by Amy Cole
The lymphatic system is responsible for cleaning up interstitial fluid comprising proteins and nutrients from the lymphatic space, as well as bacteria, yet it is seldom thought of. This fluid moves out of the very small capillary blood vessels into the encompassing interstitial space and the lymphatic channels, to be returned to the bloodstream via a vein in the upper chest.
In addition to fluid, the lymphatic system also carries proteins and larger particulate matter. The return of these proteins to the bloodstream is essential for the body to function properly. Virtually all tissues of the body have lymph channels. The lymphatic system also helps with absorption of nutrients from the gastrointestinal tract; most significantly, fats. Bacteria are also able to get into the lymphatic channels, where lymph nodes initiate an immune response attacking the bacteria to prevent it from spreading to the rest of the body.
Lymphagogues are substances or techniques that can help move the lymph from the interstitial space and through the lymph channels, and are typically used when the tissues or lymph glands are swollen. Two of the best lymphagogues are exercise and massage. Some massage therapists are specifically trained in lymphatic drainage techniques which can be particularly helpful for those that have had lymph nodes removed due to cancer.
Another is hydrotherapy, which uses alternating hot and cold water applications to the body to spur a pumping action of the vessels. Increasing the intake of water will also help with all elimination paths of waste, including the lymphatic system. Dry skin brushing involves gentle strokes on the skin, moving toward the heart, to encourage the natural flow of lymph.
These mechanical techniques can be very beneficial to the flow and drainage of lymph, but there are also herbals that act as lymphagogues in the body. Like many pharmaceutical medicines, some herbs can prove toxic for some people under certain circumstances, so do not proceed without consulting an accredited professional health provider.
Burdock (Arctium lappa): This herbal is often recommended as a blood cleanser because of its action as a lymphagogue.
Indigo (Baptisia tinctoa): This herb can be used topically and internally as a lymphagouge, but also helps the immune system destroy bacteria. Be cautious, as it can have toxic side effects and needs to be used appropriately. Many toxic herbals such as this one are used in a homeopathic dilution to avoid side effects.
Blue Flag (Iris veriscolor): This herbal not only may be used as a lymphagogue, but is also used commonly for thyroid disorders. It may be a good fit for someone with edema due to thyroid issues.
Yellow Parilla (Menispermum canadense): Used in those with swollen lymph glands, as well as arthritis and weak digestion.
With swollen lymph nodes or swelling (edema), it is important to go to a doctor to ensure that there is no serious problem with drainage or flow of lymph. Cardiovascular issues, hypothyroidism, infections and cancer may cause the edema or lymph node swelling.
Naturopathic Doctor Amy Cole may be reached at 518-621-5110 or AmyColeND.com. Her office is located within Elevate Albany Wellness at 407 Albany Shaker Rd., Ste. 200, Loudonville.