Someone has to take out the trash. In your body, that job falls to the lymphatic system. This underrated and often forgotten powerhouse is the largest circulatory system in the body. It picks up waste formed from chemicals and toxic ingredients and ushers them out of your body. While the lymphatic system is mostly water, it has no pump to keep it moving.
If you’re not moving your body enough or propelling your lymphatic system on a daily basis, it can cause a toxic backup. If you find yourself feeling sluggish, tired, constantly sick, or prone to headaches – you might need a lymph cleanse.
What exactly is the lymphatic system?
The lymphatic system is a giant drainage and filtration system for the body. Without it, we’d all be at risk of internal drowning in our own waste. In order for your body to function properly, your system needs to stay unclogged and flowing just like the plumbing in your own home. There are seven parts to this system:
- Lymphatic vessels – These vessels are distributed all over the body to gather clear lymphatic fluid and carry cellular waste, dead cells, and toxins to be eliminated through sweat, urine, and through the bowels.
- Lymphocytes – There are two major types of Lymphocytes (cells). T Cells kill invaders while B cells produce antibodies.
- Lymph nodes – The nodes are important filtering stations where T-cells can engulf and destroy bacteria and other toxins in the lymphatic fluid.
- Tonsils, Adenoids, Appendix, and Peyer’s patches – These are often known as “pointless” organs, but the truth is, they are designed to prevent infection in areas where there tends to be a high volume of bacteria in the body.
- Thymus – This tiny gland under your breastbone helps produce white blood cells and is an important part of the system.
- Spleen – Again, a seemingly unimportant organ is connected with the lymph system that produces those powerful T cell and B cell lymphocytes.
- Bone marrow – This is where lymphocytes are born.
If there is a clog or a backup anywhere along the line, the entire system suffers. In the human body, this congestion or obstruction can show up as a myriad of symptoms and a variety of health issues that is often hard to diagnose. This is why a lymph cleanse may be the answer you’re looking for to start feeling better quickly.
How does it get congested?
The lymphatic system is sensitive to your body’s chemistry. During times of stress, biochemical or hormonal changes, inflammation in the body injures your cells. This process creates waste that requires a lymph cleanse. Although the body is naturally designed to cleanse itself of this waste, sometimes an imbalance throws everything off and causes congestion in your system. There are several triggers that can increase congestion including:
- Stress: When you’re under a lot of stress, it changes the chemicals and hormones in your body. Stress chemistry contributes to inflammation, which injures cells and clogs up your system.
- Gut health: The largest section of the lymphatic system surrounds the gastrointestinal tract. This area, known as GALT keeps harmful toxins out of your digestive system. When it becomes inflamed or irritated, it can cause congestion, poor detoxification, and compromised immunity.
- Diet: Chemical additives in food, food allergies, sensitivities, and processed foods all contribute to inflammation and irritation of the intestines, which leads to congestion in the GALT and require a lymph cleanse.
- Lack of exercise: Your lymphatic system relies on oxygen to function and cleanse. Most of us aren’t breathing deeply enough on a regular basis, short breaths day after day cause congestion in the lymphatic system.
- Dehydration: The lymph (also known as interstitial fluid) is actually mostly water (95%). When you become dehydrated, it is easy for the system to get congested and clogged because it can’t circulate as easily.
- Injury/surgery: When you are not as active as usual, due to injury or surgery, this can greatly impact your lymphatic system and cause increased congestion.
- Infection: Because the body is already compromised when fighting off an infection, the system can get overloaded and may not be able to handle the additional workload. In these cases a lymph cleanse can be helpful.
Signs of a congested lymph system
Chances are you may feel tired and/or sore frequently. Maybe you have headaches frequently or dry and itchy skin. These sound like normal day-to-day symptoms, but they could be a sign of something more. The lymph system is the body’s largest circulatory system, which means it affects almost everything else. Many of the signs of a congested system go unnoticed because they are commonplace. Check to see how many of these common warning signs you live with every day:
- Swelling of the fingers
- Soreness or stiffness, particularly in the morning.
- Bloating or weight gain
- Dry and/or itchy skin
- Retaining Water
- Breast tenderness in females, or menstrual pain and soreness
- Brain fog
- Cold extremities (hands and feet)
- Mild headaches
- Low immunity
Because its effects are far-reaching, if there is a physiological problem in the body, the lymph system is often the first check to see what has gone wrong. Therefore, an effective lymph cleanse can be a simple fix to many of your body’s ailments.
How to cleanse the lymphatic system naturally
- Massage: Any type of massage will help reduce swelling, increase tissue regeneration and reduce stress. But a lymphatic massage is specifically designed to focus on congested areas of fluid in the body. You can schedule a lymphatic massage with a professional, or do your own self-massage at home.
Tip: If doing your own massage, remember that is more of a pulling the skin motion versus pushing into the skin. Use citrus scents of essential oils, like orange, grapefruit, and lemon to stimulate lymph glands. Peppermint, ginger, and rosemary are also good options for circulation and will help lymph nodes drain. To use these oils, dilute with a carrier oil and rub on lymph glands under neck and arms. I really like the smell of this Artizen Grapefruit oil found on Amazon.
- Dry brushing: This promotes the drainage of toxic waste. Simply dry brush your skin with an inexpensive natural bristle brush. You don’t have to use a lot of pressure, just start the habit of dry brushing before your shower or bath to refresh the skin and help your lymphatic system drain more easily.
Tip: Try dry brushing your skin for just a few minutes before your shower or bath every day. This brush is a great option to get started. It shouldn’t hurt at all, just a light pressure and consistent practice can make a huge difference. Experts suggest to start at the extremities and always brush towards your heart. You can start with a few minutes and work your way up to longer sessions as your body gets adjusted. But trust me, it can feel good so this will feel like less of a chore than you might be imagining.
- Alternating Hot/Cold showers: This is a simple alternative to expensive hydrotherapy. Simply alternating your shower between hot and cold uses the water temperature and pressure to move stagnant fluid throughout your body. This increases circulation, immunity, and can even boost your metabolism.
Tip: After you have dry brushed your skin, step into a hot shower and let the steam penetrate your skin for about three minutes. Then switch the water to cold for three minutes. Alternate between hot and cold temperatures a few times, ending with a cold shower before stepping out. This is a great tool to use if you need help becoming more of a morning person too!
- Be mindful: Meditation is more than just a buzzword, it can actually make a huge difference in your overall health. The engine of the lymphatic system is your everyday breathing. Taking a few minutes each day for deep belly breathing can make a huge difference in lymphatic efficiency.
Tip: If you are new to mindfulness or meditation, this is a great book for beginners. You can also download multiple meditation apps, I prefer one called “Headspace.” Taking just a few minutes each day will help build the habit and also lower your stress hormones.
- Rebounding or sitting at your desk on an exercise ball: Gently bouncing up and down turbocharges lymph function. You can do this with a small trampoline, or sitting on an exercise ball instead of a desk chair. This is a low impact way to promote movement inside your body within just a few minutes.
Tip: A trampoline is a great way to get the body moving and encourage large muscle activity. This mini trampoline is a great option to keep near your desk and take a break every hour or so for just a few minutes.
If you spend a lot of time at the computer, and you aren’t allowed to look crazy at work jumping around, consider swapping your typical desk chair for a balance ball instead. This can increase circulation throughout the day and encourage gentle exercise.
- Exercise: Any type of exercise will help the lymphatic system from becoming sluggish. Split training, in particular, is very helpful. Instead of focusing on just one muscle group, split your workout up into smaller segments that include both upper body and lower body during the same trip to the gym.
Tip: Incorporate some hand weights and do a workout at home if you are not a gym fan. Focus on high reps with the low weight with one body part and work your way through your body. Also, if you love walking then make sure you are swinging your arms. There are a ton of vessels and lymph nodes at the armpits and thighs that you can stimulate just by walking!
- Yoga: The practice of yoga is a great way to increase circulation. The combination of stretching, yoga poses, and deep belly breathing helps to direct the lymph through the deep channels of your body.
Tip: Go ahead and get that yoga mat and get started! A few of the best yoga poses for lymph health include downward-facing dog, cat and cow, shoulder stand, plow pose, and bridge pose.
- Far Infrared Sauna: Saunas have been used for decades because of their clear health benefits. The infrared waves penetrate deep into the body, activating circulation in just a few short sessions. The heat also helps with deep breathing and increased heart rate, which boosts drainage even more. Alternate between a 15-minute sauna session and a cold shower for optimum results.
Tip: The health benefits of the infrared sauna are remarkable, and you can have one in your own home. No need to head to the gym anymore, enjoy the perfect balance of health benefits and convenience. If you are looking for more info on saunas, check out my latest post on how to use them for detox!
- Inversion Table: Gravity forces lymph fluid to settle in the lower part of the body. An inversion table helps to move fluid throughout the body and towards the upper body to improve circulation and reduce muscle tension. A study published in Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation found that inversion reduced muscle tension which can improve circulation and lymph movement.
Tip: If you’re looking for an at-home option for an inversion table, this one is definitely an option to consider. But don’t fret, if that looks a little scarier than what you would be comfortable doing for the sake of health, you can always use your exercise ball I mentioned. Just sit on the ball and lean back then roll until your head is lower than the rest of your body.
- Essentials Oils for Lymph Cleanse: There are several essential oils that are beneficial to the lymphatic system. Cypress acts to tone the blood and lymphatic vessels, grapefruit speeds up circulation, and fennel aids in digestion and detoxification through the skin, kidneys, and digestive tract.
Tip: Essential oils are not water-soluble, therefore it is necessary to use a carrier oil. Mix cypress oil with a carrier oil of your choice and rub it on the lymph glands. It can also be mixed with other oils, like fennel oil, to create your own unique blend.
- Hydration: Dehydration is perhaps the number one cause of congestion. If you are dehydrated, your lymph becomes thicker, making it harder to circulate adequately. Pure water is the best way to rehydrate the body – a little lemon can help aid the process a bit faster.
Tip: Pure water is the best when you’re really serious about a lymph cleanse. Check out a water purifier. If you are looking for more reasons to invest in a quality water filter then check out my article here. If you live in the US like me you may think we have the purest water, but sadly our water is still not as healthy as we are told. #Protip – Moving over to glass bottle containers versus plastic is also a good move for your overall health.
- Lymph Cleanse Diet: While trying to enhance your lymphatic system, you don’t want to give it extra work to deal with. Stick to anti-inflammatory foods that give your system a break. The best rule of thumb for this is to focus on red and raw foods like leafy greens, healthy fats, wild-caught salmon and other naturally red foods like pomegranate, cherries, cranberries, and beets.
Tip: Inflammatory foods are a huge culprit of gut problems. Do your research to discover and eliminate inflammatory foods as a key to any lymph cleanse. This cookbook is a great starting point for noninflammatory keto meal. Plus you will get that summer body you have been telling yourself about for the last few months. Take that J Lo!
- Enzymes: There are thousands of enzymes in the body that help it function properly. The Proteolytic Enzyme family includes bromelain, papain, and peptidase. These all help the system break down complex fats and proteins in your diet. Using supplements help your body’s ability to do this more easily.
Tip: Using an enzyme supplement helps your body to digest easier. This particular formula from Zenwise supports healthy digestion, immune function, bowel activity, and energy levels.
- Herbs: Some of the best herbs for a lymph cleanse are likely varieties you’ve never heard of. It may be difficult to find Turkey Rhubarb, Manjistha, or Ashwagandha in your grocery store. However, you can likely find Vitamin D and Turmeric, which are also big lymphatic system movers.
Tip: Look for herbal supplements that give you a 2 for 1 type of deal. This one includes Black Pepper and Ashwagandha which work together. Ashwagandha helps with anti-anxiety and anti-stress while black powder helps with absorption.
- Teas: Herbal teas are a safe and effective way to support your lymphatic system on a regular basis. Some of the best teas for a lymph cleanse are red root, cleavers, echinacea, and wild indigo.
Tip: Teas are the most effective the more you drink. To get the most out of your cup of tea, look for multi-ingredient teas that hit all of the herbs in one drink. I like the lemon taste of this one and I even add a tsp of sea salt to help get more electrolytes in my system. Tea + hydration = double whammy.
- Liver Cleanse: Your liver produces most of your lymph fluid, says Barron, and when your liver is congested, your system is also congested. If you’re concerned about this – a liver cleanse might be a good place to start.
Tip: The best way to take care of your diet is with clean eating and a few supplements to get the ball rolling. I have an in-depth article for liver detox information you can find here.
- Clothing choices: Surprisingly, even what you’re wearing right now can be affecting your lymph system. Consider wearing clothing that can facilitate your lymph cleanse. This is usually tight or compression clothing. When the compression clothing squeezes your tissue, it can help to facilitate lymph drainage.
Tip: It’s important to use compression clothing father from the heart and slightly less tight clothing closer to the heart. These compression socks are a good starting point to control discomfort and aid in fluid movement throughout your body. Also, look for bras without underwire, and toss the tight underwear. Trust me you will feel fantastic and free!
- Detox your environment: The environment you live in has a huge impact on your body’s health. Think carefully about the personal care products, food, water, and exposure to chemicals every day. Take measures to control your environment as much as reasonably possible to protect your own health.
Tip: One of the best ways to do this is to learn how to make your own cleaners. Most times a simple concoction of lemon oil or vinegar and water go a long way! Or if you are lazy like me – just buy this soap and dilute with water!
How do I know if my lymph system is detoxing?
The main way you’ll know if your lymph system is detoxing is a reversal of your onset symptoms. The first thing you may notice is a decrease in swelling. If you have lymph congestion, it often presents itself as swelling. You’ll notice this go down significantly, you may notice an increase of energy, an overall feeling of wellness, better skin, and better ability to focus. These are all signals that what you are doing to help your body is working. Because every part of your body is affected by poor lymph drainage, you’ll begin to feel like a whole new person once you’ve successfully detoxed and hit the reset button.
Symptoms of lymph detoxification
As toxins are released from your body, you may experience physical side effects. These are more common with a rigorous cleansing schedule. You may experience nausea, headache, backache, or dizziness. These symptoms are a sign of the toxins being eliminated from your body and should lessen after the first day of the lymph cleanse. If you choose to do a more concentrated lymph cleanse process, try a three-day lymph cleanse to flush out your body’s system and give it a reboot. My personal symptom is acne. Every time I finish having a detox massage, I will usually break out a few days following my appointment. It sucks, but I love knowing that this is my body’s way of getting all of the crap and built-up waste out of my system. You win some, you lose some!
Benefits of a lymph cleanse
Your lymphatic system has several critically essential roles to play in keeping you healthy. Without your lymphatic system, your cardiovascular and immune systems would actually begin to shut down. As the fluid in your system gets too sluggish or full of toxins, your muscles can’t get the blood they need and your organs feel painful and tight, resulting in low energy levels. An active system supports a healthy lifestyle. It helps to reduce toxins in your body, increase circulation, and revitalize your health.
When the trash can of your body is overflowing with toxic waste, it tends to cause problems. The lymphatic system is one of the most underappreciated systems in your body – until it’s not working properly. It’s important to take care of your internal sanitation center and keep the pipes clear so you can keep your body clean. You don’t have to put up with feeling sick or tired anymore, give your body a boost and take out the trash.