Eating Healthy for your Lymphatic System

Nutrition for a Healthy Lymphatic System

This last year has put a spotlight on the importance of a healthy immune system.

While we are all familiar with what it means to have a healthy immune system, most are not familiar with the role that our body’s lymphatic system has on it. Since it’s Lymphedema Awareness Month,

I figured I would introduce you all to the lymphatic system and how nutrition plays a vital role to keep it in tip-top shape!

Meet Your Lymphatic System!

The lymphatic system is basically our body’s drainage and filtering mechanism. So let’s focus on the “drainage” part of the system first. As our blood vessels carry blood to our extremities the vessels get smaller and smaller. This causes water, proteins, salts, and glucose to leak out of the blood vessels and into our tissues. The lymphatic system is responsible for collecting this fluid (now referred to as lymph) so that it does not accumulate and cause painful swelling. When our lymphatic system is not working correctly or has been damaged it can result in excessive and painful swelling in the extremities called lymphedema. Now, let’s shift our focus to the “filtering” aspect of the lymphatic system. Bacteria, microbes, and toxins are also collected in the lymph fluid. The lymphatic vessels carry them to lymph nodes where white blood cells attack and destroy them. Now that you are more familiar with the mighty lymphatic system, let’s talk about what you can do to keep it healthy!

Nutrition and The Lymphatic System

It’s not surprising that our lymphatic system, like the rest of our body, depends on a well-balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals to keep it in peak condition. If our body is experiencing a high level of inflammation, this can put increased stress on the lymphatic system and overtime this can lead to dysfunction and impairment. To ensure that you are supporting the drainage and filtering power of the lymphatic system make sure to take in plenty of water and foods with anti-inflammatory properties and reduce your intake of foods that can increase inflammation within the body.

Leafy Greens

Green Leafy Vegetables

  • Includes spinach, kale, chard, arugula, collard greens, beet greens, etc
  • When paired with an extra virgin olive oil or full-fat salad dressing, absorption of vitamins found in leafy greens increases
  • Consider cooked and raw versions. Cooking vegetables makes some nutrients easier to absorb but decreases or destroys others so it is good to take in some of both
Nutrition Broccoli

Cruciferous Vegetables

  • Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts
  • One study has shown that eating 1.5 cups of cruciferous vegetables per day has been shown to decrease 3 inflammatory markers in the blood by 13%-25% (1)
Berries

Berries

  • Contain multiple phytochemicals that have a strong antioxidant effect in the body

Omega-3’s

  • Salmon, wild seafood, flax seed, chia seeds
  • Omega-3’s have been associated with decrease C-Reactive Protein which is an inflammatory marker in the blood (2)
Chia Seeds

Nuts and seeds

  • Chia, flax, hemp, pumpkin
  • High in healthy fats, protein, nutrients, and antioxidant polyphenols

Herbs and spices (turmeric, ginger, garlic)

  • Turmeric, ginger, garlic, cinnamon, rosemary, green tea, black pepper, and cardamom
  • Not only does it add some great flavor to your food, but they can back a big antioxidant punch! (3)
Olive Oil

Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Coconut Oil

Foods that Cause Inflammation in the Body

  • Common Allergens such as dairy, gluten, soy, shellfish, or nightshades
  • Low-Quality Animal Products
  • Refined Vegetable Oils
  • Processed Foods

Water

This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but staying adequately hydrated is an essential part of a healthy lymphatic system. It is a main component of the lymph that helps to trap bacteria and microbes and keeps our immune cells functioning properly so they can destroy these invaders

Wellness and the Lymphatic System

Even though I want to stress the importance of nutrition, I can’t do the lymphatic system justice without mentioning the importance of healthy sleep, exercise, and stress management habits. Inadequate sleep and excessive stress causes increased cortisol (a stress hormone) which leads to increased inflammation in the body when it becomes chronic. The lymphatic system relies on muscle contraction to help assist in drainage of the lymph fluid so exercise is very helpful to support this process. So next time you hear someone talking about the immune system, think about the lymphatic system and all the amazing things that it does for your body!

Resources

  1. Jiang, Yu, Sheng-Hui, Xiao-Ou Shu, et.al. “Cruciferous Vegetable Intake Is Inversely Correlated with Circulating Levels of Proinflammatory Markers in Women.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 17 March 2014 (10.1016/j.jand.2013.12.019). Accessed March 31, 2014.
  2. Ellulu MS, Khaza’ai H, Patimah I, Rahmat A, Abed Y. Effect of long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on inflammation and metabolic markers in hypertensive and/or diabetic obese adults: a randomized controlled trial. Food Nutr Res. 2016 Jan 29;60:29268. doi: 10.3402/fnr.v60.29268. PMID: 26829184; PMCID: PMC4734034.
  3. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/anti-inflammatory-herbs#3.-Turmeric
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