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An illustration showing the human lymphatic system with labeled text "The Lymphatic System: The Forgotten System." There is an image of 10 almonds in the bottom-right corner with text above them saying "10 almonds." The background is light blue.

The Forgotten System Against Cancer & More

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Ask Not What Your Lymphatic System Can Do For You…

Just kidding; we’ll cover that first, as it’s definitely not talked about enough.

The lymphatic system is the system in the body that moves lymph around. It’s made of glands, nodes, and vessels:

  • The glands (such as the tonsils and the adenoids) and nodes filter out bacteria and produce white blood cells. Specific functions may be, well, specialized—beyond the scope of today’s article—but that’s the broad function.
  • The vessels are the tubes thatallow those things to be moved around, suspended in lymph.

What’s lymph? It’s a colorless water-like liquid that transports immune cells, nutrients (and waste) around the body (through the lymphatic system).

Yes, it works alongside your vasculature; when white blood cells aren’t being deployed en masse into your bloodstream to deal with some threat, they’re waiting in the wings in the lymphatic system.

While your blood is pumped around by your heart, lymph moves based on a variety of factors, including contractions of small specialized lymphatic muscles, the pressure gradient created by the combination of those and gravity, and the movements of your body itself.

Here’s a larger article than we have room for, with diagrams we also don’t have room for:

Modelling the lymphatic system

To oversimplify it in few words for the sake of moving on: you can most of the timethink of it as an ancillary network supporting your circulatory system that unlike blood, doesn’t deal with oxygen or sugars, but does deal with a lot of other things, including:

  • water and salt balance
  • immune cells and other aspects of immune function
  • transports fats (and any fat-soluble vitamins in them) into circulation
  • cleans up stuff that gets stuck between cells
  • general detoxification

There’s a lot that can go wrong if lymph isn’t flowing as it should

Too much to list here, but to give an idea:

  • Arthritis and many autoimmune diseases
  • Cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome
  • Obesity, diabetes, and organ failure
  • Alzheimer’s and other dementias
  • Lymphadenitis, lymphangitis, and lymphedenopathy
  • Lymphomas and Hodgkin’s disease (both are types of lymphatic cancer)
  • Cancers of other kinds, because of things not being cleaned up where and when they should be

Yikes! That’s a lot of important things for a mostly-forgotten system to be taking care of protecting us from!

What you can do for your lymphatic system, to avoid those things!

Happily, there are easy things we can do to give our lymph some love, such as:

Massage therapy (and foam rolling)

This is the go-to that many people/publications recommend. It’s good! It’s certainly not the most important thing to do, but it’s good.

You can even use a simple gadget like this one to help move the lymph around, without needing to learn arcane massage techniques.

Exercise (move your body!)

This is a lot more important. The more we move our body, the more lymph moves around. The more lymph moves around today, the more easily it will move around tomorrow. A healthy constant movement of lymph throughout the lymphatic system is key to keeping everything running smoothly.

If you pick only one kind of exercise, make it High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT):

How To Do HIIT (Without Wrecking Your Body)

If for some reason you really can’t do that, just spend as much of your waking time as reasonably possible, moving, per:

Exercise Less; Move More

For ideas on how to do that, check out…

No-Exercise Exercise!

Get thee to a kitchen

This is about getting healthy food that gives your body’s clean-up crew (the lymphatic system) an easier time of it.

Rather than trying to “eat clean” which can be a very nebulous term and it’s often not at all clear (and/or hotly debated) what counts as “clean”, instead, stick to foods that constitute an anti-inflammatory diet:

Eat To Beat Inflammation

Take care!

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