph nodes, arms, legs, genitals, face, neck, chest wall, and oral cavity
- Muscle soreness and pain
- Nerve pain
- Restricted range of motion in the joints
- Skin discoloration
- Heaviness of the limbs
- Difficult to fit into your size of clothes (calves or thighs much larger on one side, etc.)
Natural Remedies to help the lymphatic system flow better
As mentioned above, movement is fundamental for a healthy lymphatic flow. The movement does not need to be strenuous at all. Gentle exercises and a gentle touch during massage are all that is needed.
1.Breathing deeply through the nasal passages. This really gets the diaphragm moving. Try lightly brushing or this DIY: Lymphatic massage
2. Physical activity
- Rebounding with an exercise ball or a small trampoline
- Using a vibration plate
- Sex (responsible and consensual, of course)
These herbs can be used in teas (both to drink or bathe in), tinctures, capsules, infused oils, or just adding them to foods you make.
- Ginger Root was chosen because of its anti-inflammatory properties, soothes pain, and discomfort. It also boosts the circulatory system and the digestive process – two things closely related to lymph health. (2) It can protect your gut health and fortify your gastrointestinal system. (3)
- Ginger has a sweeter taste and is great in any form.
- Burdock Root has anti-inflammatory properties, soothes arthritis and other inflammatory caused irritation, and is a powerful antioxidant. (4)
- Burdock has a bitter taste so is best in tincture, infused oils, or capsules.
- Here is an excerpt from the link below describing burdock and the lymphatic system:
“I like to have people imagine a wood stove that hasn’t been cleaned well; ash is inhibiting the efficient combustion of wood in the stove itself and the chimney is slowly accumulating a suffocating and flammable glaze of creosote. One can imagine that, as such a state manifests, a person would suffer from an increasingly diminished sense of well being – nothing that they could put their finger on, or that could be diagnosed and treated by their family doctor, but that nonetheless prevents them from feeling truly healthy and vibrant.
In 19th Century American herbalism, such a state might have been referred to as “bad blood”. Burdock addresses this type of condition by decongesting the liver, which results in an improvement in the metabolism (especially of fats and oils), stimulating lymphatic functioning, which brings nourishment to and cleanses cells of metabolic byproducts, and by stimulating the excretion of urine through the kidneys, which aids in the elimination of the wastes stirred up by its other actions.
Additionally, I believe that alternative herbs such as burdock help to “coordinate” the metabolism so that all the organs and their related secretions are working “in sync”. The result is a generalized improvement in the body’s metabolic functions, which in turn increases the efficiency by which nutrients are absorbed and energy is utilized. This increased efficiency allows us to more fully experience the vibrancy of well being.” Jim Mcdonald of Herbcraft
- Yarrow has anti-inflammatory properties as well and promotes a healthy functioning gut which helps everything else move smoother. Yarrow has been known as the “master of the blood,” and our lymph is what feeds our blood. It helps with blood stagnation and toxicity.(5)
- Yarrow has a mostly sweet taste with a touch of bitter aftertaste so it works well in all forms, but some prefer it best in tincture, infused oils, or capsules.
- Calendula has many benefits, chief among them here being its use for swollen lymph nodes, for cleansing body tissues, anti-inflammatory purposes, and anti-bacterial properties.(6)
- Calendula has a nice taste and works well in any form. With its pain relief properties, tea baths can be very helpful.
- Cleavers is a lymphatic stimulator, targeting the lymphatic system to help to flush away clogged fluid, and stimulate drainage.(7)
- Cleavers have a fresh taste a lot like cucumbers and do well in any form.
- Castor Oil is known to help detoxify the area it is applied to as well as stimulate fluid movement (and solid movement ).
- Castor oil is best applied to skin such as using a Castor Oil Pack (Castor oil applied to skin or cloth with a heat source such as a flax heating pad on top). It can be taken orally, but it does have a very strong laxative effect.
- Cinnamon is a natural anti-inflammatory as well as blood pressure regulator.(8)
- Cinnamon is a wonderful spice that goes well in any form of delivery. It is best to use Ceylon cinnamon for supplement as too much cassia cinnamon is hard on the organs.
Recommended Prepared Natural Remedies:
These herbs are also the inspiration for 2 Earthley products that Kate developed: Lymphatic Cream and Anti-Inflammatory.
Lymphatic Cream is made with herb-infused apricot oil and castor oil blended with kokum butter. The infused herbs are yarrow, cleavers, burdock root, and ginger root. It is used by applying a bit of cream to achy areas, especially near lymph node areas (around the neck, armpits, knees, back, abdomen, etc). It is very easy to use and safe for ages 6 months and up!
Anti-Inflammatory is a glycerin extract of cinnamon, ginger, orange peel, motherwort, and echinacea. The last three herbs may not be as common for helping the lymphatic system, but they do support many of the key roles of the lymphatic system.
- Orange Peel along with having anti-inflammation properties, a potent antioxidant, and rich source of Vitamin C to help the immune system.(9)
- Motherwort helps modulate inflammation and can help in pain relief.(10)
- Echinacea helps with pain relief, while also boosting the immune system.(11)
Have you been giving your lymphatic system attention lately? Any signs of congestion?