The lymphatic system is often forgotten about as people focus more acutely on their digestive system, immune system, and nervous system. But your lymphatic system plays an equally important role in your overall health, particularly in terms of your skin and immune function.
Your lymphatic system is a network of organs, vessels, and special fluids. It’s responsible for removing toxins and other waste products from your organs and tissues, along with fighting pathogens, absorbing fats from the digestive tract, and maintaining the balance of fluid.
These activities are crucial for proper immune function as well as maintaining the health of your skin.
A sluggish lymphatic system can lead to an imbalance of fluid, edema (swelling), and congestion.
Here’s a quick overview of your lymphatic system:
Your lymphatic system is made up of tubular structures called lymph vessels. “Lymph” is a clear liquid that flows through these vessels, carrying proteins, fats, bacteria, excess fluid, and damaged cells around the body.
Role of the lymphatic system
The lymphatic system has three main functions.
Maintaining the balance of fluid in the body
- Your lymphatic system returns around 90 percent of the fluid that leaves your capillaries back to the blood. The remaining 10 percent becomes part of the interstitial fluid that surrounds your tissue cells.
Fluid retention can occur when your capillaries leak fluid, causing it to build up in surrounding tissues. This results in edema (swelling in the tissues). Your lymph capillaries then try to reduce this excess fluid and restore healthy balance. Mild cases of edema can occur when you’ve been sitting down for too long, or when you’re under stress.
Absorption of dietary fats
- The villi in your intestines also contain tiny capillaries. It’s through these capillaries that the lymphatic system absorbs dietary fats and fat-soluble vitamins from food and transports them to your bloodstream.
- As a key player in your immune system, your lymphatic system protects your body from invading microorganisms and diseases. Along with producing and releasing lymphocytes (white blood cells), lymph passes through your lymph nodes, where it is processed and cleaned. Lymphocytes and other immune cells monitor and destroy foreign invaders.
You might notice that the lymph nodes in your neck swell up when you have a cold: a sign that they are working hard. There are around 700 lymph nodes in your body, which shows just how important your lymphatic system is to your overall health.
Unlike the circulatory system, which is pumped by your heart, the lymphatic system has no pump – so it can only move upward and away from gravity. This means it can become congested quite easily.
Like any good transport network, your lymphatic system works best when it’s flowing smoothly. Much of this comes down to a very simple thing: hydration.
Around 96% of your lymph is water. The remaining four percent is made up of proteins, cell debris, toxins, and bacteria that are to be flushed out of the body.
In fact, your whole body is mostly water – around 55-75%. Your brain and heart are 73% water, your lungs are about 83%, and your skin 64% water. Water is constantly being eliminated from your skin throughout the day in the form of sweat, urine, and in your stools. As you’d expect, this water loss needs to be topped up regularly to prevent dehydration.
Even mild dehydration can have a significant effect on how well your lymphatic system works.
Less water in your body means lymph can’t flow as quickly. You might first experience the typical symptoms of dehydration – such as headaches, fatigue, and lightheadedness. But worse damage is occurring beneath your skin: toxins can’t be flushed out at the rate they should be, causing lymph to become congested and stagnant.
Besides dehydration, lymphatic congestion can be caused by overexposure to toxins in food and the environment. Poor sleeping patterns, stress, emotional issues, and low physical activity can also slow down the lymph flow.
A sluggish lymphatic system can lead to problems in all areas of the body. Your body’s main means of fighting and eliminating toxins and waste products will slow down, which means these harmful products stay in your body. This compromises your immune system, potentially leading to edema and inflammation. Your cells won’t be able to do their job properly, increasing your risk of infection and disease.
If untreated, chronic lymphatic congestion can even contribute to autoimmune conditions.
Because your lymphatic system is directly under your skin, this is where signs of congestion will often show up. Dull, dehydrated skin, spots, acne, and skin rashes can all be signs of toxins building up in the blood and tissues. These toxins are released onto your skin through sweat, where they cause irritation.
The increase in local inflammatory mediators and swelling is also thought to be an underlying cause of eczema and psoriasis.
Signs of lymphatic congestion
- Digestive issues: bloating, gas, constipation
- Swollen fingers
- Brain fog
- Sinus infections
- Skin rashes and/or dry, itchy skin
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Chronic fatigue
- Soreness or stiffness upon rising
- Unexplained weight gain
- Cold hands and feet
- Allergies and/or food sensitivities
- Increased bouts of colds and flu
Treating lymphatic congestion
One of the best ways to get your lymphatic system back up and running again is to see a naturopath.
I’m a Toowoomba naturopath and nutritionist who can help you on your personal journey to good health. When it comes to lymphatic congestion, I can design a holistic treatment programme to get your lymphatic system flowing again and your body eliminating toxins as it should. Depending on your personal needs, your programme may include exercise routines, herbal tonics, and dietary advice. I can also prescribe specific products that help to relieve skin inflammation while supporting normal detoxification. If you are not quite ready for an appointment, try my Wellbeing Blend herbal tea, designed to gently detoxify the lymph and skin.
If you’ve been suffering the effects of a sluggish lymphatic system, don’t wait for it to get worse! Call me or drop me a message, and I’ll be in touch.