The Long-Haul Link Between COVID, Serotonin, and Brain Lymph

The Long-Haul Link Between COVID, Serotonin, and Brain Lymph

If you enter a full room, plane, or car of sick people, does that mean you will get infected?  No! You will undoubtedly be exposed to the bug, but that is far from a guarantee that you will succumb.

Whether or not you get sick depends upon two factors: your exposure and your vulnerability. Exposure is the easy part. Microbes have had billions of years of practice making sure just about everything and everyone is exposed to them. In one study, 1 out of 80 office workers received a splash of water on their hand that had one drop of an artificial virus. By day’s end in the office, as many as 70% of all the surfaces and employees in the office were contaminated with the bug. When the employees were asked to use disinfectant (not antibacterial) wipes, the contamination dropped to 10%. So, while we can modify exposure with social distancing, disinfecting wipes, and masks, we need to understand our vulnerability in the face of that percentage we won’t be able to eliminate.

In This Article

Start with the Lymphatic System

The lymphatic system is the largest circulatory system in the human body. Its functions are many but can be boiled down to three factors that are linked to weak immunity and increased vulnerability to sickness:

1. Lymph carries the immune system.

2. Lymph removes cellular waste as part of maintaining fluid balance.

3. Lymph delivers properly-digested fat for the body to use as baseline energy.

So, without a properly functioning lymphatic system, immunity can be compromised, and toxins can build up and cause inflammation. On top of that, without the availability of fat as fuel, we become exhausted and find ourselves craving emergency fuel, i.e. sugar.

The importance of the lymph can be seen in its name, too: in Ayurveda, the lymph is known as rasa. The study of rasa is called rasayana, which is the study of longevity and immunity. It starts in the upper digestive system, as food mixes with gastric juices and enzymes to create the ahara rasa or food lymph. If certain proteins or fats are not digested completely here, they will enter the intestines in a non-digestible form. They will then enter the lymphatic system via the lymphatic collecting ducts in the intestinal villi as part of the body’s trash removal system.

If digestion continues to be incomplete, the lymphatic system can become overwhelmed and sluggish. This will systematically compromise the gut’s mucosal lining, which is responsible for both gut and respiratory immunity. This can cause low immunity, swelling, weight around the belly and hips, skin issues, joint issues, achiness, brain fog, food sensitivities, and much more.

Take The Lymph Quiz and Decode Your Symptoms Here 

Diving Deeper: The Glymphatic System

Studies have linked congestion of the brain’s lymphatic system (known as glymph) to the chronic fatigue associated with COVID and long COVID. When this fatigue lingers, it may be known as “post-COVID fatigue syndrome”. The brain’s glymphatic system dumps 3 pounds of plaque and trash from the brain’s cerebral spinal fluid (lymph) flow each year—mostly while you sleep. Much of the glymph is detoxified via the paranasal sinus lymphatic vessels. Congestion here has been linked to the loss of smell during COVID and is now being linked to long-haul fatigue symptoms.

See also Mood, Memory + Brain Fog: Cleanse Your Brain’s Glymphatic System with Ayurveda

In another study, patients with just mild COVID experienced congestion of the brain’s glymphatic system after four months of recovery. This congestion was worse in older patients. A significant number of patients with brain glymph congestion (particularly right-sided glymph congestion) experienced cognitive decline.

The Serotonin-Lymph-COVID Connection

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania recently published a paper suggesting there is a strong link between low levels of serotonin and long-haul COVID. It is common for serotonin levels to drop during an immune-impacting event, but they typically return to normal during recovery. During long COVID, serotonin levels stay low and victims can also experience brain fog, memory loss, breathing concerns, eyesight issues, and inflammation. From the Ayurvedic perspective, all of these symptoms could suggest lymphatic congestion.

Other studies have linked the flow of serotonin in the brain to the healthy flow of the brain’s cerebral spinal fluid, which is carried in part by the glymphatic system.

Digestion and Serotonin Production

Do you know where serotonin is produced in your body? More than 95% of this ‘happiness hormone’ is created in our guts. Studies have shown that low levels of serotonin can be linked to a body’s digestion—specifically, not converting enough dietary tryptophan into serotonin. This can be due to a poor, highly processed diet and/or digestive issues. This lack of intestinal serotonin has been shown to alter the function of the vagus nerve, and improper vagus nerve function has been linked to stress, cognitive decline, and memory loss.

How Do I Support My Lymphatic System?

As mentioned above, in Ayurveda, the source of the lymphatic system is found in the digestive system. Stress and a poor diet must always be evaluated when treating the digestion and lymphatic system. Here are some resources to get you on the right path:

To support healthy lymphatic flow, there are well-documented foods and herbs to consider. Any berries, which are loaded with antioxidants, are some of the best foods for healthy flow and detoxification. Dark leafy greens also support healthy lymphatic flow.

Herbal Lymph Support

While there are many herbs for lymphatic support in our Lymphatic Cleanse Kit, the classic go-to herb for the lymphatic system is called Manjistha. It is a red root that supports the detox pathways of both the lymphatic system and the liver.

Learn more about the 6-step Lymphatic Cleanse Kit here.   

Support Your Lymph with Proper Breathing

The lymphatic system in the abdomen, chest, breasts, and brain is pumped by both breathing and movement. The diaphragm is the body’s primary pump of the brain’s glymphatics. In a study that evaluated the diaphragmatic function of athletes, 91% of them did not have a diaphragm that was fully contracting and relaxing. Perhaps the first and most important self-help tool for the body’s lymph and glymph is to strengthen your diaphragm with breathing exercises. In Western medicine, these are called Maximal Inspiratory Breathing Techniques. In Ayurveda, the one I teach is called Pratiloma. Here are some resources to get you breathing and digesting more efficiently: 

Nasya: Ayurveda’s #1 Brain Lymph Detox

As we know, the glymphatic system dumps the brain’s waste products out of the body via the lymphatics in the paranasal sinuses. Nasya is a time-tested therapy that involves sniffing herbalized oils into the paranasal sinuses to trigger a brain lymphatic detox. While there are no studies that I have seen on this technique, it is clinically and historically a powerful tool. It starts with a vigorous head massage to vasodilate all the superficial vessels in the head and face. Studies have shown that giving yourself a daily, deep, and vigorous head massage can increase the flow of the brain’s glymphatic system.

My full At-Home Nasya therapy takes about an hour and needs to be done 2-3 x/week for 4-6 weeks to get the best benefits. Learn how to do the full Nasya Therapy Here.

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Dr. John

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