The Lymphatic System: Detox with Gentle Herbal Methods

The lymphatic system is often associated with cancer, so I thought it would be good to alert my readers to some TLC (tender loving care) methods that may prevent some of the more serious disorders that come with toxic lymph glands.

 The importance of keeping the lymph glands healthy applies to just about all of us: men and women, the young, the middle aged, and the elderly. Yes, anyone can develop cancerous cells!  Without going into a deeper scientific understanding of this complex system, let’s nevertheless get a better grip on why it’s important to learn the basics. I also want to discuss some outstanding herbs, whole food supplements, and herbal recipes that will provide a gentle and continual method to keep the system healthy in the long term.

Understanding the lymphatic system is like trying to understand the immune system, which I discuss at length in my blog post “Healing the Immune System.” When visualizing the lymph system, you may imagine that it looks like a hollow tube that runs down our sides, under our arms, and past the breast area. However, at this point our brain seems to go blank, and we think to ourselves, “Huh? And then what?” To be fair, that mental visual is to some extent correct. Nevertheless, the lymphatic system is much more than a long, hollow tube running down the sides of our bodies!

 Where and What Are My Lymph Glands?

“The lymphatic system is a system of capillaries, vessels, nodes, and other organs that transport a fluid called lymph from the tissues as it returns to the bloodstream. The lymphatic tissue of these organs filters and cleans the lymph of any debris, abnormal cells, or pathogens. The lymphatic system also transports fatty acids from the intestines to the circulatory system.”
Excerpt from InnerBody.com

Personal note: We can therefore see from the diagram in the link above that the lymphatic system is a network of capillaries, blood vessels, and lymph nodes running throughout the entire body! Yes, our precious lymphatic system is an intricate part of the immune system. As such, it’s worthy of some very special care.

 Major Sites of Lymph Tissue

  • Lymph nodes: Lymph nodes are bean-sized collections of lymphocytes and other immune system cells throughout the body, including inside the chest, abdomen, and pelvis. They are connected by a system of lymphatic vessels.
  • Spleen: The spleen is an organ under the lower ribs on the left side of the body. The spleen makes lymphocytes and other immune system cells. It also stores healthy blood cells and filters out damaged blood cells, bacteria, and cell waste.
  • Bone marrow: The bone marrow is the spongy tissue inside certain bones. This is where new blood cells (including some lymphocytes) are made.
  • Thymus: The thymus is a small organ behind the upper part of the breastbone and in front of the heart. It’s important in the development of T lymphocytes.
  • Adenoids and tonsils: These are collections of lymph tissue in the back of the throat. They help make antibodies against germs that are breathed in or swallowed.
  • Digestive tract: The stomach, intestines, and many other organs also have lymph tissue.
    —The above bullet list is excerpted from Cancer.org.

What Causes Swollen Lymph Nodes?

Lymph nodes often swell in one location, particularly when an injury, infection, tumor, or other condition develops nearby. Identifying which lymph nodes are swollen can help you address the problem.

  • The glands on either side of the neck, under the jaw, or behind the ears commonly swell when you have a cold or sore throat. Glands can also swell following an injury, such as a cut or bite, near the gland or when a tumor or infection occurs in the mouth, head, or neck.
  • Glands in the armpit (axillary lymph nodes) may swell from an injury or infection to the arm or hand. A rare cause of axillary swelling may be breast cancer or lymphoma.
  • The lymph nodes in the groin (femoral or inguinal lymph nodes) may swell from an injury or infection in the foot, leg, groin, or genitals. In rare cases, testicular cancer, lymphoma, or melanoma may cause a lump in this area.
  • Glands above the collarbone (supraclavicular lymph nodes) may swell from an infection or tumor in the areas of the lungs, breasts, neck, or abdomen
    —The above bullet list is excerpted from WebMD.com.

Could Your Bra Be Killing You?

“Over and over, C.J. McDaniel has observed stagnant lymph vessels, re-routing lymph, lymph enlargement and swollen glands in her patients at exactly the areas where bra elastic tightens and squeezes. She says, ‘Without a doubt, we do see breast lymph congestion and connective tissue restrictions exactly where the bra line hits and above and below the breast including the armpits. Bras cross major lymph vessel pathways and may act like a tourniquet.’ This is especially true for large-breasted women, whose breasts are large enough to put considerable strain on the straps and bands, causing breast pain. It’s even more true for those women choosing to wear thin strapped bras and underwires.

“Breast tissue has poor lymph flow to begin with because the muscle is under the gland instead of on top of it. Why should you care?  Well, the lymph system is designed to keep the body’s fluids in balance and evacuate toxins, proteins, and excess fluid from the extra-cellular spaces.  In addition to trash collection, the lymph system transports hormones and immune cells throughout the body. It’s a vital piece of your immune system. And much of the lymph system is located in and around the chest and armpits (axillas).”
—Excerpt from FortCollinsLymph-Massage.com

 Personal note: After reading numerous cautions like those above for many years, I eventually switched to a soft camisole.  Not only do I feel less fatigued, but there’s also no sagging. The breast is a muscle, and if you remove that extra support, those muscles become stronger rather than sag. My personal opinion is that bras are unnatural! Seriously, try a camisole. (Smile) Oh, and by all means remember that exercise, especially brisk walks, are a crucial means of keeping the lymph fluids moving.

 A Chiropractic Solution

On my recent visit to Dr. Joe Givan, DC, here in Colorado Springs, CO, I asked him if he could suggest an easy, ongoing method for keeping the lymph glands from becoming toxic. He said that your chiropractors should be checking your K27 meridian at every visit. This is outlined in the book Your Body Can Talk by Susan L. Levy and Carol Lehr.

Dr. Givan then began to utilize the acupressure technique close to my left and right clavicle. It was a bit painful but very effective.

During that brief treatment, he told me that having this done by our chiropractor or learning to do it ourselves would go a long way—as would eating the right foods and whole food supplements—toward maintaining a healthy lymphatic system.

By manually stimulating the lymphatic system, you:

  • Increase the carrying capacity of the lymph system, allowing it to process up to 10 times more fluid than normal.
  • Increase the flow through the lymph nodes, filtering out waste products, dead cells, excess proteins and toxins from the tissues.
  • Increase the production of lymphocytes, thereby increasing the body’s ability to fight infections.
  • Activate the parasympathetic response, producing a body-wide relaxation effect.
    —The above bullet list is excerpted from MassageToday.com.

Best Herbals for Lymphatic Health

In a recent study of herbs, Wintergreen Botanicals founder Maria Noel Groves, RH (AHG), outlined some wonderful, gentle herbal methods to keep this vital system in tip-top condition in the Spring 2017 Herb Quarterly. Here are her recommendations and some nice formulas to get you going on lymph detoxification and ongoing maintenance.

Best Lymph Cleansing Herbs
—As recommended by clinical herbalogist Maria Noel Groves

 Burdock (Arctium lappa, A.): According to Noel Groves, this is the most profound detoxification herb. The roots, she says, support detoxification via both the liver and the lymph. Burdock root also acts as a mild bitter, encouraging digestive function while it supplies useful nutrients to the body. (Note: I use lots of burdock in my medicinal bone broth. To learn more, ready my post titled Medicinal Bone Broth for Winter’s Woes.”)

Violet (Viola spp.): This leaf and flower offer gentle yet profound lymph-moving activity. Noel Graves says the plant is highly nutritious and slightly mucilaginous, giving it a soothing demulcent and healing activity for the body, and it has a very mild laxative property.

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense): These blossoms earned their reputation as “blood cleaners” more for their activity on the lymph than the blood. Not only does red clover effectively move lymph (as do its relatives white and yellow clover), but it also serves as a weak source of phytoestrongens.

Red Root (Ceanothus americanus): Perhaps our most supreme lymph herb. Red Root aids in all functions of the lymph, and we often call on it during times of infection, which include swollen lymph nodes to promote detoxification, lymph drainage, and healthy immune function.

Echinacea (Echinacea spp.): Echinacea may be more famous as an immune herb, but it’s also a potent lymphagogue. It helps us by mobilizing the immune army into battle and clearing the battlefield debris.

The first two lymph recipes below are adapted from the Spring 2017 Herb Quarterly.

Nutri-Detox Tea
The author of this recipe calls it a “great general well-being tea that combines the light, earthy flavors of some of our favorite herbs.”

 Ingredients
1 teaspoon violet leaf
1 teaspoon nettle leaf
1 teaspoon red clover blossoms
1 teaspoon mint of choice

Instructions
Steep all ingredients for 30 minutes or longer in 12 oz. of hot water (I recommend filtered or spring water). Drink daily, as much as you like.

 Herbal Root “Coffee”
These herbs support general detoxification via the liver, lymph, and kidneys,” the author explains. “And they taste a wee bit like coffee.”

Ingredients
2 parts burdock root
1 part dandelion root
1 part roasted chicory root
½ part cocoa powder (optional) (I recommend carob powder)
½ part cinnamon (optional) (I only use Ceylon cinnamon)

 Instructions
Simmer or steep for 20 minutes. If you like, add sweetener and milk of choice. (This tastes great, but it will dampen some of the detox benefits.)

Lymph Cleansing Herbal Infusion Recipe
Adapted from Healthy and Natural World

Ingredients
2 parts calendula
2 parts cleavers
1 part mullein

Instructions

  1. Place the herbs in a small saucepan and cover with cold water.
  2. Heat slowly and simmer, covered, for 20–45 minutes. The longer you simmer the herbs, the stronger the tea will be.
  3. Drink 2–3 cups a day for 2–3 weeks.

Whole Food Supplements for Swollen Lymph Nodes

Thymex. Supports the thymus gland with bovine thymus Cytoso extract. Indicated for inflammatory conditions, skin conditions, infections, chronic lesions, slow healing response, allergic reactions, and stress.

Linum B6. Linum B6 contains flaxseed oil, a natural source of alpha-linolenic acid (which is a precursor of EPA and DHA). It’s used for lymphatic drainage due to how light it is. Linum B6 is light enough to flow through the lymph and rinse away the thick viscous buildup that often congests the lymphatic system.

Calcium Lactate. Primarily indicated for fevers, infections, cramps, hyperthyroidism, and soft tissue repair.

Cataplex A-C. Supports cardiovascular health, immune system response function, and the maintenance of cells and tissues, and also supports vascular integrity.

Afterthoughts from the Traditional Cook…

Lymphatics and Laughter

The Lymphatic Mystery Will Now Be Exposed.
What Are Those Lil’ Nubbins? The Question’s Been Posed.
Hundreds Of Lymph Nodes Ceaselessly Cleaning
In Neck, Arms And Groin Send Invaders Careening.
Without These Nodes, Our Immune Systems Won’t Work.
Lymph’s Filtered Through Them So Our Bodies Will Perk.
Flowing Non-Stop In An Upward Direction,
The Faster Lymph Moves, The Less The Infection.
Traveling Upward Without Aid From A Pump,
What Can Be Done To Prevent Lymphatic Slump?
Creating Negative Pressure Is One Mighty Way,
Of Moving More Lymph, Keeping Illness At Bay.
Working Constantly to Keep Us Free From Disease,
Lymph Travels Upward When Our Muscles We Squeeze.
Exercise Is Important, That Is For Sure.
Deep Breathing And Belly Laughs Can Be A Cure.
With Every Guffaw, Lymphatics Will Wiggle,
From A Big Belly Laugh Or A Wee Little Giggle.
Enliven The Flow, That’s The Ultimate Goal.
Laughter’s Fantastic For Body And Soul.
Our Minds And Our Spirits Will Benefit Too.
So Bring On The Laughter And Take Care Of You!

—Inspired by Sue Carter Ansari. Written By Marie Kratz-Jezierski and Sue Carter Ansari.

AUTHOR’S NOTE
To choose your organically grown and fresh ingredients wisely, use the following criteria:

  • chemical- and hormone-free meat
  • wild-caught fish
  • pasture-raised, organic eggs
  • whole, unrefined grains
  • virgin, unrefined, first-press organic oils
  • whole-food, unrefined sweeteners
  • pure, clean, spring water
  • sea salt
  • raw and/or cultured milk and cream products

Note from Maria: I am a Certified Natural Health Professional, CNHP, not a medical doctor. I do not diagnose, prescribe for, treat, or claim to prevent, mitigate, or cure any human diseases. Please see your medical doctor prior to following any recommendations I make in my blogs or on my website.

Images from iStock/chombosan (main image),b-d-s (woman holding bra), Elenathewise (tea herbs in jars), deemwave (tea). 

Maria Atwood, CNHP

Maria Atwood is a semi-retired Certified Natural Health Professional and Weston A. Price Chapter Leader in Colorado Springs, CO. Her website, Traditional Cook, offers the The Lee Household Flour Mill, originally invented by Royal Lee, inventor of Standard Process Supplements. She also carries the WonderMix mixer as well as the Wondermill grain mill. Also check out Maria’s “Cook Your Way to Wellness” DVD (also available on Vimeo). Be sure to join the Selene River Press newsletter to follow Maria’s Tips from The Traditional Cook blog.

Products by Maria Atwood

2 thoughts on “The Lymphatic System: Detox with Gentle Herbal Methods

  1. Ann Lynette Mayo says:

    I have head to toe Lymphedema, caused by a botched biopsy, my nurse friend called it a ‘butchery’. Now 5 years later l am developing Lipedema, scares me to death, given our medical system has little knowledge of the Lymph System. l wanted to connect to learn more about how to slow down this Lipedema.

  2. Danielle LeBaron says:

    Hello Ann Lynette,

    Maria asked me to reply this to you:

    My empathy goes out to you; however I am not a medical doctor and cannot give you any medical advice. I did however find some interesting information and a medical doctor that seems to have some experience in this area. I am not endorsing her, or her treatments because I do not know her personally and like I say, I am not able to give you medical advice. Nevertheless, take a look at Dr. Karen Herbst’s links on her website and maybe they well shed some light on your predicament.

    Additionally, I would like to suggest that you contact possibly one of the best holistic practitioners in the USA. She uses lots of Standard Process whole food supplements in her practice. Here is her contact information:

    Kim Schuette, CN,
    http://www.biodynamicwellness.com/about-us/
    Dr. Karen Herbst Ph.D, M.D.
    Lipadema
    http://www.lipomadoc.org/lipedema.html
    Home Page
    http://www.lipomadoc.org/
    My best wishes that a cure is there for you.
    Maria Atwood, CNHP

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