Do you ever think about your lymphatic system? Don’t feel bad if the answer is no. Most people don’t, which isn’t surprising. About the only time we do (think about it) is when we hear that someone has developed cancer in their lymph nodes. And then we feel a little fear, along with ignorance, about what that entails.
So let’s take a closer look at the lymphatic system. Basically, it is your body’s version of a sanitary sewer system. In the same way that sewers under the street carry away toilet, bath, laundry, and dishwater; lymph vessels drain away your interior waste. Your cells swim in lymph fluid; there is actually twice as much lymphatic fluid in your body as there is blood. That fluid then carries away the “trash” of your immune system, such as dead white blood cells, unused plasma protein, and toxins.
Here’s how it works. Your heart pumps blood around your body, carrying oxygen and nutrients to the cells. Once the cells absorb what they need, they excrete debris which gets flushed into your lymph fluid and is rendered harmless.
The lymph fluid then drains into the circulatory system through two ducts at the base of your neck and becomes part of the blood and plasma that passes through your kidneys and liver. That’s a lot of travel time. Unfortunately, your lymph system does not have a built-in pump (like your heart) to push all that fluid around. Instead, it uses breathing and body movement. In layman’s terms, that means you need to move your body to cleanse it.
By not breathing deeply or moving regularly, your lymph fluid is not flowing as well as it should. As a result, your body will not be cleansed properly. This can lead to health concerns over time, such as weight gain, muscle loss, high blood pressure, fatigue, and inflammation.
How can you help your lymph system function properly? Be physically active. Choose moderate aerobic activities that increase your circulation and breathing. Walking, riding a bike, mowing the lawn, and raking leaves are all activities that can help get your lymph fluid moving throughout your body. Here’s another motivational factor to consider: as much as you may hate doing housework or yard work, realize that while you are moving, you are also cleaning out your interior “biological” house as well! Win-win!
Family and Consumer Sciences Educator
Ohio State University Extension
Liz Smith, M.S, RDN., L.D