It can be surprising that many people are unaware of the lymphatic system and do not appreciate its importance to the human body. Unfortunately, this may cause someone to engage in activity or non-activity that could allow toxins and waste material to clog their lymphatic system, adversely affecting their health. A poorly functioning system can cause one to feel sluggish, tired, fatigued, and to suffer illness. Of course, regular exercise, proper hydration and a healthy diet are the hallmarks for promoting healthy lymphatic circulation, however, this article invites you to consider taking an extra step: a cold plunge immersion to further stimulate lymphatic circulation.
The RENU Therapy team continues our deep dive series about the 9 health benefits of cold plunging and cold water immersion by taking a look at how a cold plunge practice can help optimize your body’s lymphatic system to keep things flowing.
What is the Lymphatic System?
There is a special system within the human body that cleanses muscles, tissues, and organs–it’s called the lymphatic system. This dedicated network of tubes and organs circulates a whitish liquid called lymph throughout the body. Circulation of lymph flushes out metabolic toxins and waste such as cellular debris, water, salts, glucose, fats and protein, and helps to maintain the body’s fluid levels. Lymph also distributes special white blood cells called lymphocytes, which help fight infection and disease. You might not realize that lymph is coursing beneath the surface of your skin at this moment, but you may have already noticed your lymphatic system in the form of clusters of small bean-shaped structures within your neck, underarm and groin area, where your major blood vessels converge. These structures are called lymph nodes, which filter and empty the lymph back into your bloodstream, after which it is recirculated throughout the body to restart the cleansing process.
Symptoms of a Sluggish Lymphatic System
A healthy lymphatic system is one that is flowing and stimulated. Having good lymphatic circulation allows for:
- A healthier and stronger immune system
- Healthy blood pressure, blood flow, and circulation
- Less swelling in the body
- Healthy absorption
- More energy and boosts alertness
- Less stress
- Better sleep
In contrast, if your lymphatic system is not efficiently removing the waste and toxins from the body, then lymph fluid can build up in your tissues and block your lymphatic circulation and cause swelling, similar to gunk and debris clogging the components of a machine and breaking the machine’s functions. This improper drainage may cause you to feel any of the following:
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Muscle stiffness
- Weight gain
The good news is that you can improve your lymphatic system and encourage proper lymph drainage by drinking plenty of water, eating alkaline foods and vegetables that provide a full range of vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and healthy fats, and exercising daily. However, if you are interested in optimizing your overall health, consider giving your lymphatic circulation an extra boost by immersing your body in cold water.
Cold Plunging to Boost Your Lymphatic System
When you immerse yourself in cold water, your body will feel tense and your muscles and blood vessels will constrict. Yet, there is something else happening. The cold water will cause your lymphatic system to contract, a process called vasoconstriction. Vasoconstriction forces lymph fluids through your lymph nodes, thereby causing the lymphatic system to flow properly, like squeezing a lemon of its juices. This concept of cold water immersion to constrict the lymphatic vessels may seem familiar; it’s just like putting ice on the body after an injury in order to constrict your blood vessels so that swelling will go down. Indeed, an often-cited study published by the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine demonstrated that lymph flow in portions of the body is enhanced significantly when cold water is applied to those areas of the body, and that the flow rate is further improved if pressure is applied to that area as well.
The sensation of immersing yourself into cold water may be intense and uncomfortable. But it can have a positive effect on the immune system and your overall health, something that you can do regularly along with proper diet, hydration and exercise. Of course, it’s best to consult a physician to discuss the risks and determine whether cold water immersion therapy is appropriate for you and your needs.