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Ounce of prevention | Your white blood - lymph

Published:Monday | June 5, 2017 | 12:00 AM
A patient with lymphoedema being treated.
Physical exercise greatly enhances lymphatic flow.

The circulation is usually thought of as the system through which blood flows. It consists of a pump, the heart, and more than 60,000 miles of blood vessels. This important transportation system carries oxygen and nutrients to the various organs and tissues while removing wastes and toxins from them.

But there is another vital circulatory system at work in your body called the lymphatic system. Instead of red blood, it contains a clear or sometimes milky fluid called lymph, which surrounds all the cells of the body. The word lymph comes from Latin and means 'like water'.

Two-thirds of the body is made up of water. Some of that water is in the bloodstream, but much more resides in the lymphatic system. Our cells are located in a sea of lymph.

Lymph is formed when fluid leaks out of the walls of the smallest blood vessels called capillaries, bathing the cells. This lymph is then collected, filtered through the lymph nodes, and transported by the lymphatic vessels and channels from all parts of the body back into the blood circulatory system from whence it came.

This lymphatic fluid, along with special cells, vessels, and organs like the spleen, thymus, tonsils, adenoids, and thousands of lymph nodes make up the lymphatic system.

Impaired lymph flow breeding ground for diseases

Functions of the lymphatic system: The lymphatic system functions as part of the immune system. As the lymphatic fluid flows through the lymph nodes, it is filtered. White blood cells in the nodes called lymphocytes can then destroy any bacteria or viruses in the lymph. Swollen glands sometimes seen in the neck, groin, or armpit may indicate inflamed or blocked lymph nodes.

The lymphatic system also uses the spleen as a filter to remove old red blood cells, other unhealthy cells, with bacteria and viruses.

If the flow of lymph is impaired, the body parts that are affected become congested with their own waste. This otherwise healthy lymph now becomes a potential breeding ground for infection as wherever fluid stagnates in the body, infection often follows. Viruses, bacteria, and parasites may be trapped in the lymphatic system when proper drainage is absent. This results in inflammation, degenerative disease, and accelerated ageing. The lymphatic system's critical role in preventing disease and promoting health and wellness may well be the most overlooked function of the human body.

Lymphoedema is the medical term for swelling that results from blockage of the flow of lymphatic fluid. A common example of this is the swelling of the arm that often occurs after breast surgery for breast cancer. This is because the lymph nodes in the armpit are often removed as part of the surgery, and this interrupts the normal flow of lymph from the arm.

An even more exaggerated form of lymphoedema occurs in a condition called elephantiasis, where the leg becomes swollen with dark thick skin reminiscent of the leg of an elephant. This is due to the blockage of the lymphatic vessels draining the leg by a parasitic worm called filaria, transmitted by mosquito bites.

Sluggish lymphatic system may be sign of potentially serious condition


Make your lymph flow


Exercise: As the lymphatic circulation has no heart to pump lymph, it depends on the movement of the body and the contractions of the muscles to move the lymph. Physical exercise greatly enhances lymphatic flow, and breathing exercises are particularly useful. Each time you breath in, a negative pressure is created in the chest and lymph is sucked up from the abdomen and extremities back into the blood circulation. Regular deep breathing is, therefore, a very important health practice.

Rebounding is a special form of exercise using a small trampoline called a rebounder. The vibrations and shock waves created by this form of exercise powerfully stimulate the flow of lymphatic fluid.

Heat and Exercise: An extremely powerful technique combines exercise with heat in a practice called Bikram Yoga. This powerfully mobilises the lymphatic circulation while detoxifying the body. Heat therapy can also be employed in infrared saunas and hot baths.

Massage: Massage, in general, but particularly lymphatic massage, is a wonderful tool for the prevention and treatment of lymphoedema. Lymphologists are practitioners specially trained in using this technique along with special decompression bandages to facilitate drainage of lymph.

Good nutrition: Good cellular nutrition with adequate proteins and lots of vegetables and fruit, along with a good fluid intake is essential for a healthy circulation. Again, I recommend the cellular nutrition concept and programme.

Supplementing with lots of the omega 3 fatty acids and the antioxidants, especially vitamin C in high dosages will reduce inflammation and improve the tone and strength of the blood and lymphatic vessels. Circumin, ginger, pycnogenol, and garlic are also helpful.

Remember, it is important to identify and treat the underlying problem and not just treat the symptom. A sluggish lymphatic system may be a sign of a potentially serious condition. Look for and treat the cause.

- You may email Dr, Vendryes at or listen to An 'Ounce of Prevention' on POWER 106 FM on Fridays at 9:00 p.m. Visit for details on his books and articles.