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According to Ayurveda, the lymphatic system is the very first system evaluated and treated in the body, and as a result, an understanding and treatment for the lymph has been in place and time-tested for literally thousands of years. In the West, however, the lymph was typically only mentioned when a diagnosis of cancer was found or if your child had swollen glands… until now!
When I used to certify Medical Doctors in Ayurveda, they would regularly come up and ask me to help them better understand the lymphatic system, as they were frustrated that there was so little known about the body’s largest circulatory system.
The Lymph-Brain Connection
While Western medicine seems to be convinced that every area of the human body has been thoroughly mapped, a surprising new discovery of lymph vessels that were never thought to exist has been made. Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine discovered that the central nervous system is drained by meningeal lymphatic vessels, indicating that there is a strong link between the immune system, which travels via the lymph, and the brain and central nervous system. (1) Ayurveda has been emphasizing the importance of the lymph system throughout the body for thousands of years, and modern science now confirms this ancient wisdom!
Practically, this implies that what Ayurveda has been saying for years – that lymphatic congestion can cause or predispose someone to an immune-related or nervous system disorder – is true. While the understanding that an immune attack could weaken a patient with a neurological condition like multiple sclerosis has been observed by Western medicine, the fact that these “hidden lymph vessels” are the mechanism connecting the immune system and the brain and nervous system is a new phenomenon. (1)
These findings indicate that as we age, these meningeal lymph vessels become less efficient and thus allow toxic proteins and plaques to build up in the brain and nervous system. The brain and nervous system are linked to memory and cognitive functions, along with a laundry list of potentially associated neurological issues that may also be lymph-related.
These very small lymph vessels were hidden alongside blood vessels, and were basically invisible until now. This research has opened up the idea that there are possibly many other locations of lymph vessels that are responsible for the degeneration and weak immune processes of the body. (1) According to Ayurveda, it is the innumerable and subtle lymph drains that must be maintained first.
For example, if a drain becomes clogged in your house, you do not fix the faucets first, you go straight to the drain. Similarly, if someone has high cholesterol, joint or circulation concerns, or skin issues (to name a few), it is better to evaluate and treat the drains or the lymph vessels of the body first, as the concern may only be a symptom of lymphatic congestion.
Ayurveda for Lymph Drainage
To address the lymph, strategies such as yoga and nose breathing exercise (nasal breathing exercise), along with staying hydrated and eating seasonally, all support healthy lymph flow. Herbs derived from the pith or white part of oranges, pomegranates and grapefruits have long been used as lymph-moving agents and have only recently been found to have constituents like diosmin that decongest the lymph. (2)
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While this is pointing Western medicine in a new direction towards a deeper understanding of how stress can shut down the lymph and compromise immunity, (9-12) perhaps much can be gleaned from the Ayurvedic perspective that has long suggested that the lymph is the key to our health and longevity.
For more articles on the Lymphatic system from the Ayurvedic perspective, click here.