Is Your Lymph Affecting Your Mental Health?

The relationship between mood, brain, and immune function has been recently given much more credibility due to a recent discovery. It has been long thought that the central nervous system was devoid of any lymphatic drainage, which typically governs immune response – until now!

In This Article

Could your mood, memory, + psychology be affected by lymph

In the early 1900s, a prominent psychiatrist named Dr. Henry Cotton ran the world’s most prestigious mental institution based on the premise that depression and insanity were linked to a deep underlying infection of some kind.1 

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Dr. Cotton was famous for pulling infected teeth out of his mentally ill patients and, if that didn’t work, he would excise tonsils, testicles, ovaries, and, in some cases, colons. After his death, the practice faded into obscurity until recently, when a professor at Stony Brook University suggested certain psychiatric concerns should be considered a kind of infectious condition.2 

A growing body of evidence supports this theory, and Ayurveda may have discovered this relationship thousands of years ago! In a in JAMA Psychiatry in 2013, the medical records of over three million people were looked at, and it was found that any history of hospitalization for infection was associated with a 62% increased risk of later developing a mood disorder.4 The same study found having an autoimmune condition increased risk of future mood-related concerns by 45%.4 

Mood, Brain, + Immune Function 

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Maps of the lymphatic system: old (left) and updated to reflect the new discovery. Credit: University of Virginia Health System.

The relationship between mood, brain, and immune function has been recently given much more credibility due to a recent discovery. It has been long thought that the central nervous system was devoid of any lymphatic drainage, which typically governs immune response . . . until now! Recently, the University of Virginia discovered the brain was, in fact, drained by hidden lymphatic vessels (glymphatics) that support healthy immunity, inflammation response, and mood.3,7 

If lymphatic vessels in the brain or elsewhere become congested, the result could be an underlying immune compromise that could leave pathogens in the brain and body, increasing risk of infection, inflammation, autoimmunity, and psychiatric concerns.1,2 

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The relationship between mood and inflammation, now thought to be linked to poor lymphatic brain drainage, was recently studied in a meta-analysis, which suggests when serotonin-specific reuptake inhibitors were given alongside NSAIDS (Advil, Tylenol, asprin), there was a significant reduction in need for psychiatric care.5 

Other studies link mood issues with elevated inflammation markers, like C-reactive protein (CRP), with psychiatric symptoms.6 Again, this connection is possibly due to congested or poorly draining brain lymph. 

Ancient Lymph Wisdom 

So will I need to get all my teeth removed? 

While Dr. Cotton may have been onto something in the early 1900s, the need to extract infected body parts today is unnecessary and Ayurveda may have discovered the answer thousands of years ago.  

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In Ayurveda, lymph (rasa) is considered the body’s nutrient fluid, taking nutrients on the journey from the digestive tract to the cells. It is the highway for the immune system and waste removal. Ayurvedic therapies for congested lymph were common, and used daily as the first line of defense against ill health. 

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For example, thousands of years ago, Ayurvedic texts discussed lymph vessels in the brain that line the sagittal and transverse sinuses in the skull. These sinuses were considered  drainage pathways for the body’s brain washing fluid called cerebral spinal fluid (CSF). Treatments for these lymph vessels in the brain, with techniques like nasya (nasal inhalation) and other herbal therapies, such as brahmimanjistha, and bacopa, are aimed at deep psychiatric and trauma-triggered imbalances.  

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The glymphatic system is called tarpaka kapha in Ayurveda, and it means to store, record or hold on to. Emotional trauma is felt in the aspect of the emotional heart called sadhaka pitta. The trauma or emotional impression is then carried to the tarpaka kapha (brain lymph) via prana vata. These impressions are stored or written on the waxy myelin sheaths of the inner white matter of the brain, also part of tarpaka kapha. Without a healthy flow of the glymphatic system, toxins can build up in the brain blocking clarity, awareness, mood stability along with a healthy inflammation and immune response. 

Today, discovery of these lymph vessels is giving researchers the link they need that may connect immunity, infection, mood, and inflammation. 

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How Does Lymph Work? 

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The lymphatic system starts as lacteals lining the intestinal tract that absorb nutrients and toxins, mostly fats and proteins. If the intestinal skin becomes irritated, the lymph around the gut, called gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT), can become congested. Many experts agree this is where 80% of the body’s immunity lies. If this major hub of lymph becomes congested, due to poor digestion or stress impacting beneficial intestinal microbes, the entire lymphatic system can become congested. 

Congested lymph can back up into the brain’s glymphatic system, the skin-associated lymphoid tissue (SALT), causing a litany of skin concerns, as well as mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT), which drains all the mucus membranes and lymphatic vessels that provide immunity and toxic drainage for every cell of the body.  

While we rest, there are tiny glymphatic channels that open up and drain toxic waste and proteins. The brain dumps about 3 pounds of toxins from the brain each year while you sleep.  This is the entire weight of the brain in toxins that get processed through these channels.7, 8 

Science has mapped the link between brain lymph congestion, mood, immunity, and inflammatory concerns in the body and mind, and now they are finding a relationship to our long-term cognitive function as well. 

 Learn how to detox your brain glymphatics here, and deepen your knowledge of the lymphatic system in general with the free Miracle of Lymph ebook. 

Are you supporting your lymph for better mood and cognitive function? What works for you? 

References

  1. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/342/6156/373 
  2. http://www.biolmoodanxietydisord.com/content/4/1/10 
  3. http://archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1696348 
  4. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v523/n7560/full/nature14432.html
  5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4559013/
  6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21872339
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4694579/ http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/10/25/451169292/could-depression-be-caused-by-an-infection 
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29 thoughts on “Is Your Lymph Affecting Your Mental Health?”

  1. Thank you so much Dr. Douillard for all those interesting informations throughout this year and years to come. Very much appreciated. All the best.

    Reply
    • As a lymphatic massage specialist since 1986, I am patiently WAITING for the rest of the health care profession to CATCH UP and understand HOW IMPORTANT the #lymphaticsystem is, and even more so, how IMPORTANT LYMPH MASSAGE is to your ongoing health!! Subscribe & get free lessons in self-massage for lymph detox – http://www.YouTube.com/marcijavril

      Reply
      • Dear Dr. Douillard: I appreciate all of your work very much, and learn a lot about lymphatics which I greatly appreciate. We really need this medical leadership. I am a Registered Clinical and Thai Massage Therapist in Canada, trained in lymphatic drainage using western and eastern techniques, and speak directly to the value of working that saggital sinus, shushumna and ita-pinkala (full body always included) with Thai acupressure which I use in all massage therapies for that reason — because I also experience such relief and clarity when I use it on myself. It really is changing, especially if taken on as a regular or seasonal therapy, which I suggest clients to take at the least, as seasons change. I also personally know how it affects my mental health given a spectrum of chronic neurological conditions from early childhood and how de-compressing to my brain and therefore its functions, it is. I spend a lot of time on cranial lymphatics to conclude the 2-hour treatment, and use oils in keeping with what the client is currently experiencing. It can be so changing, and the nervous system so relieved. Thank you for teaching so much and so well on this subject and so many others. I rely on your work very much. Kind regards and warmest wishes for continued thriving, success and joy — K. Alanna Prather.

        Reply
  2. Wow, lymph drainage in the brain. So, I’ve had plenty of trauma in my life along with mood issues. I went and got my brain mapped and they said that there was an outer layer or “aspect” of my brain that had “shut down” or went into a dormant mode in order to protect the brain. It works like a defense mechanism. They said that people who are addicts have brains that will shut down in this manner into order protect the brain, but I don’t do drugs and rarely drink alcohol, so they thought it was unusual that my brain had done this. I did a bunch of brain mapping excersizes to “wake” the outer layer of my brain up again. It seemed to have helped and you could see a measured difference on the brain map scans. I’m wondering if the lymph system you discussed is related or is a result of the stress/lymph connection.

    I also thought about gravity tables for draining the brain lymph. Is that a good thing to do?

    Also, some spas have dry water massage beds. It’s basically a bed with a sheet of heavy-duty plastic that you lay on. Jets of water run up and down the bed under the plastic and massage the body. You can flip on any side with it. You get a nice tummy massage if you lay on your stomach. I would think that moves lymph as well? At a minimum, it feels nice.

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  3. Very interesting information Dr Douillard. Its something to look into for me! I believe there’s a cure for my ailments/weight gain. Due to not being able to fully exercise because of my back issues and hip problems maybe I can control my eating habits better.For me when my pain is very high I eat and I am not even that hungry.I was very active as of having my back surgery and hip surgery but now I am just trying to deal with my pain ,oh I wish I could sleep on my left side but due to bursitis and arthritis in my hip I just deal with it. Thanks for your information.

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  4. Science and medicine are centuries behind Ayurveda. Not just in medicine, but in science, health, spirituality, the entire manifestation and creation of the material world and planets and more. As a student of the Vedic scriptures, I appreciate your readings and connection between Ayurveda and the western concept.

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  5. I am grateful that i came across your website. – 30 years ago, I was first introduced to Ayurvedic teachings/medicine when Western Medicine had given up on me and sent me home to die. In those days, I had visions of a kidney beans with a ground pea-like ball on the top,yet didn’t know what it meant, until one day a book literally fell of a shelve in a bookstore, on a page about the Endocrine System, showing my an image of the Adrenal Glands, sitting on top of the Kidney. I know then I was stuck in the fight and flight and suffered from Adrenal Exhaustion.

    Over the last couple of weeks I had visions of branch-like systems, which I thought was the Meridian System, yet now I know I need to do something for my Lymphatic System.

    Your comment regarding the connection between emotions, challenged Lymph system and the Brain
    are giving me another piece to my puzzle.

    Thank you for that, as well as all the resources you make available for free on your website. I very much appreciate the opportunity to learn from you.

    With Gratitude, Love & Light,
    Hildegard

    Reply
  6. The premise of this article is correct. It’s toxemia that causes almost all lack of eases or dis eases or diseases from skin anomalies to cancer to AIDS to flu to measles and everything else. If one lives a toxin free life, then they have not caused illness to be necessary since they are almost all body initiated and conducted processes of elimination, i.e right action.

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  7. Thank you for all your wonderful sharing of knowledge!
    Would you mind sending your pdf links on lymph massage to me?
    Namaste
    Susan Harris RN
    Columbus Ohio

    Reply
  8. Hi Dr John. Interesting blog thank you. Could you please tell me if there is any way of viewing the lymphatic system or scanning of the lymph nodes in the neck and groin?

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  9. This makes a lot of sense to me. I’ve read your other articles about the lymph and at one point I tried using Gotu Kola. I believe it gave me fairly significant headaches, so I reduced to a drop dosage of the tincture and once the bottle was finished I just stopped. I wonder if the headaches were a sign of a cleansing reaction– that it was actually helping move the brain lymph and the toxins, or if it was just a regular side effect of gotu kola that affects some people. Have you come across this? THank you for all of your great information! I have renewed resolve to drink hot sips all day and follow some of the other protocol you’ve shared on this site. 🙂

    Reply
    • Hi Brigitte,

      Some people may be sensitive to Brahmi (Gotu Kola) as with any plant. Dr. Douillard has found that clinically over decades Brahmi has been a great ally for many looking to cleanse their brain lymph. The headaches certainly could be associated with the cleansing action. If you were looking to try it again, we would recommend starting slow and seeing if the headaches still happen, if they go away after a week or two of cleansing action, or if they continue. Ultimately, if it doesn’t feel right for your body or the headaches continue, it might not be right for your body or dosha. We hope this helps.

      Be Well

      Reply
  10. I had winter depression until a doctor started using milk thistle and dandelion root. I have not had it since, and clearly needed help moving toxins. I have taken the lymphatic system very seriously as a result of that!

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  11. Concerning Dr. Cotton and his treatments and how they escalated?
    If I was his patient and had a mind that had the most rudimentary ability to function, I would quickly figure out that having he had “cured” the problem after a couple of attempts to cure by his methods…
    Let’s see…remove teeth, ah, tonsils, er, spleen, (What’s next?)….I think I am better, Thanks.
    Gee! It worked!
    It shows how much a “renowned psychiatrist” could be in need of help himself?

    Reply
  12. Great blog doctor! Interesting I information indeed! As a licensed massage therapist I have done Lymphatic drainage on some of my clients. I really didn’t think.it worked as it was light like “marshmallow pressure,” Hmmm this sheds more light on this for me Thankyou! ?

    Reply
  13. Would much appreciate getting coy of thr PDFs. I sense that delving more thoroughly into lymphatic drainage may be a missing link in my healing. Merci.
    Roberta

    Reply
  14. The information on lymph in your articles is always helpful..However, I’m having trouble connecting the subject of lymph drainage with your mention of research on SSRI’s and NSAID’s. What’s the connection?

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    • Hi Pax,

      The research suggested that glymphatic congestion is linked to inflammation, anxiety and depression.

      Giving NSAIDS increased the effectiveness of SSRI’s suggesting that removing inflammation supported brain lymph drainage, anti-inflammation and mood support.

      Best,
      LifeSpa Staff

      Reply
  15. So should one take both of the products? I’m taking herbs for high blood pressure fish oil etc I’m wondering if they both would be safe. I also suffer with traumatic brain injury and depression at 68 starting over im n life. I had very lbs all my life until a few years ago now its 161/80..I’ve gained weight am sedentary as I have no motivation or energy..but needing to find work. So I’m wondering if I could take both of them like a mood lifter anti depressant which I’ve been trying to avoid. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Hi Mkm,

      All of the herbs Dr. John recommended are safe to use together, however, it is always best to check with your doctor before adding new supplements to your wellness plan, to ensure they are a good choice for you and will not have a negative affect with other medications or therapies you are on.

      Best,
      LifeSpa Staff

      Reply

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