Lymphatic Damage Caused by Stress
In today’s society, many folks find themselves with a hectic, never-ending, highly stressful to-do list that never seems to get shorter. It is rare to find a person who considers themselves “stress-free.” If left unchecked, consistent stress can have a devastating effect on the adrenals, your digestive microbes, your brain, and, perhaps most critically, the lymphatic system.1-3
But why stress about your stress? In this article, I will show you how stress is affecting your body and what you can do to stop stressing and start living a healthier, more rewarding lifestyle. Hopefully, this information and my suggestions will put you at ease.
First, let’s take a look at the science. The lymphatic system is the largest circulatory system in the body and is uniquely susceptible to stress. In fact, according to Guyton’s Textbook of Medical Physiology, chronic exposure to large surges of cortisol, the stress hormone, can literally cause lymphoid tissue to atrophy.1
Persistently high levels of cortisol have also been linked to suppressed immune system function and reduced circulation of antibodies. The body desperately needs antibody circulation to fight off foreign invaders.1
In the hours following a stressful event, cortisol decreases both eosinophils, white blood cells that we need to fight allergies, and lymphocytes that boost immunity.1 Overproduction of adrenal cortisol in response to chronic stress is linked to a significant reduction in white blood cell count.1
But why is the lymphatic system so important, and why should we protect ours?
Three Basic Functions of the Lymphatic System
- The lymphatic system is the primary delivery system for energizing every cell after each meal. Triglyceride fats are transported from the lymphatic-collecting ducts in the intestines to every cell, creating baseline energy. When lymphatics become congested, energy levels will drop and these fats can potentially be stored around the belly, increasing risk of weight gain.4
- The lymphatic system is the main carrier of the immune system. When the lymphatic system is congested as a result of acute stress or poor digestion, the immune system’s ability to fight sickness is severely compromised.5
- The lymphatic system is a major detoxification channel for fats and proteins that have been incompletely digested upstream in the stomach and small intestines. When upper digestion is weak, hard-to-digest proteins, like gluten, and toxic fats from pesticides and environmental pollutants end up collecting into the larger lymphatic vessels that line the intestinal tract. As a result, lymph vessels around the intestines, called gut-associated lymphatic tissue (GALT), and mesenteric lymphs surrounding the small intestines become congested, causing weight gain, reduced immune response, and fatigue.4,5
The Adrenal Role in Stress
The adrenal gland is the primary manufacturing site for the stress hormone cortisol. While small, intermittent doses of cortisol throughout the day are manageable by the body, long-term exposure has a degenerative effect.
Initially, the primary role of the adrenals is to deal with emergencies. Like a fireman putting out fires, the adrenals secrete cortisol to stop stress-related reduction in the flow of vital nutrients to the affected area.
Cortisol’s Beneficial Roles in Fighting Stress1
- It reduces production of proteolytic enzymes secreted by cells in reaction to an immune event. Initially, production of these enzymes is a protective response, but too much can become a problem, so the body is constantly trying to find this balance when under stress.
- Adrenal cortisol decreases ability for the capillaries to push excess fluid into the stressed area.
- Cortisol temporarily decreases white blood cell flow to the area, preventing stressed cells from becoming overwhelmed by excess fluid.
- Cortisol blocks lymphatic drainage of the area, again in an attempt to wall the area off to prevent excess fluid.
Too Much of a Good Thing
While adrenals are our first responders to stress, when stress is long-term and excessive, things begin to break down. Excessive stress can severely compromise both the lymphatic system and the nervous system. Sympathetic stress initially helps the lymph remove toxic particles from the stressed area. But if stress is excessive, the lymphatic response can be slowed, allowing dangerous toxins to migrate to different areas of the body through the lymphatics.1-3
Now that you understand how stress works, we can figure out how to mitigate yours.
Bulletproof Stress Response
The key to helping the body maintain a healthy response to stress is to:
- Support healthy lymphatic circulation.
- Support healthy stress response.
- Mitigate impact of stress.
According to Ayurveda, there are numerous diet and lifestyle tools to accomplish this, including:
- Meditation: Learn my One-Minute Meditation.
- Strengthen digestion.
- Reset circadian rhythms by eating with the seasons.
- Living a lifestyle in sync with nature’s rhythms.
- Exercising without stress.
- Boosting lymphatic flow.
We RecommendGut Immunity for Your Ayurvedic Body Type
Two Adaptogenic Herbs for Stress-Lymph Connection
Turmeric for Stress + Lymph
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) has been used for thousands of years, and modern research has confirmed its usefulness. With over 300 active constituents, turmeric has been found to support production of new brain cells during stress, naturally lower cortisol levels, increase antioxidant stress-fighting activity and boost lymphatic circulation.6,8,14,15Turmeric is also an adaptogenic herb for stress-related mood concerns.10
An extract of turmeric has been found to reduce spread of toxins through lymphatic channels in stressful situations. Turmeric helps the body fight toxin build-up locally, while decreasing the likelihood that toxins will circulate through the lymph to other areas of the body.7
Turmeric has also been shown to boost the immune system’s natural ability to deliver beneficial antibodies to areas of stress, supporting a healthy lymphatic response to stress.8
Tulsi Holy Basil for Stress + Lymph
Tulsi holy basil (Ocimum sanctum) is also one on Ayurveda’s most powerful adaptogenic and brain supportive herbs, suggesting it protects the body and mind from the woes of stress.
Studies have found tulsi holy basil to be neuroprotective, immune supportive, free radical-scavenging, and balancing for the stress hormone cortisol.11 Studies suggest these free radical-scavenging effects are active throughout the lymphatic system.12
Both ancient Ayurvedic wisdom and modern science suggest tulsi holy basil supports protection against environmental chemical exposure, which is processed via the lymphatic system. Tulsi holy basil has been found to support mental and cognitive health. It has also been found to be excellent support for mood and emotional concerns as well as healthy sleep cycles, which typically become disturbed under stress.11
While the specific mechanisms that may explain tulsi holy basil’s adaptogenic capacities are still unclear , one study measured the effect of noise stress and found that the active constituent in tulsi holy basil is linked to lowered cortisol or stress hormone levels.13 So eat your holy basil and turmeric, and feel your stress melt away!
What do you do to mitigate stress? What will you try from this article?