The Lymphatic System: Your Secret Weapon in Fighting Inflammation
Inflammation. I know, you’ve probably already heard all about it. But today we’re going to put a different spin on it and talk about your lymphatic system. It is a little-acknowledged yet vastly important contributor to your immune system, especially when it comes to mediating inflammatory responses.4, 5, 6 You’ve probably already encountered lymph nodes ─ think of the tender, pea sized lumps right behind your jaw the last time you had a head cold or a sore throat. Even though it’s uncomfortable, it’s a fantastic indicator that your immune system is functioning properly.
The lymphatic system is the body’s other circulatory system. But instead of pumping blood, its functions mostly relate to immune responses and bodily housekeeping. There are lymphatic vessels in almost every tissue of the body (excluding the outer layers of skin, bone marrow, and the central nervous system).4 When there isn’t any inflammatory action to regulate, the lymphatic system collects fluid that has leaked out of the blood stream, called interstitial fluid. A buildup of interstitial fluid causes swelling and depletes tissue functioning.4, 5, 6 The lymphatic system also filters the lymph in the lymph nodes, where any malignant cells or foreign invaders are attacked by white blood cells.2, 4, 6 The lymphatic system additionally works to remove any toxins from the blood and transport the waste to proper disposal sites, like the spleen.4, 5, 6 Lymphatic function is crucial for the body to maintain proper tissue pressure and ensure optimal functioning of all organ structures.
During inflammation, however, the lymphatic system becomes even more critical. Imagine you have that sore throat again, with the tender, swollen lymph nodes right under your ears. Your lymphatic system plays two incredibly important roles: first, it provides a highway for immune cells (like T and B cells), enabling them to get to the site quickly.4, 5, 6 Secondly, it floods the area with fresh fluids and removes waste (like dead cells and extra fluid) that has been generated by the other immune activities. Waste removal is a critical aspect to focus on when it comes to chronic inflammation like arthritis, IBD, or even skin inflammation.4, 5
When there is a long-term inflammatory response occurring, one of the best things to do is support lymphatic functioning. The lymphatic system will be working hard to keep the inflamed site clear of debris, get all of that debris filtered out of the lymph and blood, and keep a stream of new and able immune cells arriving to the site.5 So, what are the most important things you can do to promote optimal functioning of your immune system?
- Stay hydrated!
- The lymphatic system deals with the transportation of fluid. If your body is not properly hydrated, the lymph can become more concentrated and harder for the lymphatic system to process.2 Hydration is key to the optimal functioning of all organ systems!1, 2
- Move your body
- Your lymphatic system does not have a pump of its own. It relies on the constriction of muscles, gravity, movement of internal organs to help pump the fluid.5 Make sure you’re engaging your body in some type of movement every few hours while you’re awake. Even the gentlest of activities can help the flow, including a light massage.
- Eat a nutritious diet
- Foods that are particularly supportive of lymphatic functioning include: legumes (like lentils and black beans), dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, collards), fruits and vegetables (particularly bananas, citrus fruits, kiwi, berries, broccoli, brussel sprouts, and peppers), nuts and seeds (like cashews or chia), and fish (high in healthy omega-3s).1, 3
- Avoid processed foods (like hot dogs or chips) and foods with lots of added sugar (like sugary breakfast cereals or soda).3
- Andrews, C. (2021, March 16). Nutrition for a healthy lymphatic system. Apex Physical Therapy and Wellness. https://apexptwellness.com/nutrition-for-a-healthy-lymphatic-system/
- Cleveland Clinic. (2020, February). Lymphatic system: Parts & common problems. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/21199-lymphatic-system
- Corleone, J. (2021, September 9). The best and worst foods for lymphatic drainage. LIVESTRONG.COM. https://www.livestrong.com/article/518190-what-foods-are-good- for-lymphatic-drainage/
- The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (n.d.). Lymphatic System. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/science/lymphatic-system/Bone-marrow
- Schwager, S., & Detmar, M. (2019, February 26). Inflammation and lymphatic function. PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6399417/
- Unity Point Health. (2019, January 14). The importance of your lymphatic system. Unitypoint.Org. https://www.unitypoint.org/desmoines/article.aspx?id=3c97b5ba-0fe3-4616-aee1-6033a81d1c57