The Miracle of Lymph

Average Reading Time: 6 minutes

Understanding the lymphatic system provides insights into the body’s profound ability to care for itself. In Ayurveda it is the first system we treat, but in the West, it is simply not addressed until a frightening diagnosis is made.

Perhaps the most forgotten, under-studied, and least understood system in the body is the lymphatic system. The lymph travels with the nerves, arteries and veins and is by itself twice as big as the arterial blood supply system – and maybe twice as important. The lymphatic system removes waste from every cell in your body while regulating the immune system.

When I co-directed an Ayurvedic  center with Deepak Chopra, one of my jobs was to train and certify medical doctors in Ayurveda. My students were constantly telling me, “We were never taught such details about the lymphatic system!” They knew it was a place where impurities reside and were taught the medical treatments, but the purpose of this system was never really discussed.

Treating the Cause

In the West, when we go to the doctor for a blood test and are told we have high cholesterol, we are prescribed a statin drug to lower the cholesterol and prevent heart disease. However this doesn’t address why you have high cholesterol in the first place. While lowering cholesterol is important, combining western medicine strategies with natural strategies including lifestyle and diet is also important.

One of the most important questions that often eludes western medicine is, “What is the cause of cholesterol imbalances?” The cause may be related to excess stress, which leads to poor drainage of the lymphatic system. This system drains waste from the blood and just about every other cell in your body. Doesn’t it make sense that if we measure the blood as it goes into the cell, we should also measure the filtered blood plasma or lymph as it leaves the cell? The ability for the blood to enter and leave a cell and intracellular spaces as lymphatic fluid is one of the most important processes in the human body.

Your lymph is your body’s biggest drain – keep it unclogged!

Mannequin on Faucet
Your lymph is your body’s biggest drain – keep it unclogged.

Keep Your Body’s Drains Clean

The lymphatic system is like the drains in your house and the blood is like the faucets. If the drains are clogged in your sink or toilet, do you only clean out the faucets? Of course  not! You would clean the drains. The biggest drain we have in the body is the lymphatic system, which can stay clogged for many years. This forces us to adapt to an environment of toxins that stress and weaken immunity and other important pathways of detoxification.

As we all age, it is the ability to detoxify well and eliminate waste efficiently that will determine longevity and optimal health.

When the lymph system becomes congested and loses its ability to remove waste efficiently, the body will start to speak to us; the signs of circulatory congestion ensue. The key is to learn to listen while the body is still whispering, and not wait until it starts screaming.

Symptoms of Lymphatic Congestion

Do you experience any of these lymphatic congestion symptoms?

    • Rings get tight on fingers
    • Soreness and/or stiffness in the morning
    • Feeling tired
    • Bloating
    • Itchy skin
    • Holding on to water
    • Breast swelling or soreness with each cycle
    • Dry skin
    • Brain fog
    • Cold hands and feet

Almost every one of these health concerns can be linked to poor waste removal in the lymphatic system.

The lymphatic system is unique because it has more than one function. Not only is it designed for detoxification, the immune system’s B and T cells are most active in the lymph nodes of the body. If the lymph is boggy and sluggish our immune response may be compromised.

3 Major Causes Of Lymphatic Congestion

  1. Stress has been identified as the cause of about 80% of all chronic health issues. The chemistry of stress is degenerative and lymph congesting.
  2. Digestive imbalances may irritate intestinal villi, which is a classic reason for lymph congestion. As the majority of the lymph in the body surrounds the gut (Gut Associated Lymphatic Tissues – GALT), the quality of the villi are critical for proper lymph flow, detoxification, assimilation and immunity.
  3. Iodine deficiency is also a common cause of lymphatic congestion. Iodine helps to mitigate the effects of a toxic environment and supports the lymph at the cellular level.

Stress Creates an Acidic Environment

When under stress, the body is forced to manufacture and secrete excess stress-fighting hormones to boost energy. The waste products of these hormones are called free radicals, which may be a leading cause of pre-mature aging. What’s worse is that these hormones and the free radicals are very acidic, which alters the blood and cellular chemistry to become less alkaline and more acidic.

Eat with the Seasons

Eat like a squirrel: Enjoy nature’s harvest.

The lymphatic system drains best in a more alkaline environment. This is illustrated in nature when we watch squirrels eat nuts in the winter. Nuts are an acidic, warming food that help insulate the squirrel during a cold winter. Acidic foods that are typically harvested in the winter help the body hold onto fats, proteins, minerals and vitamins. If a squirrel ate broccoli during a cold Vermont winter they would alkalize their systems, trigger a lymph detox, and likely freeze to death! Fortunately, broccoli doesn’t grow in Vermont in the winter, so most squirrels don’t run into this problem.

Humans, on the other hand, did not get this memo. We seem to eat anything anytime and have truly lost our connection to nature. The harvest is our link to nature, and the preventive medicine which ensures that our delicate balance with nature is always maintained.  If you are interested in digging deeper into the relationship of our health and nature’s harvest, please read my book The 3-Season Diet.

How to Treat Stress

Stress creates an exhausting chemistry, and often leaves us depleted. Once exhausted, the body does not have the energy required to stay calm under stress and to sedate ourselves so we can stay asleep at night. This can lead to chronic fatigue, mood issues and irritability.

Hydrate to De-congest Your Lymph

Sip warm water every 10-15 minutes for 2 weeks.

While still wrapping up winter and preparing the body to cleanse this spring, there are a few lymph-moving techniques that are very appropriate and necessary for this time.

One of the most common causes of lymph congestion is dehydration. Water, and only water, can adequately rehydrate the body. The best lymph-moving rehydration technique is to sip hot water every 10-15 minutes throughout the day. Do it religiously for one day. If by the end of that day you are experiencing a dry mouth and are now thirsty for this once tasteless sip of hot water, this is a good indication you are dehydrated and your lymph is congested. If this happens, try this rehydration therapy: sip hot water every 10-15 minutes for 2 weeks straight. Keep a thermos of hot water nearby to make it easy to follow this protocol.

In addition to sipping hot water as part of the lymph-moving rehydration technique, try to drink 1/2 your ideal body weight in ounces per day for two weeks as well. For example, if you weigh 140 lbs, drink 70 ounces of water (almost 9 glasses) per day.

Some Common Symptoms of Lymphatic Congestion

• Rings get tight on fingers
• Soreness and/or stiffness in the morning
• Feeling tired
• Bloating / Holding on to water
• Itchy skin
• Weight gain and extra belly fat
• Swollen glands
• Low immunity
• Brain fog
• Breast swelling or soreness with each cycle
• Dry skin
• Mild rash or acne
• Hypersensitivity
• Mild headaches
• Elevated histamine and irritation due to common environmental allergens
• Occasional constipation, diarrhea, and/or mucus in the stool

De-congesting Your Lymph

If you are experiencing any of the lymph-related symptoms mentioned in the chart above, please consider preparing your body for a cleanse this spring, or with an herb called Manjistha, which means ‘red root.’ Please read up on Manjistha, as it is my favorite lymph de-stagnating herb and may be just the right support to start getting your lymph moving now.

Remember, before you jump into a cleansing program of any kind, be sure that the detoxification channels – namely your lymph – are moving. Detoxifying the body into a congested lymphatic system is one of the main causes of detox and cleansing reactions, which are easily avoided with the right preparation.

Eat Red Foods

Fresh Beets
A fresh beet every day is your lymph’s best friend.

All red-staining foods tend to be great lymph-movers. Manjistha is a red root traditionally used as a dye that is known for its great lymph-moving properties. Berries, cherries, pomegranate, beets, and cranberries were all traditionally used as dyes and as natural lymph moving and detoxifying agents.

Beets in particular also have one other very important property that make them the top food on my list right now. They thin the bile. Bile is responsible for about 80% of the immune response in the gut, it regulates the stool, digests good fat and gets rid of bad fat. Beets also scrub the villi of the gut, which is where the digestive lymph originates. Beets make a great food for your lymph. (1)

Make sure you eat your red foods for optimal lymph function!



  1. says

    Recently I found a recipe on google for a drink that will detox the lymph system.
    The link has since been removed.
    Can you suggest the quickest way to do a lymph detox?
    Cheers, trisha

    • Alexandra says

      What is a good detox plan along with manjistha ? I ordered it from you and have been taking it for a couple days. I eat a pretty wholesome diet and drink lots of water as well as exercise.

  2. says

    i RECEIVED A ARTICLE ON LYMPHAID TO ROLL ON UNDER YOUR ARMS AND IT SAYS IT WILL CLEANSE YOUR LYMPH NODES BUT I would also like to try a the drink mentioned above is there any truth in any of this

  3. says

    Thank you for this timely article. I did a very mild spring cleanse with my two kids a couple weeks ago. Just excluded wheat and dairy and ssugr. We don’t eat much processed food except tortilla chips and sprouted grain bread so it wasn’t too far from our regular diet. My one year old and I did great but my five year old got numerous swollen lymph nodes in his neck and along his rib cage as soon as we stopped the detox. He had one swollen lymph node since a bad cold in November so I am now thinking that he was cleansing well but the lymph was already congested. I may have still been using too many fats with him as well for the spring in the form of coconut oil and ghee. His little immune system has been working overtime this winter with kindergarten starting so I think he had a lot to get rid of. I have now Cut out added fats for the spring and added ACV and minerals and it seemed to help today but just a little. Can I use manjistha on a 5 yr old? I am going to make him some beet juice tomorrow. Thank you!

    • John Douillard says

      Hi Joanne,
      Yes, manjistha is okay for kids for short periods of time when there is congested lymph. However, I don’t think it a good idea to have them restrict fats or do detoxes (beyond eliminating allergens or sugar).
      Hope that helps.

      • says

        Thank you for your response. Yes, I have always given him healthy fats regular which is why I thought he was always so healthy. This stagnant lymph confused me since I only eliminated sugar, dairy and wheat for the spring and was giving him plenty of healthy fats, meat, veggies, fruit, rice and potatoes. I would never do a serious detox or cleanse on my kids. I thought maybe I was doing something wrong when the glands got swollen. I have always given my kids lots of healthy fats. I am ready your perfect healthy kids book now and have added back in the healthy fats including his daily cod liver oil. He is a winter type and I think he just got too dry this winter since we live in a very dry and cold area and it was aggravated by the spring. He has had a swollen lymph node since November so I think the lymph has been stagnant all winter. Even though we eat lot of protein and fat in the winter, I think with school he wasn’t eating well at lunch with their short lunch and got cold and dry. I like your suggestion of making him a big meal for after school. I’m trying this now. I had a consultation with Tauna and she recommended Brahmi instead of manjistha, but I would like to try manjistha as well. I didn’t see anything about Brahmi in your book. I have started the ear oil and massage as well as chyawanprash. We just got started this week. I am going to schedule a follow up consultation to make sure I am feeding him the right foods to help. I am concentrating on warming cooked foods for building strength and keeping him hydrated. I am now realizing that I need to keep him on the winter foods longer in the spring just like myself. Knowing his type really helps. I am thankful to have you and Tauna as a resource to help me correct this for him before it turns into a major problem. <3

        • John Douillard says

          Hi Joanne,
          I am glad to hear that you and Tauna were able to connect. It sounds like you have a good plan in place. Your kids are lucky to have such an attentive, health conscious mom.

  4. Alexandra says

    HI .. i had an equine accident and after several months almost years after I am still trying to figure out why my right side is swollen … after seeing holistic practitioners and western medicine doctors and numerous amounts of bloodwork .. the conclusion is lymphatic blockage :( i have done EVERYTHING KNOWN TO MAN and nothing seems to help .. currently i get lymphatic drainage treatments … i am so so so frustrated !! What is someones SUPER secret to getting the blockage to GIVE !!!! i eat healthy, exercise, keep stress at bay…. i just want some relief ! my right breast is a size bigger than left and everything from my ear to my toe on the right side feels swollen! I drink LOTS of water … Any help or suggestions would be SOOO welcome :)

    • John Douillard says

      Hi Alexandra,
      It is difficult to say what will unblock the lymph, but we have to look upstream at the entire digestive process as well. I would suggest reading up on my digestive health, detox and lymph archived articles and videos. Of course the lymph movers to consider along the way are Manjistha and Lymph Vein HP. Perhaps those would be good to get started on.
      Be well,
      Dr John

  5. Capt Hari Bhagat says

    Dear Dr,
    I am both surprised and astonished that you have overlooked the best way to detoxify the Lymph is to exercise on the Trampoline Rebounder every day upto 1 Hour a day and it will transform the lives of your Patients.

    Capt hari Bhagat

    • John Douillard says

      Thanks Capt hari Bhagat,
      I have made that suggestion in earlier articles but thanks for the reminder.
      Be well and jump high.

    • Becky says

      Do not use the tramp if you’ve had surgery to tack the bladder, as the g-force can pull it loose again! If not, though, this is a great thing for one’s health program.

  6. Capt Hari Bhagat says

    Dear Dr,
    I am both astonished and surprised that you personally do not use a Trampolinee Rebounder and recommend it to your patients including their children as it will detoxify the body every day with a fun exercise

  7. Judy says

    Be careful rebounding on a trampoline. I found it gave me knee pain after awhile. Try to do it, so you don’t bend your knees too much.
    Also, don’t forget lymphatic massages.

  8. Dorinda says

    Can you help me with psoriasis. I have it over 70% of my body. love reading your articles I will start doing your videos. 70 pound over weight. please help me with this psoriasis.

    Thank you

    • John Douillard says

      Hi Dee,
      Thanks for reaching out. If you would like to work on figuring out the root cause of the psoriasis, I am glad to consult with you. You can call Chelsea (303-516-4848) and she will help you book an appointment.
      Be well.

    • jen says

      I think a lot of skin conditions are caused by polymers in the body. There are polymers in our foods used as food preservatives (modified food starch has been found to be plastic materials) and our air is filled with plastic, our bpa cans etc. There is also syloxane, polyeurothanes, Teflon, silicone in our foods. I think when we take these in our bodies try to push it out. Essential oils and a substance called Dr. Willards Water clear breaks down plastics and they have a skin ointment as well. A toxicologist report can figure out if it’s plastic. I found out this material after searching for a remedy for cystic acne. I found out I was plastic by going to a toxicologist who put me under a black light in a dark room. My acne glowed fluorescent because it was silicone and other plastics.

  9. Holl says

    Dear Dr,
    I have been having a weird pain in the right side of my neck, which feels like it could be the tendon ( feel it more with movement). This seemed to happen after having a bad throat infection (white tonsils, swollen, couldn’t breath swallow, eat) now this pain is still evident, but have now also got a left sore, aching, larger left breast.
    I don’t like to go for the traditional method of visiting the doctor as they just prescribe medication where I am.
    I am 25 year old female with 2 children… Could this be the lymphatic system?

    Thanks holl

    • John Douillard says

      Hi Hollie,
      I am sorry to hear that you have been in pain for awhile. If you would like to set up a consultation (in-person, by phone or on Skype) with either Dr. John or Tauna to delve into your health history and for specific advice, you can do so online or by calling 303-516-4848 for scheduling.

  10. khalid says

    thank you for this article , just i want to ask : are there any correlation between lunar cycle and lymph stagnation ( congestion ) ?
    thank you

    • John Douillard says

      Hi Gale,
      Yes, many people do the cleanse without a gall bladder. Just use coconut oil instead of ghee for the oleation and use prune juice instead of Epsom salt for the laxative. The details on these instructions will be in your Colorado Cleanse book as well. Let us know if you have other questions.

  11. Bryan says

    hello, Doctor
    I am 17 years old and I have been experiencing swollen glands around my neck and face area, and I believe it’s due to the fact that I have a terrible diet (I do not eat the best foods), nor have I been getting much physical activity. What can I do to help this?

  12. jyoti says

    My dad is suffering with kidney disease and water retention in his lungs. Currently he is on dialysis.
    He is 78 years old and he do not like dialysis.
    Can you help me how to reduce water retention and increase HB.
    Can help me how to improve lymph system.

  13. Teresa says

    Thank you for the great article. I have been dealing with some health issues the past few months with no concrete answers from my doctors. It started as allergies (which I have never before had and I am 50) and now has progresse into vertigo. I had a CT scan that was clear. My thoughts have been leaning toward my lymphatic system. I have the manjistha already but have been a little fearful of having side effects. Is it gentle? I don’t do detoxes well either as I get so many side effects so it makes me even more certain that it’s my lymphatic system. Any thoughts? Thank you.

    • John Douillard says

      Hi Teresa,
      Though Manjistha does not usually have negative side effects, everyone responds to herbs differently. Check with your doctor before beginning an herbal regimen and begin with a low dose. LifeSpa’s Manjistha is a whole herb formula rather than an extract so it is gentler on the body and less likely to cause side effects.

  14. Paula says

    Dr. JOHN,
    In your opinion, is there any correlation between a clogged lymph system and hyperthyroidism (Graves disease)? I appreciate your addressing this. Thank you.

  15. Anyelina says

    I’m curious as to why you don’t suggest manual lymphatic drainage for decongesting the lymphatic system?

  16. Nicole says

    Great article. I have a lot of swollen lymph nodes, mrsa, candida and many food allergies. Needless to say, I am VERY toxic. I am going to try several things to unclog my lymph system however I was wondering if I should do colon and then a liver cleanse before. Any input would be appreciated.

    • John Douillard says

      The Short Home Cleanse and the Colorado Cleanse both address lymph, liver and colon. When you are ready for a cleanse, you might try one of those.

  17. SALLY ABSETZ says

    HELLO- I HAVE ATTEMPTED & FAILED TO COMPLETE THE “SHORT HOME CLEANSE” TWICE NOW. The first time I tried to do just kitchari and the morning of the 2nd day I felt weak & dizzy and decided it was too much for me. The 2nd time I added some protein & veggies to my lunch & dinner. The morning of the 3rd day I woke with a terrible headache & sick to my stomach & had to call in sick to work. That was this morning & I slept until noon, I haven’t eaten anything (except cantaloupe) drank a ton of water. I still feel ill, but much better. I haven’t taken any supplements today. I read that the Manjistha is supposed to help with healing crisis, but in my case it seems to have caused the healing crisis. Am I really toxic or just having a bad reaction to the supplements? I was thinking I would reduce the amount by half, but I’m just now feeling better & not ready to try again just yet. I posted this comment here because I haven’t seen any other comments about healing crisis & I am curious if anyone else has had a similar experience. I thought a 4 day cleanse would be easy, but it is not! I recently had melanoma surgery where they injected me with radioactive dye in order to remove a few lymph nodes. Maybe that is causing my severe reaction. Any thoughts on how to approach my 3rd attempt?

    • John Douillard says

      Hi Sally,
      Sounds like it is probably best to stop the herbs entirely until you feel better. If you decide to try the cleanse again, introduce the herbs slowly so that you will know if you are reacting to one of them. No need to push yourself too hard on the first cleanse. Definitely stick with the Nourish Meal Plan (adding protein and veggies) and keep your ghee dosage low until you feel comfortable.
      Let us know how it goes and feel free to write ( or call (303-516-4848) with any questions.

  18. Connir says

    Do you think there is any connection between. The lymphatic system. And vulvodynia Have it for 9 years now tried everything I could no luck!!!

  19. John Douillard says

    Hi Gaia,
    Both raw and cooked beets are beneficial so a combination of the two is great. Though raw beets are best, those who do not care for them or find them constipating can easily use cooked beets and still experience benefits.


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