Ever wonder what happens to all that pollution you breathe in every day? What about the toxic waste that is accrued every day as your body processes the food you eat? How about when you get sick, where does all that illness-related waste go?
That’s what lead me to this incredibly fascinating topic.
Actually, it was researching the causes of acne, in particular, that led me to learn more about the lymphatic system.
The lymphatic system is made up of an incredibly complicated network of vessels, hundreds of nodes, and glands. Some of these you’ll recognize right off the bat, such as your tonsils and spleen. Others, including the adenoids and thymus, are possibly new to you! This entire system helps filter toxins and waste from your bloodstream and body.
Unfortunately, in this highly polluted world — from the environment to increased levels of stress — our lymphatic systems can easily become clogged and sluggish causing side effects such as inflammation, headaches, bodily stiffness, and yes, even flare-ups in acne.
How do we combat these elements?
Movement and diet! First and foremost, movement plays an integral role in keeping the lymphatic system healthy, flowing, and unclogged. Specific movements in particular actually promote lymphatic drainage and can help break up stubborn areas of buildup. On top of that, a plant-based diet rich in nutrients also plays an integral role in improving your lymphatic system.
What is the Lymphatic System?
The first step to understanding the nature of detox and why it’s so important is a little education on the lymphatic system.
If you’ve ever had really bad allergies or a cold, then you’ve probably noticed swollen and tender glands in your neck, just below your jawline. These are lymph glands are just one part of a whole “network of tissues and organs that help rid the body of toxins, waste and other unwanted materials.” While the lymphatic system’s role is detoxing, one of its main tasks is transporting lymph throughout the body — “a fluid containing infection-fighting white blood cells.”
The lymphatic system is made of lymphatic vessels — “similar to the veins and capillaries of the circulatory system” — which are “connected to lymph nodes, where the lymph is filtered.” There are hundreds of lymph nodes in the human body — some are “located deep inside the body, such as around the lungs and heart, or closer to the surface, such as under the arm or groin.” Hence why the glands in your neck swell when you’ve got a cold — along with “tonsils, adenoids, spleen, and thymus,” which are all a “part of the lymphatic system.”
While the human body will excrete most of its unwanted fluids and substances — such as urine, fecal matter, and sweat — lymph fluid works a bit differently. Once plasma has “delivered its nutrients and removed debris” it leaves the body’s cells and “returns to the venous circulation,” at which point it becomes lymph and circulates upward to the neck where the “fluid re-enters the circulatory system.”
Therefore, there is a continuous cycle of cleansing and detoxing that takes place within the lymphatic system.
This is where “detoxing” the lymphatic system comes from and why it’s such an interesting and hot movement in the health and wellness worlds. Many holistic health practitioners believe that blockages can occur in the lymphatic system (those that are not connected with serious illness related to lymphadenopathy or lymphedema that can lead to unhealthy side effects.
The Connection Between Movement and Detoxification
Moving your body is an integral part of a healthy one. We’re not just talking about exercise — those hours spent at the gym, in the yoga studio, running, or biking, which are wonderful boons for your body — but slower, very specific movements that have been shown to help drain the waste buildup in your lymphatic system.
The theory around detoxing the lymph system stems from the fact that “every day our bodies are bombarded with toxins from both outside the body (exotoxins)—the polluted environment, medications, alcohol, cigarette smoke, car exhaust emissions and so on—as well as from toxins within it (endotoxins)—the byproducts of nutrient breakdown, hormones and bacterial waste products from the intestines.” On top of that, we live in a high-stress world, and when our bodies are stressed “we run all systems at a higher rate,” meaning more work for our lymphatic system on a regular basis. This causes a kind of toxic waste “backup” in our lymph system. If pathways are blocked, this means “toxins can’t move through these pathways to be broken down and excreted via the bile.” Where do they go? Back into your bloodstream where they become “potentially more reactive” leading to unwanted symptoms such as “fatigue, headaches, irritability, skin breakouts or other inflammatory flare-ups.”
What’s the connection between movement and detoxification?
Turns out by getting up and moving your body in particular ways you can increase “stores of the body’s major antioxidant enzyme glutathione peroxidase” which is produced by the liver. This compound is known to “[protect] cells from damage,” as well as help with “liver detox pathways,” transport fat, and is integral in the metabolic process. In fact, a study regarding the effects of exercise on glutathione showed that training “[increased] glutathione peroxidase by 50 – 70 percent to protect cells.”
Three Movements to Drain Your Lymphatic System
With that said, it’s not just any old exercise that will provide the best lymphatic drainage of those built-up toxins. Research has shown specific types of movement that can boost the effects of waste drainage from your lymph system. Looking to get your detoxification on? Try using these movement styles for the best effects!
Take note, it’s important to speak with a medical professional or professional trainer before implementing any new workout regimen! This is especially important for pregnant women or for those individuals who are not regularly active. A medical professional or trainer can help support your body as you ease into this new active way of life.
Inversions are probably one of the easiest forms of detoxification movement and a great place to start on your journey! What are inversions? These are movements in which the body is turned upside down … in a fashion. Inversions are believed to increase “lymphatic flow from the lower body up through gravity, for easier movements of toxins for elimination.”
Want an extra challenge that leads to even more detoxification?
Try supported inversions which “add an extra calming dimension, as they allow the heart and nervous system to come to rest and strengthen the tone of the parasympathetic nervous system, where repair, healing, and detoxification can occur.” Supported inversions are also known to help the diaphragm release pent up tension which aids in “breath patterns and the downward motion that allows full elimination of toxins via bowel movements.”
Inversions are great if you suffer from “headaches, insomnia, or agitation.” It’s recommended to choose an inversion that fits your body’s ability best and “stay in this position for 5 – 10 minutes.” It’s particularly useful if you end a bout of physical activity with inversions.
2. Fascial Fluidity
Your brain may have misinterpreted this as facial (just like mine did off the bat!), but we’re not talking about the facial muscles, but instead, we’re talking about your facia — “the web that holds the whole body in suspension”. This total body system is a key point of withholding toxins. It’s believed that “keeping fluidity and hydration” throughout the fascia “allows [for] proper removal of what are often termed ‘toxins,’ but are really the byproducts of energy production within each cell.”
Movements that inspire and “nourish fascia and optimize flow through points where interruptions prevent full detoxification” are fairly similar to many yoga positions such as downward dog, knee to nose curls, and lunges. Yet, some of the most crucial fascia nourishing movements are those that involve twisting. Twisting is said to “‘wring out toxins’ as they pull and compress onto opposite sides of spiral fascial lines … across the torso.” Plus, a twisting movement “stimulates organs, glands, and tissues that all play roles within detoxification, repair and exchange of nutrients, as well as rerouting the flow of bodily fluids.”
3. Meditation Movement
We’ve all heard that meditation is great for the mind, but not many people are aware that meditation movements are great for the body. This rings especially true when it comes to emptying waste buildup in your lymphatic system.
Hold up … if you’re like me, then you probably are aware that meditation involves being very still, quite, and calm. So, What exactly are we talking about when we refer to meditation movements?
Per the website WDDTY in an article entitled Exercises to help detox the body, meditation movement “is an example of a kriya (meaning action, effort)—a cleansing practice used in the kundalini yoga system to move energy through the body, detoxify and clarify, including out through the skin.”
What does a meditation movement look like?
To begin, meditation movement relies on continuity — a “continual movement through the arms and shoulders” — but it’s also important to focus on an upward or lifting movement. By practicing a continual movement of arms and shoulders and then also integrating a lifting upwards, you’ll achieve “lymphatic drainage at the collarbones,” one of the areas in the body that holds most toxin buildup. It’s important to note that this movement may induce neck tension without practice. Therefore, start with a shorter continual time of around 30 seconds and “gradually build up to continuing the motion for three minutes.”
The Connection Between Plant-Based Foods and the Lymphatic System
While movement is an integral and important part of lymphatic health — particularly when it comes to draining waste buildup — the food you eat also affects the health of your lymphatic system.
Certain foods — such as processed, sugar-filled, hydrogenated-rich, and dairy products — tend to make your lymphatic system sluggish and slow its ability to filter out toxins. This leads to unwanted lymphatic clogging, which may cause unwanted side effects including “headaches, sluggishness, inflammation, poor digestion, mucus build-up, and general stiffness.”
Other plant-based foods are great for the lymphatic system on multiple levels. First and foremost, many plant-based foods are rich in energizing compounds giving you the energy to get up and move, which acts as a pump for your lymphatic system. Plant-based foods are also rich in anti-inflammatory compounds and antioxidants, which will help decrease the risk of lymphatic clogging. Lastly, plant-based foods are also generally rich in nutrients. When it comes to increasing the health of your lymphatic system, you want as many diverse vitamins and minerals as possible, as well as useful enzymes, to keep our digestion systems healthy (yet another integral way to remove toxins and waste from the body).
Plant-Based Foods for Detoxification
Alright, so you know that plant-based foods are great for your lymphatic system. What are the best choices you can make in regards to stocking your kitchen with lymphatic friendly foods? Start out with foods rich in digestive-friendly enzymes, as well as those filled with vitamin C. Both of these agents will keep your digestive system flowing and that waste cycling out of your body. From there, insert in some antioxidants, a few anti-inflammatory agents, and LOTS of diverse nutrients. Here are a few plant-based foods, in particular, to get you started!
These slightly sweet, completely sour, and beautiful citrus fruits are excellent to have on hand for some detoxifying and lymph-boosting juice. All citrus fruits “possess powerful enzymes, along with Vitamin C, that support the body and keep digestion flowing.” Lemons are special in that they also can help keep you hydrated, which is an integral part to detoxifying the lymphatic system.
While you can go as simple as a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of sea salt for your own DIY energy drink, lemons are also an excellent ingredient for a super healthy, all-natural, sweet treat such as these Raw Coconut Lemon Bombs, this Lemon Loaf, or these 7 Ingredient Lemon Coconut Squares.
Blueberries wind up on plant-based food lists most of the time and for good reason. These little deep violet berries are naturally sweet, wonderfully juicy, and happen to be one of the richest plant-based sources of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. On top of that, berries are also “rich in detoxifying benefits that cleanse the system and also add hydration for healthy lymph flow.” One such benefit are the anti-bacterial agents that many berries, including blueberries, possess.
If you’re looking to get the most out of those blueberries, try out recipes that don’t infuse them with heat. Basically, seek out raw blueberries recipes. The best way to get blueberries raw (besides eating straight out of the carton!) is in smoothies such as this Blueberry Smoothie Parfait, this Orange Berry Smoothie, or this Probiotic Berry Smoothie.
Last, but definitely not least, are cruciferous veggies. I couldn’t decide on just one, so this entire section is devoted to all the wonderful cruciferous veggies that you can get on a single plate. Not only are cruciferous vegetables known for a cancer-fighting antioxidant called glutathione, but they also happen to be a stellar agent for detoxifying the body. Cruciferous veggies (along with other greens) are known to “remove harmful chemicals and toxins from our body we encounter daily and they also nourish our cells to detoxify the way our body wants to.” Plus, these foods are incredibly dense in nutrients — such as “vitamins, A, C, and K, along with iron, magnesium, B vitamins, and protein.”
There are a slew of cruciferous and green veggies to choose from, but a few of the all-stars including Brussels sprouts, — such as in this Brussels Sprouts with Turmeric — broccoli, — such as in this Creamy Green Broccoli Soup — and spinach — No-Bake Berry and Spinach Cashew Cream Bars (a two-for-one for detoxification with both berries and spinach!).
We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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