Lymphatic Waste Disposal
There’s no glamour in waste disposal. The lymphatic system is one of those modest workers quietly doing its job in the background. It keeps your body uncluttered by mopping up everything your veins cannot transport. When it works well, you feel and look younger, other systems of your body work better and you’re less likely to get sick. Bruises, burns and scars tend to heal faster.
Lymph is a fluid we all have in our bodies, but generally know little about. It is colourless and has the consistency of honey. It travels alongside a one-way system, from the peripheries of the body to the core. The blood circulation is a closed system to and from our tissues, but can only take back around 90% of the tissue fluids. The more permeable lymphatic system clears up the remainder. Tiny lymph capillaries start in the tissues, to collect and carry water, proteins, fats, cells (broken or malignant) and foreign substances. They join together into larger lymph vessels, which pass through lymph nodes – biological filter stations located all over the body. You might have experienced swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpit or groin, as a sign of your immune system having been activated during an infection. The white blood cells in the lymph nodes help fight infection and disease. Lymph nodes destroy or trap anything harmful and store substances that cannot be eliminated by the body, like coal dust, glass dust or soot. The filtered lymph travels through larger lymph ducts to the neck area and drains into the bloodstream. From here, the remaining waste products are disposed of with other body waste.
The lymphatic system doesn’t have a pump like the blood circulation has the heart, yet most lymph has to move upwards from the peripheries, against gravity. This is why even with a healthy lymphatic system you can end up with swelling (oedema) in your ankles if you’ve been standing for a while. Putting your feet up will reduce the swelling. The pumping action in the complex muscle-and-valve system of lymphatic vessels is also maintained by auxiliary mechanisms, like contracting skeletal muscles, pulsating arteries and the changing pressure in your chest cavity while you breathe. A good reason to be physically active and take some deep breaths.
When the lymphatic system doesn’t work as it should, you can feel tired, sluggish, bloated, and find it difficult to shift lingering infections. Women often suffer with swollen legs in the third trimester of their pregnancy, due to the added pressure on the lymphatic pathways crossing the pelvic area. Physical obstructions can have a considerable impact, so fashion promoting tight-fitting clothes will never be lymph-friendly. When the lymphatic system is seriously affected – due to abnormal functioning or damage – a condition called lymphoedema can occur, generally characterised by excessive swelling. Lyphoedema cannot be cured, but is often managed well when caught in its early stages, with compression therapy and manual lymphatic drainage – a very specific type of gentle massage which increases the speed of the lymphatic flow.
Speeding up lymphatic flow can, besides its detoxification effect, assist other processes, like the healing of fractures, ligaments, sprains, skin conditions and surgery scars. In some European countries, where hospitals may have specialised lymphology departments (unlike in the UK at the moment) manual lymphatic drainage treatment is prescribed to support recovery after surgery.
Dr Emil Vodder, pioneer of lymphology, supported the following theory: if the cell environment and cell activity stagnate, the body gets poisoned by its own waste and cells degenerate, age and die. If the cell environment is constantly renewed, life-sustaining nutrients reach the cells, which in turn divide and life flourishes.
Would you benefit from Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD)? Name a complaint or a condition you may have, think about its characteristics and ask yourself whether it could be helped by increased lymph flow.
Your lymphatic system is a neat and essential purification and drainage system. Alongside aiming to keep its workload down by minimising toxic intake where you can, here are a few ideas for home care:
• Keep active, exercise,
• Put your feet up after a long day,
• Consider wearing compression hosiery if your job involves spending a long time on your feet,
• Wear comfortable, non-constrictive clothing,
• Practise deep breathing,
• Drink plenty of water (yes, drinking water helps reduce water retention!),
• Practise dry skin brushing or simple gentle massage strokes from the peripheries to the core and clockwise on your abdomen.