The lymphatic system – important for our immune defense and detox processes

The lymphatic system or the “lymph”, as it is commonly called, has probably come across the term at some point. At best, this was the case in one of my face training sessions when we tried to use the workings of this circulatory organ for our own purposes. However, there are also many women who, when visiting a doctor due to physical complaints, are forced to deal with the function of the lymphatic system. Reason enough to find out more about this “lymph” and take a look at how it is structured, what tasks it performs in our body and why it plays a greater role in the health of women than in men.

What is the lymphatic system?

The lymphatic system is part of the immune system of all vertebrates and humans and together with the bloodstream to which it is connected, it forms the circulatory system.

The tasks of the lymphatic system

  1. Immune defense : Lymph nodes and lymphatic organs such as the spleen and tonsils are involved in the production and storage of immune cells that protect the body from infection and disease by detecting and combating threats and regulating the strength of the immune response.
  1. Fluid balancing : Lymph helps transport excess fluid from tissues back into the bloodstream to prevent swelling and edema.
  1. Fat transport : The lymphatic system plays a role in transporting fats and fat-soluble vitamins from the digestive system into the bloodstream.
  1. Detoxification : It collects and removes waste products, toxins, and cellular debris from body tissues and then transports them through the bloodstream for excretion.

Structure and functioning of the lymphatic system

The main components of the lymphatic system are lymph vessels, lymph nodes and lymph organs, which together transport lymph fluid throughout the body.

Lymphatic fluid is created when fluid leaks from permeable blood vessels into the surrounding tissue. It consists mainly of water, but also contains proteins, salts, glucose, fats and other metabolic breakdown products. It also contains white blood cells, especially lymphocytes. In the small intestine it absorbs fats, which are transported via the lymphatic vessels into the blood and later to various organs and tissues, where they are used to generate energy or are stored.

The lymphatic vessels are a network of tubular structures distributed throughout the body. It begins with the small lymphatic capillaries, which, due to their thin-walled permeability, can absorb fluids, proteins and cells from the surrounding tissue. These capillaries unite to form lymph collectors, which use a thin layer of muscle and valves to prevent the lymphatic fluid from flowing back. They enable the flow towards the lymph nodes ultimately through the lymphatic trunks and ducts to the veins of the blood circulation.

Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped structures distributed along lymphatic vessels and concentrated in clusters in regions such as the neck, armpit, groin, and popliteal fossa. They filter lymphatic fluid, remove pathogens and waste products, and play an important role in the immune response by activating white blood cells (lymphocytes) and participating in the production of immune cells.

Depending on the function in the development and activation of immune cells, one speaks of primary (bone marrow, thymus) and secondary lymphoid organs (spleen, tonsils, Peyer's patches). The functions of the lymphatic organs are primarily to support the immune system by enabling the production, maturation and activation of immune cells, filtering and removing pathogens, and cooperating in the immune response.

This is how you can support your lymphatic system

To promote lymphatic system function, it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, a balanced diet, adequate hydration, and stress management techniques.

Regular physical activity promotes lymphatic circulation because muscle movements help push lymph fluid through the lymphatic vessels. The lymph flow can be increased sixfold. Lack of exercise, on the other hand, can lead to reduced lymph circulation and limited lymph function. It should also be noted that clothing that is too tight (socks) can hinder the flow of lymph fluid.

A balanced diet rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants supports a healthy lymphatic system. Unhealthy eating habits can affect lymph function. Adequate hydration is crucial for the proper functioning of the lymphatic system. Dehydration can impede lymphatic circulation.

Chronic stress can weaken the immune system and impair lymph function. Relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga or breathing exercises can help reduce stress and support the lymphatic system.

Excess weight can put pressure on the lymphatic vessels and impair lymphatic circulation, which can lead to reduced lymphatic function. Another reason for regular exercise and a balanced diet.

Consequences of a disturbed function

When the lymphatic system doesn't function properly, it can lead to the following health problems:

Lymphedema can occur, which means that lymph fluid accumulates in the tissues and leads to swelling, discomfort and sometimes pain. Infections can increase because pathogens collect in the lymph nodes. The immune response can be reduced or autoimmune diseases can develop. In some cases, cancers called lymphomas can also develop in the lymphatic system.

Poor lymph function can lead to a buildup of toxins in the body, which can promote inflammation and weight gain and lead to obesity. There are also studies that indicate that a disrupted lymphatic system can result in chronic fatigue and pain.

The lymphatic system and health in women

Why the lymphatic system plays a more important role in women's health actually comes down to one reason:
It's because of the hormones.

Women are more susceptible to lymphedema because estrogen affects connective tissue, making it softer and more stretchy. This means that more water can be stored and edema occurs more quickly, especially in the legs and in the subcutaneous fatty tissue. However, the strength of connective tissue also depends on age and genetic factors.

In addition to the higher estrogen levels before and during menstruation, which influence the regulation of fluids in the body, water retention is also promoted by the low progesterone levels, which often occur in connection with premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Hormonal contraceptives also contain estrogen and can cause edema in some women.

During pregnancy, not only does the increased hormone level affect the water balance, the pressure from the uterus on the veins of the legs also increases the backlog of blood and fluids. And during menopause, hormonal changes occur that disrupt the balance of estrogen and progesterone and can result in water retention.

If you suffer from edema, lymphatic drainage or compression therapy may be able to improve the function of your lymphatic system and help alleviate your health problems. Be sure to consult a doctor about this.

The lymphatic system in Ayurveda and TCM

Although the lymphatic system is not directly mentioned in Ayurveda, the principles and treatments that focus on regulating body fluids and balancing doshas are closely linked to the function of the lymphatic system.

The Kapha dosha, which consists of the elements water and earth, is related to the lymphatic system because it is responsible for the structure, cohesion and fluids in the body. A disruption of Kapha dosha can lead to problems related to fluid regulation in the body, such as fluid retention or edema. Ayurvedic therapies such as Panchakarma, Ayurvedic herbs and oil massages are used to restore the balance of the doshas and can support the lymphatic system.

There is also no direct name for the lymphatic system in TCM, but the concept of body fluids and their regulation by various organs and meridians is a central theme. These traditional concepts are closely related to the modern conception of the lymphatic system and its role in maintaining health.

The concept of Jin and Ye in TCM is closely linked to the flow of blood and lymph in the body. When the flow of Qi and body fluids is disrupted, it can lead to a variety of health problems. Some TCM practices, such as acupuncture, herbal medicine and Tuina massage, aim to improve the flow of Qi and body fluids, thereby indirectly supporting the function of the lymphatic system.

You will find out how we can use the functioning of the lymphatic system for the health of our skin and our appearance in my SPRING BODY 2023 workshop with three different lymphatic massages for the entire body and of course regularly in the face training sessions that I offer as part of FACE TRAINING Offer MEMBERSHIPS . You can book both HERE .