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Volume 15 Issue 6
March/April 2010

Know and Love Your Lymphatics!

The Great Milk Debate

Nia, The Joy of Movement

Sask Walk for Health 2010

Reclaiming My Joie de Vivre

Angels in Action: Only Kindness Matters

Tao of Female Sexual Energy


Know and Love Your Lymphatics!
by Dr. Jacqui Fleury ND
Jacqui Fleury

Did you know that you have twice as much lymph fluid in your body as blood? Were you aware that you could only live a few hours if the flow of your lymph completely stopped?

Not only are few of us aware of these facts, but few of us really know and understand the chief importance of our lymphatic system. Lymphatic function supports every other system in the body, including digestive, immune, detoxification, cardiovascular and nervous systems.

The lymphatic system is its own circulatory system, similar to the system that supplies blood to all our tissues. Fluid from the tissues eventually moves into the space between the tissues, then into the lymphatic channels. At this point it is called lymph (lympha = clear water). Lymphatic vessels are found in spaces between cells, and are similar to veins, except they have thinner walls and more valves. The smaller lymphatic capillaries are unique in that they permit fluid to flow into them, but not out. In addition to vessels, the lymphatic system also consists of lymphatic nodules which are found in the mucous membranes of the digestive, respiratory, urinary, and reproductive tracts, as well as lymph nodes which are located along the length of lymphatic vessels. The main lymphatic organs are the bone marrow, thymus gland, and spleen, where white blood cells are produced and stored, ready to fight infection.

The lymphatic system has three main functions: 1. Draining tissue spaces of excess fluid; 2. Transporting dietary fats and fat-soluble vitamins from the digestive tract to the blood; and 3. Fighting infection and protecting against foreign invasion. Immature white blood cells (lymphocytes) mature in the bone marrow and thymus gland and are sent off to work in the lymph nodes and lymph tissue. Lymph nodes act as filters for foreign substances in the lymph. These “offenders” are trapped and destroyed within the nodes. The white blood cells also “hop” into the lymph as it flows through the nodes and circulate to other parts of the body. Like small streams feeding into a slow moving river, the lymph system transports lymph fluid through ever-widening vessels as it moves through 500 filtration and collection points - your lymph nodes. Swelling in certain nodes usually indicates an infection in the part of the body drained by those nodes - this is a good sign that your lymph system is doing its job! If lymph fluid is blocked in one lymph node it will usually take a detour, but when blockage is severe it can cause the lymph fluid to back up and create swelling in the surrounding tissue, called lymphedema.

The largest concentration of lymph tissue in the body surrounds the intestines and is called GALT (Gut-Associated Lymphatic Tissue). Since the digestive tract is a main path of entry for offensive substances (bacteria, allergens, heavy metals, molds, fungi, chemicals, trans fats), many lines of defense permeate the gut. Digestive enzymes, acids, and intestinal flora manage to take care of many of the pathogens that come into our systems, and what is left is handled by the GALT. The GALT decides which pathogens deserve an allergic/immune response. The healthier your GALT, the less sensitive you are to food-borne bacteria and chemicals. Constipation, diarrhea, and other GI issues compromise the lymphatic system’s ability to do its job. If you have food sensitivies, Candida or parasites, or are under a lot of stress, the flow of lymph decreases, resulting in digestive symptoms such as nausea, gas, bloating, heartburn, loss of appetite, and far reaching systemic issues such as frequent colds and flu, joint pain, headaches or migraines, menstrual cramps, breast tenderness, sinusitis, muscle cramps, fluid retention, fatigue, mental fogginess, mood swings, depression, eczema, acne, and cellulite. Whew, who knew that a healthy lymphatic system was so important?! This is also the reason Naturopathic Doctors focus so intensively on digestive health, since healthy digestion is crucial to a healthy immune system!

Another important quality of the lymphatic system is that it doesn’t have its own pump. It is completely dependant on muscle contraction and manual manipulation to move fluid. Deep breathing will also enhance the movement of lymph through the body. Muscle contractions and deep breathing compress lymphatic vessels and force lymph upwards towards larger veins in the upper chest area.

Loving those lymphatics…

Now that you know how important your lymphatic system is to overall health, knowing how to take care of it is the next step.

Again comparing your lymphatic system to a river, when it flows freely it is clear and clean. A sluggish river becomes thick with silt, depositing sludge and pollution along the way, eventually becoming breeding ground for bacteria and disease. The same is true for the lymph system.

Anyone wanting to maintain a healthy immune system will benefit from rejuvenating their lymphatic systems with the following ideas:

  • Drink plenty of filtered water—at least half your body weight in ounces, to keep things flowing! My rule of thumb—never leave home without a water bottle.
  • Eat well. Minimize or avoid white foods, instead eating whole, mostly gluten-free grains. Choose from the plethora of green vegetables available to us (remember—there’s more out there than peas and carrots, and by the way, corn isn’t a vegetable!) and eat two fruits per day. Wild fish and organic, local sources of meat can provide healthy sources of protein. Choosing whole foods puts less strain on the lymphatic system.
  • Practice deep breathing. Doing deep belly breathing in and out through the nose will work out your diaphragm. Your belly should rise and fall as you breathe (watch a baby breathe to remember how we used to breathe before life got stressful!) Yoga is a great way to strengthen a consistent breathing practice.
  • Move your body daily. Walk, stretch, do yoga, Pilates, jump on a rebounder for five minutes, anything to work your muscles and get your circulation moving. Move in the way you love, but just remember to make moving something you commit to daily.
  • Sweat! Or for you women, glisten! Your skin is your largest organ of elimination, so a weekly sauna can help detoxify the body and support the lymphatic system. Avoid antiperspirants and choose natural deodorants instead. Turn the air conditioner off in the summer (your car can be your sauna!)
  • Avoid restrictive clothing. Bra underwire or tight fitting bras, jeans and skirts can impede lymph flow. Wear your bra less than 12 hours a day, and avoid sleeping in your bra. If clothes are leaving imprints on your skin, they are probably impeding lymph flow.
  • Do regular lymphatic and nutritional cleanses. Nutritional cleanses are effective at supporting liver, kidney, and bowel function, since congestion in these areas is like forgetting to take out the garbage for a few weeks. Toxins spill over into the lymphatic system. Cleansing the lymphatic system can involve manual lymph drainage from a certified massage therapist, as well as using the principles of electrolipolysis in the CORE Elite Wellness Program.
  • Honour your emotional needs. Your lymph system can become clogged when you are feeling stuck and unable to express yourself. Consider finding an emotional coach to discuss areas that feel stagnant or blocked in your life.

Caring for your lymphatic system involves a comprehensive approach to looking at total physical and emotional health. Take the time to get to know and love your lymph system, and be ready to experience a life transforming change in your health.

For an individualized approach to addressing your lymphatic health, consider seeking the advice of your Naturopathic Doctor, holistic nutritionist or certified massage therapist.

Resources: Tortora and Grabowski, Principles of Anatomy and Physiology, 7th ed.; Pick, Marcelle, The Lymph System and Your Health. Online article.

When she isn’t learning and loving with her cherished family, Dr. Jacqui Fleury ND is a board-certified Naturopathic Doctor, certified Health Care Practitioner with First Line Therapy™ and certified yoga instructor who has maintained a private practice for the last 12 years. Dr.Fleury is passionate about helping her patients reach their wellness potential by offering individualized health and detoxification programs addressing hormonal health, immune health, optimal body composition, and fat loss. Working in collaboration with Wendy Lucyshyn, Registered Holistic Nutritionist, certified Lifestyle Educator, and certified yoga instructor, she offers First Line Therapy™ and Core Elite Wellness Programs. She has recently welcomed Dr. Amy Hiebert ND to her practice and is pleased to offer new patients the opportunity to transform their health.


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