Integrative Health Blog

What Does the Lymphatic System Do?

Posted by admin on Tue, Nov 06, 2012

Robert Johnson D.M.D.

We can all feel our heart pumping and see blood leak from a cut or an injury.  Damage or dysfunction of this circulatory system will have instantaneous dangers and consequences such as a heart attack or bleeding.

But, are you aware of our second circulatory system, the lymphatic system?

The functions of the lymph system are summarized as:

  • Detoxification
  • Immunity
  • Transportation of nutrients within the body

Detoxification- First, the lymphatic system picks up water, debris, dead blood cells, pathogens, toxins, and cancer cells from within other organs and tissues and brings these toxins to the blood to be excreted.  Without proper lymphatic detoxification, toxins accumulate in tissues, organs and fats ultimately resulting in disease in that organ or tissue.

The lymphatic system absorbs fats and fat soluble vitamins in the tissue and transports them to the cells.  This is critical for the health of these cells and associated tissues.

Immunity- Part of the lymph system includes the thymus and the bone marrow both intimately involved in the development of immune cells the body needs to recognize invaders such as bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungae.  Although the “heavy lifting” for the development of this immune system is done by the thymus and bone marrow their function is enhanced by proper lymph circulation, proper hydration, and a good acid-alkaline pH of 7.4 or slightly alkaline.

Transporation of Nutrients- Because the lymph system does not have a pump such as they heart for blood circulation the lymph system relies on intact lymph vessels (they are very porous for fluids moving in and out of these vessels) and “milking” action by the skeletal muscles.  The milking action by the skeletal muscles is critical to a well functioning lymph system.  This is a critical reason why physical activity is important to overall health.  Without the squeezing of the lymphatic vessels by muscles lymph fluid and toxins would accumulate in tissue and become swollen.

Damage to lymphatic vessels and lymph nodes during surgery or from trauma will result in lymphedema.  Post surgical handling of the lymph swelling is critical for ultimate surgical success and should include compression stockings, manual lymph drainage and any technique which facilitates lymph circulation to transport lymph back into the general circulation.

It is critical to develop an approach for maintaining your lymphatic system function for optimal health. Dysfunction or injury to this circulatory system has longer term consequences such as lymphatic swelling or lymphedema.

How to Keep Your Lymphatic System Healthy

  • Drink plenty of water, avoid high consumption of congesting foods (e.g., cows milk dairy) and sugary foods.
  • Lots of physical activity and stretching
  • Manual therapies such as massage or manual lymph drainage
  • Self massage also called simplified lymphatic drainage which stimulates flow of the lymph into the capillaries and avoids lymph fluid stagnation
  • Gentle bouncing on a mini trampoline encourages lymph flow and can be done in a few minutes a day
  • Take lymph drainage supplements to encourage optimal lymph flow.

Maintaining a healthy lymph system is critical for the removal of toxins we all accumulate as well as nutrient transport and accurate immune capacity.  Compromising any of these functions will profoundly compromise your health.  Preventive measures for a healthy lymphatic system are easy and yield big results.


Topics: immune system, detoxification, lymphatic drainage, massage