The lymphatic system consists of a network of vessels running through the body in close proximity to the blood vessels of the circulatory system.
What is Lymphatic Fluid?
Each cell is surrounded by fluid known as tissue fluid where it picks up nutrients, oxygen and releases cellular wastes and fluid. The excess fluid and wastes are drawn into the lymphatic vessels and is called lymphatic fluid or lymph.
The lymphatic system transports lymphatic fluid around the body to specialised lymphatic tissue called lymph nodes which filter cellular wastes and harmful micro-organisms. The cleansed lymphatic fluid eventually joins at the right lymphatic duct and thoracic duct. These ducts then drain the lymphatic fluid back into the left and right lymphatic ducts which connect back into the circulatory system. In this way, lymphatic fluid drains back into the circulatory system.
In the circulatory system, the heart pumps blood around the body in a network of blood vessels. The lymphatic system does not have the heart to pump lymphatic fluid through its network of lymph vessels. Instead it relies on the contraction of surrounding muscle tissue to squeeze and pump lymphatic fluid around the body.
Congestion in the Lymphatic System
An imbalanced diet, dehydration and periods of inactivity due to ill health or lack of exercise all cause a slowing of the movement of lymphatic fluid making it more likely to congest. The lymphatic system is therefore a significant area which can quickly become overloaded when there are large levels of wastes and toxins within the body.
High levels of toxicity cause the lymphatic fluid to become thick, sticky and containing high levels of mucous, poisons and waste materials. This in turn prevents the normal movement of lymphatic fluid.
The lymph nodes filter these wastes and kill harmful bacteria, viruses etc. However, when these tissues become overwhelmed they swell and can become inflamed and sore. If the body has enough energy, it can raise body temperature and create a fever which helps to improve the movement of lymphatic fluid as the heat helps to liquefy the thickened lymph. The higher body temperature also improves the immune functions of the lymphatic system. In situations like chronic fatigue and ME, there usually is not enough energy for the body to raise temperature so support wil be required to help clear congestion within the lymphatic system.
Supporting the Lymphatic System
Naturopathic techniques to help movement within the lymphatic system and prevent stagnation include: dry skin brushing, lymphatic massage, hot and cold showers, hot and cold baths and castor oil packing. These techniques primarily promote movement by thinning down lymphatic fluid and/or manually moving it through the lymphatic vessels.