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by Dr. Thomas K. Lo

The lymph system is a network of lymph vessels, tissues, and organs that carry lymph throughout the body.

Lymph is a colorless, watery fluid that travels through the lymph vessels and carries T and B lymphocytes, which are a type of white blood cell.

A poorly functioning lymphatic system is associated with the development of chronic disease.

Lymphedema occurs when lymph is not able to flow through the body the way that it should. When the lymph system is blocked or damaged, it builds up fluid in the soft body tissues, causing swelling. This can have significant negative effects on the function and quality of life.

Lymphedema usually affects an arm or leg, but it can also affect other parts of the body. It can cause long-term physical, psychological, and social problems for patients. 

Parts of the Lymph System

There are different parts of the lymph system that play a direct part in lymphedema, to include the lymph vessels, which are a network of thin tubes that collect lymph from different parts of the body and return it to the bloodstream. The lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped structures that filter lymph and store white blood cells that help fight infection and disease, they can be found in many places including the neck, underarm,  abdomen, pelvis, and groin.

The spleen, thymus, tonsils, and bone marrow are also part of the lymph system but do not play a direct part in lymphedema.

You can compare the lymphatic system to the drains in your home. When the drains are clogged, water quickly fills the sink basin; the toilet does not flush; and particles such as food, hair, and bacteria become stagnant in the drain. Eventually, when the source of the problem is unclogged, the water and other substances move freely through the pipes again.

   Just like your pipes, the lymphatic system can become congested and lead to adverse health reactions. These can include soreness of the breast, fatigue, eczema and chronic skin problems, cold limbs, bloating, headaches, body rigidity, and weakened immunity.

The following are some detoxification strategies to improve the health of your lymphatic system.

Care for Your Limbs With Lymphedema

Taking preventive steps may keep lymphedema from developing. If lymphedema has developed, these steps may keep it from getting worse.

Keep skin and nails clean to prevent infection. Bacteria can enter the body through a cut, scratch, insect bite, or other skin injuries. Fluid that is trapped in body tissues by lymphedema makes it easy for bacteria to grow and cause infection.

Use cream or lotion to keep the skin moist, and treat small cuts or breaks in the skin with an antibacterial ointment.

Avoid needle sticks of any type into the limb with lymphedema. This includes shots or blood tests. Use a thimble for sewing.

Avoid testing bath or cooking water using the limb with lymphedema. There may be less feeling in the affected arm or leg, and skin might burn in hot water.

Wear gloves when gardening, and wear sunscreen and shoes when outdoors.

Cut toenails straight across. See a podiatrist as needed to prevent ingrown nails and infections.

Avoid blocking the flow of fluids through the body. It is important to keep body fluids moving, especially through an affected limb or in areas where lymphedema may develop. It is a good idea not to cross your legs while sitting and change your sitting position at least every 30 minutes.

Wear only loose jewelry and clothes without tight bands or elastic. Do not carry handbags on the arm with lymphedema. Do not use a blood-pressure cuff on the arm with lymphedema. Do not use elastic bandages or stockings with tight bands. Keep blood from pooling in the affected limb. Keep the limb with lymphedema raised higher than the heart when possible. Do not swing the limb quickly in circles or let the limb hang. This makes blood and fluid collect in the lower part of the arm or leg. Do not apply heat to the limb.

Studies have shown that carefully controlled exercise is safe for patients with lymphedema. Exercise does not increase the chance that lymphedema will develop in patients who are at risk for lymphedema. In the past, patients were advised to avoid exercising the affected limb. Studies have now shown that slow, carefully controlled exercise is safe and may even help keep lymphedema from developing.

Take Care of Your Lymph System

Exercising daily may be one of the easiest and most effective ways to boost the health of your lymphatic system. Whether you are lifting weights at the gym, dancing around your home with your kids, or going for a jog with the dog, you are encouraging the health of your lymphatic system and improving immune function.

Rebounding (a low-impact exercise, which involves jumping on a trampoline) promotes the flow of lymph through the body and can increase the drainage of toxins from organs and muscle tissue.

Stress reduction techniques encourage the flow of lymph through your body. Some of these techniques may involve yoga, pilates, deep-breathing exercises, massage, stretching, and maintaining good posture.

One of the key mechanisms by which our bodies remove toxins is through perspiration. Participating in vigorous activity, including intense exercise, is not the only mechanism by which you can improve lymphatic function. Infrared saunas offer a non-invasive form of light therapy, which heats internal muscles and organs thereby pushing toxins into circulation for their removal from the body. Infrared technology offers amazing benefits for promoting the detoxification of the body.

Some of the best foods to detoxify the lymphatic system are red fruits and vegetables. These include pomegranates, cranberries, beets, cherries, and raspberries. These foods boost lymphatic function and help thin bile, which is a major component to the regulation of the immune response in the gut. Consuming a diet rich in omega-3s is also critical to fighting inflammation and fighting infectious agents from weakening the immune system. Especially as you age, consuming a healthy diet rich in antioxidants and healthy fats is required for moderating immune response. Lymphatic vessels contained in the intestines are easily susceptible to dysfunction because of an unhealthy diet.

One very simple mechanism to avoid the restriction of lymphatic vessels, which may hinder the adequate flow of lymph fluid, is choosing your attire appropriately. Wearing restraining, tight-fitting undergarments, such as wired bras, can cause the inability for fluid to drain from the breast, arms, and chest into surrounding lymph nodes. It is also best not to wear tight-fitting clothes while sleeping.

The proper functioning of the lymphatic system is fundamental for the health of the immune system.

If you are struggling with health issues, call the Advanced Chiropractic & Nutritional Healing Center at 240-651-1650 for a free consultation. Dr. Lo uses Nutritional Response Testing® to analyze the body to determine the underlying causes of ill or non-optimum health. The office is located at 7310 Grove Road #107 in Frederick. Check out the website at www.doctorlo.com.