The healthy function of your lymphatic system is required for an optimal immune response. Millions of Americans struggle with a sluggish and stagnant lymph system, a clear immune system disadvantage. This is because your lymph system, in addition to its immune-related chores, is also in the trash removal business and the absorption and transport of fat business. The speed with which you mount an immune response can be drastically impaired by poor lymph function. It is worthwhile to understand how well your own lymph system is working.
During the course of infection cells that have identified the invader, such as the dendritic cells of your front line immune troops, must migrate into your lymphatic system and present their finding to a sub-group of lymphocytes called T Helper cells that are residing within lymph tissue.
Your T Helper cells have various meeting rooms within lymph nodes and lymph tissue where they discuss the problem and refine their identification of the invader. I might add that this is a far superior operation than health care officials traveling over to China to make a guess at which viruses should be in next season’s flu vaccine.
Once T Helper cells reach consensus they present the identification tag of the invader (antigen) to the higher-powered air force of your immune system, so that your big-time military knows what the enemy looks like. Troops resting in the barracks of your lymph tissue spring into action, having specific knowledge of the enemy’s appearance. At the same time the call goes out to manufacture more immune troops, requiring your liver to send protein and only happening really well if you are nutritionally adequate in many basic nutrients. See my article, Using Nutrition to Perceive and Combat Swine Flu, for more information on this important topic.
In addition to your liver distributing nutritional priorities for the formation of your immune troops, the latest research shows that your liver participates in antigen recognition and production of immune troops as well.
While various nutrients are needed to properly energize these immune cells so that they can move about, similar to the idea of having gasoline in your car and an engine that works, the issue of the condition of the highways being traveled upon is of the utmost importance. In the case of your immune response, those highways and roads are your lymphatic system. If your roads are cluttered with sludge or in a state of disrepair, dendritic cells have a harder time getting to the meeting rooms of the T Helper cells, troop production is reduced, and the speed of deployment is handicapped.
When you realize that a viral enemy is rapidly multiplying, the lack of an optimally swift immune response can make all the difference in the severity of infection.
What is Lymph Stagnation?
Yes, I know, this is not a common medical term. It should be. If doctors understood the subject they would have a lot better results with their patients. A properly flowing lymph is essential for a speedy and effective immune response. A stagnant or congested lymph spells trouble, in direct proportion to the amount of stagnation present.
The fluid between every cell of your body becomes lymph fluid as it enters your lymphatic vessels. Waste products of metabolism that are too large to put into your blood and breathe out are transported via your lymph to your liver for processing. The greater the amount of wear and tear you are under, from any source, the more trash must be hauled out through this system.
Your lymph fluid flows towards two main thoracic ducts (about the size of garden hoses) on either side of your spine between your shoulders. A sluggish and stagnant lymph system is marked by a variety of symptoms related to the pressure build up in this area of your body, a type of internal “”constipation.””
Your lymph circulation does not have its own pump. In comparison, your heart pumps your blood. Rather, it runs primarily on muscle contractions that massage it along. Immediately you can see that inactivity and loss of muscle tone are major problems for healthy lymph flow.
The classic symptoms of lymph stagnation involve stiffness and pressure in your shoulder area. This is a location where muscles (stress tension), nerve-related stress (brain stem excitation – such as anxiety, stress overload, or pain), and the thoracic ducts of your lymph system all converge (they all cross-talk with inflammatory cytokines). A problem in any one of these systems causes problems to the others. A history of whiplash injury can severely handicap lymph function due to the injured tissue. Even once the injured tissue heals the lymph congestion may remain. Part of true fibromyalgia always involves significantly impaired lymph function in the shoulder area; causing trash to back up in muscles and make them hurt.
Your lymph system is a pressure system. When it is stagnant in the main shoulder area it forces pressure and waste products up into your head. This can cause headaches that start in the back of your neck and work their way up. It can cause pressure type headaches on the top of your head or behind your sinuses. It causes you to make excess mucous following a meal, as a way to discharge waste that cannot make it through the normal lymph channels. It causes you to have excess mucous in the morning, a plan B for getting rid of excess trash that could not be processed normally.
It often results in ongoing sinus problems, as fluid in your head must drain down through your lymph system and if it is sluggish in the shoulder area then you head fluids also are at risk for becoming stagnant. A stagnant lymph is responsible for repeat ear infections in children, as the back up of fluid in the eustachian tubes of the ears becomes a breeding ground for infection.
Because your lymph system likes to do house cleaning at night, if you have problems, the thoracic ducts will swell while you are sleeping (an overworked trash removal system) and press on nerves that go to your hands and arms (and to a lesser extent your legs and face). Compression on these nerves may cause your hand or arm to fall asleep while you are sleeping. Many people notice they have such a problem every now and then, which invariably is associated with a flare up of lymph troubles due to wear and tear overload. Those who have this problem more often than not have significant lymph stagnation.
Because your lymph system is a pressure system if it is stagnant you will be more susceptible to changes in environmental pressure. Those who feel worse when a weather front comes through or following an airplane ride often have a baseline of lymph sluggishness. Even the gravitational pull of a full moon or a new moon can adversely influence a congested lymph system and cause symptoms of stagnation.
Your lymph system also has the duty of absorbing and transporting most of the dietary fat you consume. Thus, high fat meals in someone with pre-existing lymph stagnation or a high fat meal before bed will have a high likelihood of severely slowing down lymph flow, and thus be highly immunosuppressive if you need to fight an infection (in addition to provoking snoring or sleep apnea).
I know a number of examples of people waking up with extreme dizziness, rushing to the ER, and having zillions of dollars of tests run to find out there isn’t anything wrong. If only the doctor had enough sense to ask them if they ate right before bed (the answer is always yes). The fat content of the food forced extra sludge into the lymph when the lymph wanted to do housecleaning. The pressure backed up fluid in their eustachian tubes, forcing pressure on the balance centers in the ear and causing dizziness. Recurring dizziness not related to standing up too fast, ear popping, and ringing in the ears (tinnitus) are always made worse by lymph stagnation – and many times caused by lymph stagnation.
Too much dairy fat in small children often congests their lymph system, setting the stage for repeat ear infections.
On the other hand, dietary fat is in some ways a stimulant to the flow of lymph, along with physical activity. My point is that too much fat, especially a large meal or eating before bed can stress lymphatic flow, a problem made worse if a person is already in a trend of sluggish lymph function. A real mistake if you are fighting a bug.
Stress is a major challenge to your lymph system, as it literally shrinks your thymus gland, a main training center for lymphocytes. Additionally, too much stress tends to create surplus amounts of trash that must be carted off through your lymph system.
Half of your lymphatics are actually around your digestive tract and work to maintain proper immune response to whatever is in your gut. Constipation in your digestive tract causes a back up in your internal lymphatics, as there is no place for new trash to flow. Gut health is vital to lymph function and internal lymph flow. Lymph trash flows into a major vein, then to your liver for processing, then mostly through your gall bladder, into your gut, and out. A problem anywhere along this functional lineup of trash handlers causes a rebound negative effect, like dominoes falling in the wrong direction.
Edema or water retention is another classic sigh of a struggling lymph system. Thus, by definition, fluid build up in your legs or the need to use medical diuretics are signs that your lymph system and thus potential immune response are not in tip top working order. In fact, blood pressure medication can actually cause lymph stagnation by lowering the normal “”push”” that your circulatory gives indirectly to your lymph system.
There are a thousand shades of gray in terms of the function of your lymphatic system, ranging from highly effective down through various levels of stagnation and impaired immune response, until we reach the fibromyalgia level of major lymph problem.
Whatever your baseline of lymph function, it is vital to help improve it or maintain optimal function so that your immune system can work better to fight a flu infection.