In last weeks post, Introducing: Daily Detox, I mentioned that your body’s ability to rid itself of toxins depends on the health of your organs/organ systems of elimination. The focus of today’s daily detox techniques is the health of the lymphatic system. Do you remember the lymphatic system from anatomy and physiology? Maybe, maybe not. You may have been more interested glamorous systems like the cardiovascular or maybe the reproductive…
The lymphatic system is essentially a full body filtration system. It is made up of a network of lymph nodes and lymph vessels through which lymph flows. Lymph is the clear liquid that remains once red blood cells and proteins have been removed from blood. As lymph flows through the lymph vessels it passes through multiple filters aka lymph nodes. You are probably familiar with the lymph nodes under your jaw that become enlarged when you have a cold. You have similar nodes throughout your body. Check out a diagram of the lymphatic system here.
Lymph nodes are full of white blood cells waiting to find and destroy foreign substances like bacteria, viruses and abnormal cells. Filtered lymph reenters the blood stream through the thoracic duct and the right lymphatic duct in the chest.
The lymphatic system is important to detoxification because it is one of the filtration mechanisms of the body. It also acts as a pre-filtration system for the liver so that the liver does not become clogged or overloaded.
Now, two very important points about the lymphatic system:
- The majority of the body’s lymph flows against gravity, from your toes up to your chest.
- There is no lymphatic pump (no lymphatic heart) to keep lymph flowing through the vessels and nodes
So, you have this amazing filtration system that has to flow against gravity and has no pump…why don’t you have water balloons for legs?
Lymph is propelled through the vessels in the same way venous blood is returned to the heart; by skeletal muscle contractions and pressure changes during inhalation.
So, how do we optimize lymph flow to increase the body’s natural detoxification process?
Please continue breathing. It helps move your lymph along and is known to have other benefits.
Breathe in, breath out. Repeat forever.
The skeletal muscle contractions necessary to push lymph from the toes to the chest can be achieved with exercise/movement. Aerobic activities like brisk walking, running, bicycling and swimming are all great for moving lymph. Yoga also encourages the flow of blood and lymph.
Another great activity to really get lymph moving is jumping. Remember those mini-trampolines your grandparents had when you were little? Turns out they are great for stimulating lymph. Jumping on these little tramps even has a formal name: rebounding. The goal for jumping/rebounding is 5-15 minutes daily. This can be completed in one session or broken up over multiple sessions throughout the day.
Jumping rope is a great alternative to rebounding. The goal for jumping rope is 1,000 jumps in one session. You can work up to this by getting as many jumps as you can and adding an additional 10 jumps every 2-3 days.
Get moving! Choose an activity you enjoy and schedule it into your day. Maybe walk on your lunch break. Go with your kids to the trampoline gym and embarrass them by jumping your heart out. Jump rope for 10 minutes before you shower in the morning. Try a yoga class on the free and absolutely awesome Down Dog app.
#3 Dry Brushing
As the name implies, dry brushing uses friction from a dry brush against dry skin to increase blood and lymphatic drainage.
It’s important to use a natural-bristle brush as opposed to a brush with synthetic bristles. Some brushes have handles and some do not. The benefit of a handle is that you can reach your entire back. Soft and medium bristles are also offered as well as facial brushes. Natural-bristled dry skin brushes are available online, at most natural health stores and even some drug stores. There are a million options on Amazon if you search dry skin brushes.
Dry skin brushes should be kept dry. So how do you clean them? I spritz my brush with a solution of water and tea tree oil as recommended in Liz Wolfe’s Purely Primal Skincare Guide. I got a little spray bottle from the drug store, filled it with water and 10-15 drops of tea tree oil.
How to Dry Brush
The first rule of dry brushing is: you always brush towards your heart. The second rule of dry brushing is: you always brush towards your heart. The goal is to help the lymph move from the extremities towards the chest where it rejoins the circulatory system.
You want to use short, brisk strokes and apply comfortable pressure. You don’t get extra credit for peeling your skin off. There are varied opinions about how many strokes you should perform on each patch of skin. The range seems to be between 1 and 10. How much time I have usually dictates how much brushing I do.
Start at your feet. Move up your legs, glutes, groin, abdomen and lower back. There are two techniques for brushing the abdomen. You can use short, brisk, upward strokes or you can brush in a circular pattern around the belly button. If you choose the circular technique, you want to brush in a circle from right to left mirroring the flow of the intestines. Start with your brush on the lower right side of your abdomen, move up the right side, across the top, down the left side, and across the bottom. Start with large circles and gradually make them smaller and smaller getting closer and closer to the belly button.
Then, starting at the fingers move up the arms and upper back then gently brush the armpits, neck and chest remembering to brush towards the heart. Following up dry brushing with a warm shower is optimal but not required.
When I first started dry brushing I needed to see it done to understand the process. If you are like me, here is a good video tutorial: Dry Skin Brushing: What Is It & How to Do It
Dry brushing not only benefits the circulatory and lymphatic systems but is also a great way to exfoliate and is claimed to reduce cellulite!! I have found that it is easiest to fit it into my schedule in the morning before a shower. It takes about 3-10 minutes and helps me wake up.
Add a dry brush to your Amazon cart while you’re doing your holiday shopping and get brushing.
Disclaimer: I am not a Registered Dietician or licensed medical doctor. I do not diagnose or treat disease, but instead make healthy lifestyle recommendations for balancing the body and promoting optimal wellness. No recommendation or comment made by me should be construed as being medical advice or diagnosis.
I am not affiliated with the companies of any of the products I recommend or link to. They are simply high-quality products that I choose to use.