YOUR SUMP- THE LYMPHATIC SYSTEM
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hydraulics and Herbs
One of my nursing pals once told me
“you’re not a nurse; you’re a frustrated mechanic.”
She was kind of correct- I do love tools, fixing things, and finding
the ‘missing piece’ of anything.
And as a nurse I saw the body as a machine and tried to fix the “squeaky cog.”
One concept that has continued with me today is the play of hydraulics – in our world and in our bodies. Water moves. It changes. It permeates. Water drives the weather; the planet. We visualize water on the map as constant blue oceans and sinuous rivers but we know that those bodies are in constant motion.
What drives that motion?
Hydraulics: the constant need to equalize pressure.
Within and surrounding our bodies, the water/gas exchange keeps us alive. Our lungs and skin interact with the environment to sustain us. Deep within our bodies, the Lymph and Circulatory systems provide give and take of fluid and gas distribution- allowing nutrients and oxygen to provide sustenance while drawing toxins and waste toward the exterior for removal. Mechanically powering these systems is the Heart- the pump. Any mechanic will tell you that when the pump fails; all activity stops.
In this article, we will discuss the anatomy and function of the Lymphatic system, after which we will investigate which herbs are most helpful
to move Lymph and help with this unrecognized body warrior.
Most of us do not realize that we have a Lymph system. What is Lymph anyway?
We don’t often consider lymph – unless, of course, we feel the discomfort of a swollen Lymph node. In fact, the lymph system collects toxins, bacteria, and waste from our cells and transports them via major circulatory vessels.
We don’t really see evidence of the Lymphatic system unless it malfunctions.
If that happens, we may notice that we become “damp” – we collect fluids, become sluggish, and tend to infect or react to outside influence more readily. (bee stings, contact dermatitis, weather changes) Sluggish lymphatic drainage and stagnant tissue is prone to cancer. When lymph is on the move, the blood is fresh and clean; tissues are soft, pliable and healthy.
Our Lymph Collection system is our physical “Sump.” Its low pressure gradient fosters drainage of tissues, circulation, and interstitial fluid that surrounds our cells -what Matthew Woods calls “the great internal ocean.”
“It is a remarkably intelligent system that, in addition to its innate abilities, acquires new knowledge through experience. It learns how to identify, tag, and neutralize or destroy foreign presences. Our combined internal defenses, collectively known as our immune system, know how to tell the difference between self and not self, to know who and what to eat, engulf, and render inert one way or another.” [Robin Rose Bennett GREEN TREASURES]
Our Lymphatic system is paramount in the war against invasion.
Lymph vessels parallel blood vessels and draw from them circulating water, waste, bacteria, and deteriorating blood cells. One of the largest lymph networks surrounds the small intestine- conveying digested food and toxins away; while large numbers of immune cells await incoming contaminants and foreign intruders.
Within these vessels an accumulation of dead white blood cells, foreign tissue cells, impurities, lipids, and water stream toward the body’s interior to an enlarged collection vessel or cistern called the cisterna chylii – named for the mix of whitish fluids or Chyle the vessels contain- on the right side of the spine near the stomach. Here it collects until it is propelled by the diaphragm to the left thoracic duct – the large collection duct- that empties into the left subclavian vein (the right thoracic duct drains the head and neck into the right subclavian vein); then into the chambers of the heart. (It is interesting to note that while the heart stops pumping at death; Lymphatic pressure gradient is so great that the vessels may continue to pull in fluids for over 24 hours post mortem
Hydraulics at work, even then!)
Along the lymph vessel pathways, tiny stations (lymph nodes) are tightly packed with white blood cells (lymphocytes and macrophages) that destroy bacteria. Lymph nodes are “immunity stations”- in that they also contain B and T cells that “codify and recognize foreign bacteria, viruses, fungus, cancer cells and alien genetic material that get into the internal fluids of the body.” [M. Wood]
Our Lymph system has no pulse, and very little innervation. Fluid flow through lymph vessels is slow and passive – not pumped by the heart, but pressured by the movement of the diaphragm during breathing. This is why your lower vessels in your legs tend to be sluggish and congest with fluid when your lymph system is below par.
passive pressure cannot overcome gravity. When this happens, you may notice that your ankles swell during the day- then diminish during the night as you sleep.
Lymph is formed when plasma moves from the blood vessels into the interstitial spaces and is taken up by lymph vessels. Two thirds of our lymph is produced in our liver and intestines. Lymph travels to the bone marrow where it picks up white blood cells and deposits them into the capillary beds. It picks up lipids from the interstitium surrounding the small intestine. There is a constant give and take of fluids crossing the capillary beds and refreshing the tissues.
Lymphoid tissues, such as the tonsils, adenoids, and the lining of the small intestine contain colonies of B cells that set up a protective barrier to screen incoming material and protect the interior of the body.
Two other organs function within the lymph system. The Thymus gland, located in the throat, is quite large in childhood. Consisting of Lymphatic tissue, the Thymus encodes that which is “self” from that which is “not self” so that the immune system will recognize foreign substances, but will not attack itself. After age six, the Thymus gland shrinks. Though it is of negligible size thereafter,
it has left its imprint on the immune system code.
The Spleen is the largest structure in the Lymphatic system. It receives and cleanses both lymph and blood. As blood flows into the Spleen, it slows and removes worn out red blood cells and platelets. This allows freshened blood to flow more freely. Within the Spleen special T and B immune cells and stored antibodies attack foreign materials in the lymph and blood. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Spleen is said to be in charge of “transportation and transformation of food and fluids from the digestive tract to the tissues. Many conditions arise from either “Deficiency” or “Excess” of the Spleen. [Read the book: THE WEB THAT HAS NO WEAVER Understanding Chinese Medicine; T.J. Kaptchuk; p.247]
As we look at the entirety of the Lymphatic system, one fact becomes clear.
In order to feel healthy, the lymph must be freely moving- pulling waste from the tissues, blood, and interstitial fluids. Lymph must remain fluid- responding to the pressure of the diaphragm- as it presses like a bellows to deliver the lymph from the capillary beds, to the lymph vessels, through the lymph nodes, into the Chyle Cystern; on to the thoracic ducts and into the subclavian veins.
Though often unrecognized, the lymph system is the vanguard of our immune system. If lymph stagnates, we discover bumps, lumps, cysts, and tumors. Swollen glands can be exterior (on the neck or under the arms) or on the interior
(within the lung and abdominal cavity) and are a symptom of stagnant lymph.
The following Herbs help move Lymph, clear the channels, nourish the system, stimulate stem cell growth, nourish the blood, or transform stasis. Before using any Herb, you should investigate its potential for your own individual health.
A qualified Herbalist can evaluate you and
make recommendations for your health plan.
Herbs that are helpful to keep the Lymphatic System in good condition:
Astragalus: Rebuilds immunities; Useful during and after chemo.
Burdock root with Echinacea root tincture(s) Helps Lymph move;
clears away bumps and lumps. Nourishes.
Chickweed: Deeply acts on the Lymphatics and immunity. Breaks up congested Lymphatics, abscesses and boils.
“Removes heavy metals from spleen and Lymphatics.” [D. Anderson]
Cleavers: Cleanses waste products from the Lymphatics, Kidneys,
Spleen and Liver. Nutritious. Stimulates Lymph.
Crampbark: Quickens blood; Opens channels.
Dandelion: Nourishes Lymph and Liver.
Marshmallow: Mucilaginous; Breaks up swollen nodules.
Motherwort: Nourishes blood; Calms the spirit.
Mullein: Strengthens Lymphatics; Relieves swelling.
Nettles: Nourishing; Supports Lymph and Liver.
Peach leaf tea: Detoxifier- especially with boils and abscesses.
Pipsissewa: Lymphatic stagnation.
Plantain: Lymphatic Clearing.
Poke root: potent Lymphatic; Pot Herb and spring cleanser; Swollen,
indurated glands; Mastitis.
Red Clover: Improves capillary flow. “Blood purifier.”
Sweet, Cool, Moist- Nutritive tonic.
Red root: Increases Lymphatic and vascular uptake of fluids. Quickens blood. “Transforms stasis; softens hardness; (lymph, cysts)” [M.Moore]
“Decongests cysts. Decongests fluid and blood.” [M. Wood]
Rose: releases Lymphatic Congestion.
Staghorn Sumac: Stimulates Stem Cell production.
Sweetfern: Immune tonic. Nourishes the spleen. Nourishes Marrow.
White Oak: Astringent; Specific for Swollen Lymph Nodes and Varicosities
Yellow Dock leaves: Astringent; Lymph stagnation.
Foods that Nourish Lymphatics:
Green vegetables like Broccoli, Kale, Parsley, Lamb’s Quarters, Sorrel
for adequate chlorophyll and to help purify your blood and lymph:
Mushrooms such as shiitake, maitake, and reishi
boost immunity and nourish bone marrow.
Eat raw, unsalted nuts and seeds to power up your lymph with adequate fatty acids. Choose from walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, macadamias, Brazil nuts, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin and Milk Thistle seeds.
consumed fats first pass through your lymphatic system before moving to your liver. Avoid saturated or Trans fats that can cause inflammation of your lymphatic system and contribute to other serious diseases.
Foods with healthy fatty acids include nuts and seeds, fish and fish oil capsules, tofu, olives, sesame or olive oil and avocados.
Add a few lymph-boosting herbal teas to your day, such as astragalus, echinacea, goldenseal, poke root, or wild indigo root tea.
Foods with high levels of potassium; include apricots, bananas, dried figs, raisins and dates, lima beans, white potatoes, spinach and orange juice.
Natural enzymes present in raw vegetables and fruits help your lymphatic system to flow more easily. Cranberries and freshly squeezed cranberry juice contain flavonoids and acids that may benefit your lymphatic system.
Easily obtain enzymes and other unprocessed nutrients daily
by eating apples and drinking fresh apple juice.
Eat foods that dilate the lymphatic system. Your lymphatic system can become clogged, especially if you eat fatty foods or processed foods that are full of toxins for your body. To dilate the lymphatic system and clean out the clogs,
you need to eat: Whole grains, like oatmeal or cereals that are filled with clog-cleaning fiber; Citrus fruits, like lemons and limes; and Foods rich in bioflavonoids (like green veggies), which speed the healing of damaged lymph vessels.
Yogurt builds intestinal flora
Seaweed adds minerals and salt.
Carrots nourishes Liver; Antioxidant.
Onions add Immune Support.
Garlic is a Lymphatic.
Healthy Habits that augment healthy Lymph Function:
Thumping the Thymus: Stimulates white blood cell production. Aids immunity function. One to three times a day use the side of your fist or the tips of your fingers to lightly “thump” your Thymus gland (located just below the bony notch of your clavicles in the center of your upper chest) for 30 – 45 seconds.
Lymph Brushing: Before showering- Using a natural bristle brush- Brush your dry skin in circular motions upward from the feet to the torso and from the fingers to the chest. You want to work in the same direction as your lymph flows—toward the heart. This moves lymph and prevents stagnancy.
Alternate hot and cold showers: For several minutes; several times. The heat dilates the blood vessels and the cold causes them to contract.
This helps move Lymph through the vessels.
(Avoid this type of therapy if you have a heart or blood pressure condition
or if you are pregnant.)
Get a gentle massage: Gentle massage can push up to 78 percent of stagnant lymph back into circulation. Massage frees trapped toxins. You can also try a lymph drainage massage. It is a special form of massage that specifically targets lymph flow in the body. The optimum word here is “gentle.”
Acupuncture Redistributes energy and promotes healing.
Water: Promotes Lymph flow. Drink half your body weight in ounces/day.
If you weigh 140 pounds; drink 70 ounces / day.
If you are exercising regularly or if the weather is very hot and you are sweating; drink proportionately more water.
Within our “vast internal ocean”
hydraulics works to keep us healthy.