If blood flows through our body as the River of Life (see last three articles), the lymphatic system is definitely the Tree of Life. The trunk of the tree is found in our chest and the main lymphatic vessel is called the thoracic duct. The branches go from there up to our head and arms and the roots of the tree go to our legs and toes. The lymphatic system runs parallel to the blood stream and sandwiched between the two lie the body’s cells.
The lymph plays a vital role in our health by recycling the nutrients from the blood and removing and processing waste. The lymphatic system is often referred to as our second circulatory system. The first circulatory system, the blood stream, carries nutrients and oxygen to our cells. Blood flows from larger vessels into progressively smaller vessels until it reaches the smallest called the capillaries, which are so small that only single red blood cells can pass through one cell at a time. As the blood stream flows along, the nutrients seep through the capillary walls and bathe all the cells in the tissue with nutrients. Then waste products and accumulated toxins are drained into the lymph capillaries.
The lymph capillaries carry the waste, excess fluids, proteins and other materials away from the cells, the capillaries merging into larger and larger lymph vessels, finally flowing into the lymph nodes. These produce lymphocytes and plasma cells which are important parts of the immune system, and also act as miniature purification plants. Once the lymphatic system has purified the material it is recycled back into the blood stream at the base of the neck into the thoracic duct.
The role of the lymphatic system is to re-circulate the proteins, but, unlike in the blood system, there is no pump. The nearest thing to a heart for the lymphatic system is the thoracic duct which moves the lymph by deep breathing and physical movement, and it moves slowly. It is therefore very important that we make sure we keep moving to keep the lymph flowing.
When we twist our ankle or smash our finger, they swell up, because damaged cells produce poison that dilates the capillaries in the blood stream and lets the blood proteins come into the space around the cells faster than the lymphatic system can pull them out. When the proteins are trapped they produce fluid pressure and lack of oxygen, hence inflammation and pain results. The process of healing occurs when the trapped fluid around the cells can be displaced.
A lady in her fifties had a complicated broken ankle. Before the accident her legs swelled up easily, so being immobilized with screws and cast for six weeks did not help the circulation. The leg swelled up, the wound from the operation would not heal, and got infected. When she came to the clinic six months after the fracture the wound was still not healed and her leg was very swollen. The first thing was to get all the toxins out of the leg and some oxygen in by getting the lymphatic system flowing again. She had reflexology, acupuncture, massage, lymphatic drainage and exercises without weight on her foot.
After a week we could see the healing process starting as the tissue got smoother and the fluid started to drain away. This is a proof that you cannot ask tissue to heal in a poisoned environment – fresh oxygen and nutrients are required or the tissue will start to rot.
There are several ways to help the lymphatic flow:
• Deep breathing gets the lymph in the thoracic duct to move
• Physical movement and muscle activity pumps the lymph through the lymphatic vessels, so dance, jump, jog, run, walk up stairs etc.
• Using a trampoline is a very effective way to move the lymph
• Tai Chi, Chi Gong or yoga all make the lymph circulate
• Infrared heat and sauna heats up the tissue and helps to push the blood and the lymph
• Hot and cold baths: the quick temperature changes improve circulation
• Massage and especially lymphatic drainage
• Acupuncture stimulates the life energy ‘Chi’ in the body
• Reflexology improves the kidneys, liver and lymph to cleanse
• Pulsating electromagnetic field therapy pushes the charged proteins in the right direction in the lymphatic system
This article is part of a series and you can read more here
Pernille Knudtzon, MD
Tel: 678 253 510
This post is also available in: Spanish