Detox and cleanse from the inside out: Strategies for general health

The silent system blog post

I first came across the lymph system when I studying Anatomy, Physiology and Pathology in 2006. Quite frankly, it drove me to despair. The more I read about it, the more complicated it seemed to get! That’s probably what’s driven me to wanting to understand more about it, and to eventually learn a massage technique called “manual lymphatic drainage”. Here’s an attempt to describe the lymph system and the benefit of manual lymphatic drainage as simply as I can: All of our body systems are equally important, but whilst most people know about the cardiovascular system, the nervous, immune or the digestive system, there is one that is very little known and seems to be going a little bit in and out of fashion. The lymph system is an amazingly complex system,  that quietly works away in the background. It is intricately linked with every other body system:  Along with the circulatory system, it forms part of the cardiovascular system. You may be aware that we are about 60% watery fluid (this varies depending on age, gender, height to weight ratio, and so on) – what’s blood in the blood vessels, is very similar to the interstitial fluid that bathes cells outside blood vessels, and to the lymph inside the lymph vessels. It’s where the fluid is, and also some key components, what determines the name of this constantly circulated and recycled fluid. In the case of lymph, there is a high number of different types of lymphocytes –natural  killer cells, T-cells and B-cells (lymphocytes are also found in blood, where they are part of the “white blood cells”). The cleansing and filtering of lymph is mainly done in the lymph nodes. The lymph nodes will also produce more lymphocytes when viruses, bacteria and foreign invaders are detected – this is when lymph nodes (also called lymph glands) swell up. In this way, the lymph system is the first line of defense of the body. The lymph system can be found everywhere, starting with the tiniest vessels starting directly under the skin, to larger lymph vessels and ducts in the body, as well as comprising organs like the thymus gland, tonsils, and spleen.  There are even lymph vessels that help drain the brain –the brain needs clearing and cleansing just as the rest of our body, and the network of lymph vessels in the meninges has been termed “glymphatic” system. As we’ve said above, its main task is to cleanse the body of, so-called “toxins” (often just bi-products of cell life), and proteins which are too big to be picked up by the venous system. This means that, when it works efficiently, the tissues which are bathed in interstitial fluid get an optimum of nutrients and oxygen (the “good stuff”) and what’s not needed, gets transported away. It is also crucial for the balance of body fluids. If this system is not working properly or gets blocked, this means also that nutrients and oxygen brought by the blood vessels does not get to the cells quite so easily, there is a murky concoction of stuff that should not be there in the first place. Imagine you are swimming or rowing to an island in the middle of a lake filled with rubbish, debris and algae– that will take a little while longer than making your way through nice, clear, oxygenated water, apart from being a whole lot more unpleasant. You can imagine what effect this can have on the body in terms of lack of energy and fatigue. Certain types of headaches and migraines, sinus problems, general muscles soreness, fibromyalgia and ME, skin problems and susceptibility to colds, and many more conditions and symptoms are being attributed to a clogged up lymph system. This is not surprising, as it is nowadays thought that inflammation is the cause of many conditions. With the lymph system playing a crucial role in combating inflammation, it makes sense to look after it. Swelling in pregnancy, and after injury or surgery, and lymphoedema can  be attributed to sluggishness, overload, or in the case of lymphoedema, to an impaired lymph system. There are many different ways to support the lymphatic system. The most important one is movement – immobility is the worst for the lymph system, because the lymph vessels mainly rely on muscle action to squeeze them and thus pump lymph fluid. Deep diaphragmatic breathing helps as well, by creating what is called “Venturi effect”, where changes in intra-thoracic pressure help draw lymph through the vessels. Rebounding is an excellent way to get the lymph going, especially the phase where you are suspended in the air!  You will be glad to hear that sleep is important too for the cleansing of the brain and growth of “synaptic pruning”.  In terms of massage, manual lymph drainage is geared solely to accelerate the “lymph pump” on all parts of the body. Manual Lymphatic Drainage: The gentle giant of therapies Less is more when it comes to the gentlest of therapies, manual lymphatic drainage (MLD). Yes, the name is not terribly enticing and people often think it’s forceful, invasive or somehow related to plumbing. The latter is not so far fetched, but  MLD is so gentle, that one client has likened it to “butterfly kisses” which is much nicer. The therapist uses gentle, rhythmical strokes, which are applied directly on dry skin (ie no oils are used), to increase the speed and flow of lymph fluid. This is done by opening up the initial lymphatic vessels which are under the skin and constitute 60% of lymphatic vessels. Once the fluid is in there, it pushes into the bigger vessels and enters a one-way, valve protected system. Too much pressure closes the initial lymph vessels, hence why it has to be very gentle. The strokes are quite specific and in the direction of lymph nodes, which all have their own areas that the lymph drains to. That is why a therapist needs to work within so-called “watersheds” to efficiently …

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