With the Delta variant all over the news, I’m getting a lot more questions about how to boost immune system function. The lymphatic system is a key part of immune health, but doesn’t get talked about enough. It’s always a good idea to consider the ways you can support your physiological systems, particularly if you are immune-compromised. This increases the efficacy of the vaccine and helps to better protect you should you not be able to get the shot.
lymph system 101
Your lymph organs create lymphatic fluid, which is clear and rich with immune cells that are ready to put themselves on the “front lines” to keep your body safe.
You can think of the lymphatic system as HQ for these immune cells. It’s where a lot of them are born and it’s where they get taught the difference between the good guys (your body, nutrients, and helpful bacteria) and the bad guys (harmful bacteria, viruses, fungi, cancerous cells, and other foreign entities that might wreak havoc).
This system is also where a lot of immune cells hang out when they aren’t “on patrol.”
But here’s the tricky part: lymph doesn’t circulate through the body automatically, the way blood does. It needs help.
Blood moves through the body because the heart is a pump that maintains blood pressure and circulation. Lymph, on the other hand, just sits there unless something pushes it along.
Imagine a plastic squeeze bottle of mustard.
Nothing comes out if you don’t apply pressure, right?
In order for immune cells to develop as intended, lymphatic fluid needs to keep moving. And without movement, these protective cells can never travel to meet and neutralize a potential threat.
So, let’s use this mustard bottle analogy to go over five key ways to get lymph circulating throughout your body.
five ways to boost your immune system with lymphatic movement
With every step your muscles “squeeze” the mustard bottle a little bit, causing the mustard (your lymph fluid) to move. Bigger impacts (for example, jumping or jogging) squeeze the bottle a little harder.
Obviously, for a lot of us certain movements might cause other problems, so consider which activities work for you. A great solution for some is to use a rebounder (mini-trampoline), as this movement circulates lymph with little physical impact and, therefore, wears less on the joints.
2. Deep Breathing
A lot of us are shallow breathers, meaning we don’t get oxygen deep into our lungs where it can efficiently disperse through the body. Instead, we breathe into just the top portion of the lungs and “old air” stagnates below.
Full, deep breaths cause your lungs to squeeze the mustard bottle, getting that lymph moving. Bonus: intentional breath work also calms the nervous system and supercharges blood with extra oxygen.
3. Massage (My personal favorite!)
When you get a massage, your therapist (or caring friend or partner, or even you) physically pushes lymphatic fluid throughout your system. Massage also increases blood circulation, assists with flushing toxins from your body, and releases built up lactic acid that causes sore muscles.
Massage isn’t just a luxury to pamper yourself with every once in a while. It provides very real health benefits and should be considered both a preventative and therapeutic health measure. Certain tools, like a hand-held percussion massager, can offer an economical alternative to body work with a professional.
4. Castor Oil (topical)
Lymphatic movement is slowed down by bile. Castor oil is a collection of fatty acids which, when applied to the skin and allowed to sit for a while, facilitates the movement of bile. Castor gets rid of that gunky, dried mustard that clogs the opening of the squeeze bottle. This creates a clear pathway for the mustard–your lymph–to pass through.
Everything in the body needs water to work properly. Lymph is no exception. If you’re dehydrated, your lymph becomes too concentrated and doesn’t flow easily. So, get to sipping!
While you’re doing the usual stuff to keep your immune system strong–like getting adequate sleep and eating immune-supporting foods like leafy greens–think about implementing these tips to keep that lymph moving.
MA, MLA, Certified Functional Nutrition Counselor
now it’s your turn!
Have you tried any of these ways to boost your immune system? I’d love to hear about your experience. Let me know in the comments below.
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