March/April 2007

Give your lymphatic system a boost!
Having a healthy lymphatic system really is key to looking and feeling great. But most of us probably don’t give much thought to our lymphatic system, unless of course it involves a lymphatic drainage massage, which feels fantastic! Yet our lymphatic system—sometimes called our lymph system or just lymph—is one of our most underappreciated systems in our body. It works away tirelessly behind the scenes to clean up the mess made by virtually all the other systems of the body.

Your lymphatic system transports and disposes of waste and all sorts of debris and junk, including dead cells, toxins, bacteria, hormones, viruses, excess protein and excess fluid. So you can think of it as almost like a garbage disposal system! Plus it supports every other system in the body, including your immune, digestive, detoxification, and nervous systems.

Lack of exercise, a bad diet, toxins, stress and disease all create a heavy workload for your lymph system. And it’s believed that poor lymph health underlies a host of conditions. Here are some key signs that your lymph system may not be functioning at its best:

• Are you under chronic stress or constantly tired?

• Is your body uncharacteristically soft and pudgy?

• Do you have newly noticeable cellulite?

• Do you have swelling or fluid retention especially in your lower limbs?

• Do you suffer from chronic colds, flus, sinus infections or swollen glands?

You can think of your lymphatic system as a freeway. When it’s congested, nothing moves! The same thing can happen in your body. When the lymph system is blocked or clogged, it creates a condition of stagnation, and you can’t eliminate toxic material. A sluggish and overloaded lymphatic system can also lead to a poor immune response, allergies, low energy, headaches, digestive problems, skin conditions, chronic sinus conditions, and inflammation.

So what exactly is your lymphatic system?
It’s a network of organs, lymph nodes, lymph ducts, and lymph vessels and a fluid called ‘lymph.’ Some of the organs that are part of the lymphatic system include the tonsils, adenoids, appendix, and the spleen. The lymph system is also a major component of your body's immune system. It is a protector and a defense mechanism against infection, viruses, bacteria, fungi, and disease. The lymphatic system is also connected to every organ in the body.

Along the lymphatic pathways are collections of lymph nodes (about 400 to 700 in total), and these lymph nodes act as filters. Their job is to filter out and trap bacteria, viruses, cancer cells, and other unwanted substances, and to make sure they are safely eliminated from the body. There is 3 to 5 times more lymph fluid than blood in the body.

The lymph vessels run alongside the blood vessel system. But the lymphatic system, unlike the circulatory system, has no pump to move lymph fluid. It is propelled by three means: the movement of muscles, the nerves, which create subtle pulsations, and the fluid pressure within the system. So movement and exercise are an essential part of moving lymph. In fact, any form of exercise that uses all your major muscle groups will encourage lymph flow. Deep breathing also stimulates lymph flow, ditto for yoga and Qi Gong.

Here are some other great ways to get your lymph going:

Bouncing up and down on a mini-trampoline called a rebounder (or sometimes a lymphasizer) is a great way to fire up your lymphatic system and to promote lymphatic drainage. The up-and-down rhythmic bouncing causes the one-way valves in your lymph system to open and close simultaneously increasing lymph flow many times over. The rhythmic bouncing of rebounding up and down causes all of the one-way valves to open and close simultaneously, increasing lymph flow.

The lymph fluid moves through channels called "vessels" that are filled with one-way valves, so it always moves in the same direction. The main lymph vessels run up the legs, up the arms and up the torso. This is why the vertical up and down movement of rebounding is so effective to pump the lymph.

Yoga and Qi Gong
The postures and movements of both yoga and Qi Gong encourage lymph movement through the vessels. Deep breathing also promotes increased lymph flow.

Remember your lymph system is almost totally dependent on physical exercise to move. Even fast walking swinging your arms increases lymph flow.

And for those who find the thought of yoga, rebounding, or Qi Gong a little too energetic, there’s always lymphatic drainage massage. Manual lymphatic drainage massage involves gentle, rhythmic massage following the direction of lymph flow. Mild stretching movements are used on the walls of the lymph collectors to redirect the flow away from the blocked areas into other vessels that drain the veins. Even regular massage has been shown in numerous studies to improve circulation and lymph flow, as well as to relieve stress, enhance immune function, and to relieve muscle and joint pain.

Chronic dehydration can slow and stagnate the flow of lymph. So make sure you’re drinking about 8 glasses of water each day. If you find water by itself boring, add a splash of apple or unsweetened cranberry juice, or a squeeze of lemon or lime, or even some mint.

Inner cleanse
What you put in your mouth is also vitally important. Give white foods a miss; white sugar, white flour, white rice, refined table salt, along with processed meats, greasy and fatty foods, too much alcohol apart from the occasional glass of red wine, dairy products, artificial additives, preservatives, colourings and flavourings. They can all contribute to lymphatic stagnation.

Include plenty of essential fats (EFAs) from salmon and fresh tuna, sardines, mackerel, sea vegetables, green superfoods like spirulina and barley grass and sprouts, all leafy greens, artichokes, and potassium rich foods found in greens, spinach, peas, tomatoes, mushrooms, broccoli, figs, paw paw, and bananas.

Start your day with this spicy concoction to get your lymphatic system going:

- 1 glass natural mineral or filtered water (warm or room temperature)
- ½ lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup with a dash cayenne pepper

Mix the ingredients together, and drink immediately.

Spicy foods like freshly made salsas, cayenne pepper, horseradish and ginger can help to boost a sluggish lymph system and cut mucous congestion.

Dry skin brush to get glowing
Dry skin brushing with a natural bristle skin brush in the direction of lymph flow is also great for getting your lymph moving. It’s also a great way stimulate all your organs involved in detoxifying as it provides a gentle internal massage. Dry skin brushing helps shed dead skin cells too, which can help improve skin texture and cell renewal. Plus it increases circulation to your skin, encouraging your body’s discharge of metabolic wastes.

Directions for dry skin brushing
• Use a natural bristle brush and make sure it has a long handle, so that you're able to get to the areas of your body, that aren’t that easy to reach.

• Skin brush before jumping into a shower or a bath every day.

• Always skin brush towards the heart. Long sweeping strokes starting from the bottom of your feet upwards, and from the hands towards the shoulders, and on your torso in an upward direction help drain the lymph back to your heart.

• Use light pressure in areas where the skin is thin and harder pressure on places like the soles of your feet.

• Don’t brush wet skin, or use the brush wet, as you won’t be getting the full benefits.

• Wash your brush every few weeks in water and let it dry.

• To really rev up your circulation, finish up with your regular shower with three hot and cold cycles. That means turning on the water as hot as you can take it for several seconds, then as cold as you can handle it, then hot, then cold for three cycles. End with either hot or cold. This will invigorate your skin even more and stimulate blood circulation, bringing more blood to the outer layers of your skin.

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Relaxing red
Along with all those fantastic polyphenols and flavonoids, there are some other great benefits of red wine that you may not be aware of; a glass of red wine may be the perfect way to ensure a good night’s sleep. Research conducted by scientists in Milan, Italy has uncovered another beneficial compound in grapes: the hormone melatonin. Melatonin not only regulates our body’s 24-hour sleep-wake cycle and assists in sleeping, but it also acts as a powerful antioxidant.

The researchers tested eight grape varieties and found the highest levels of melatonin in the skin of Nebbiolo, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovesse and Croatina grapes, which are used to make some of the most popular red wines. The discovery could explain why some people find that a glass or two of wine in the evening helps them unwind, and sleep well, although drinking large quantities of any form of alcohol, red wine included, has been associated with poor sleep quality.

Journal of the Science of Food & Agriculture, June 2006

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