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  • Writer's pictureIan Thornley

My WHAT? system could help me stay healthy?

Did you know that you have a body system whose prime goal is to keep you healthy? Well you do and it's called the lymphatic system. One of the key tenets of osteopathic principle is that the body has a built in medicine chest and that, given the right environment, it can heal itself. The lymphatic system is an integral part of this medicine chest.

We all know about the digestive system responsible for getting nutrients from foot and waste from the body, the cardiovascular system, which pumps the blood containing oxygen and nutrients around the body, and the respiratory system which gets the oxygen in to us in the first place. However the lymphatic system seems less well known.

So what is it? The lymphatic system is responsible for fighting off infections and protecting you from threats to your health both internally and externally. It is primarily responsible for producing the immune cells that fight infections, for filtering and cleaning the fluid that surrounds all our cell, removing debris and mounting a response to infections that it detects. So it's an important system to keep functioning.

So what is it made up from? Some parts of the system you will have heard of - your tonsils for example - they swell up and get sore when you have an infection because they are working hard to fight it and get you back to health. And maybe you have experienced those small tender lumps you may feel in your neck when you have an infection and go away when you are well - those are lymph nodes - another part of this body wide system.

At the centre of this and important for health is the lymphatic circulation. All the cells in our body are surrounded by fluid. This fluid provides an environment for each cell to function and it is constantly replaced by fluid leaking from the blood capillaries and is then returned to the blood system via lymphatic vessels. These vessels don't have a pump like the heart to help move the fluid but rely on breathing and movement of our bodies.

Restrictions to this flow of lymph can lead to inflammation and pooling of fluid. It is also the movement of this fluid through the lymphatic vessels and past lymphatic tissues, such as glands and nodes, that helps with the detection and immune response to invaders such as bacteria and viruses.

Keeping a healthy and optimised lymphatic system can help to protect yourself from illness.

There are many things that can reduce the effectiveness of your lymphatic system and your osteopath will be able to help make a specific diagnosis of any restrictions and give you bespoke advice and treatments to help the lymphatic circulation. A great idea to give your immune system a boost, even if you are feeling well at the moment.

There are some general steps you can take however to keep your lymph flowing and your immune system in good shape.

Drink plenty of water

Dehydration, even mild dehydration can affect how well the fluid in your body flows. All out body fluids are full of proteins and without sufficient water the fluid becomes more sticky so will not flow as easily. Boost your water intake to make a more dilute, flowing solution which will make flushing your system easier.

Practice deep controlled breathing

Breathing changes the pressure in your chest and abdomen and acts as a pump for your lymphatic system, moving that fluid from your limbs back to the blood circulation. Shallow breaths do not have as much impact as deep controlled breathing so taking a few minutes to focus on your breathing, the rise and fall of your chest and the movement of your ribs can be really beneficial.

Sit up comfortably or stand and try placing your hands on the bottom part of your rib cage. Focus your breathing on trying to push your hands apart with your ribs as you breath in, then allowing the hands to come back in as you breath out for a couple of minutes. This will help to get the lymph moving through the major vessels.

Move more

In addition to breathing the lymphatic circulation is powered by the pumping effect created by muscles contracting and relaxing. Take a walk in the fresh air if you can. If housebound then walk around the house, climb the stairs or do some cleaning. If you are unable to walk then sitting with your feet on the floor and raising your heels can help, along with upper body movements such as raising your arms over your head and back for a couple of minutes will also help.

In addition to these simple actions it is important to take good nutritious food as well, particularly paying attention to vitamin and mineral intake. More about this in a future blog!

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Stay safe, stay well, be kind and support you community 💜

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