I treat a lot of complex patients in my practice, and often many of these patients have more than one thing going on: chronic viral or bacterial infections, biotoxin illness, multiple chemical sensitivity, etc. What most of these conditions have in common is cellular waste. Most detoxification processes are great at pulling junk out of the cells—but what happens to it after that?
This is where the lymphatic system comes in.
The Lymphatic System
Blood gets pumped from the heart to the extremities via arteries, which end in little porous capillaries. This is where the blood and plasma both separate and come back together. Most of the plasma reenters the blood vessels to get taken back to the heart, but a small percentage hangs out in the space between the cells, called the interstitial space, and performs maintenance: dropping off nutrients while whisking away toxins and metabolic waste. This fluid then takes an alternate route back to the heart via the lymphatic system, propelled along by valves and muscles.
Most of us think of the lymph as part of the immune system, and it is: lymphatic tissue (tonsils, spleen, thymus, etc) and lymph nodes are places where lymphocytes (white blood cells) are either made or activated, and where filtration of the lymphatic fluid occurs, removing foreign invaders and metabolic waste products picked up from around the cells. Eventually the filtered lymph merges again with the blood.
Lymphatic Congestion in Chronic Illness
Many of us are familiar with the swollen lymph nodes of acute infection: the foreign invader triggers an increase in white blood cells, clogging the lymph nodes where they get their marching orders, as it were. Waxing and waning swollen lymph nodes can occur with chronic infections as well—I’ve noticed particularly chronic Epstein Barr Virus has a tendency to present this way.
The most notable and sudden cases of lymphatic congestion occur with Jarisch-Herxheimer reactions, usually called Herxheimer or “herxing” for short. Symptoms can include exacerbation of previous symptoms, but often can include symptoms like malaise, muscle and joint pain, brain fog, headaches, bloating, swelling, constipation, and other inflammatory symptoms. This occurs when treating a chronic infection: as the organism dies, the metabolic waste products enter the extracellular space, and trigger an inflammatory immune reaction. The higher the antimicrobial dose, the stronger the herx, in most cases—but for many people, the way out of a herx is with lymphatic detoxification (more on this below) as well as decreasing the antimicrobial dose.
Metabolic toxins such as sulfites, oxalates, aldehydes, salicylates, and histamine can build up in the extracellular space as well, as can other non-biological toxins such as solvents or heavy metals, if they accumulate in the extracellular space, can trigger similar chronic immune responses.
How to Flush Out Your Lymphatic System
As mentioned above, lymph flow occurs via muscle primarily—so one of the very best things you can do for lymphatic movement is exercise. I’d highly encourage everyone to begin an exercise routine if you don’t have one—even if it’s just walking around the block. Start where you are and build up.
Since lymph is 95% water, adequate hydration of course is critical. Shoot for drinking half your body weight in ounces daily.
Dry skin brushing is another technique that can be helpful. This involves taking a brush with soft bristles and moving it from the outside of your body, in: from lower legs to trunk, arms to trunk, and trunk toward heart. It might not seem to do much, but the process does assist the lymph in returning to the subclavian vein, which drains into heart.
Lymphatic massage has had a profound effect for many of my patients in the midst of a herx reaction—think of it as a much more intense version of dry skin brushing.