Acne and the Lymphatic System

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If you are like many people, you may not know much about the lymphatic system, but that has got to change!  The lymphatic system has never been a well-recognized system in the body.  We know lots about the cardio-vascular system, the digestive system, the musculoskeletal system and the nervous system – but the lymphatic system never seems to get top billing.  But according to recent research, this is about to change.

In fact, I think we are going to realize in the next few years that paying more attention to the health of the lymphatic system is going to be as important as balancing the microbiome, especially when it comes to healing acne (or anything, really).

Here is what you need to know:

What is the lymphatic system?

Similar to the cardiovascular system, the lymphatic system is a huge network of vessels that extends throughout our entire body – like, everywhere.  But instead of blood, the vessels carry lymph, which is a clear fluid that is picked up from the extracellular matrix, which is a watery soup that surrounds all the tissues in the body.

And it’s not only the vessels that comprise the lymph system.  It also includes the lymph nodes, the spleen, the thymus, the appendix, the tonsils and the adenoids. It’s a really big, massive system.

What does the lymph system do?

Get ready, this is going to blow your mind!

  1. The lymph system is one of the hardest working detoxifiers in the body.  All the toxins that are surrounding the tissues in our body are detoxified by the lymph. They’re picked up by the lymph system, carried to the cardiovascular system and then it’s carried to the liver and kidneys for detoxification and elimination.  Bottom line: if the lymph is not working, the toxins in the body are not getting to the liver and kidneys.  They are just sitting in your tissues, stagnating…
  2. Another big deal is that the lymph system regulates the immune system. The lymph carries immune cells throughout the body and lymphatic organs (lymph nodes, spleen, etc.) monitors the lymph for any pathogenic microbes that need to be destroyed.  The lymph system is basically the immune system.
  3. The lymph system also helps with the absorption and transport of free fatty acids that we consume through our foods. So it even has a digestive function.
  4. And then the lymph does something really important that science is just revealing. And this is huge. The nervous system uses the extracellular matrix (which is actually the lymph) as almost a command center. The state of the extracellular matrix/lymph influences the circuitry of our nervous system. Which means that if the lymph fluid is toxic the nervous system will reflect that state, and often auto-immune conditions and mood disorders can ensue if the lymph is really unbalanced. Yikes!  Get out that dry brush (more on that later).
  5. Another new finding is that the lymph system is responsible for carrying progesterone throughout our body. So if the lymph system is not working optimally – you guessed it – your hormones are going to be out of whack.

What happens when the lymph system functions poorly?

Remember that the lymph system removes toxic fluids from the tissues of the body and delivers them to the cardiovascular system, which then delivers them to the organs of detoxification.  If this does not happen, your tissues are going to be surrounded by a toxic swamp.  This is going to affect every single cellular reaction that takes place in your body, because cellular communication (which takes place in the extra cellular fluid) will be distorted by all the sludge.  Immune dysfunction, nervous system dysfunction, imbalanced hormones and digestion issues – these are the repercussions of a sub-optimal lymphatic system.

What are the symptoms of a poor functioning lymphatic system?

  • Swollen legs
  • Swollen breasts
  • Bloating
  • Under-eye bags
  • Swollen tonsils and lymph nodes
  • Post-nasal drip
  • Frequent illness
  • Lethargy
  • Brain fog
  • Cellulite
  • Skin conditions (including acne, especially around the jawline, ears, and neck)

How is acne related to the lymphatic system?

  1. Often hormonal acne is related to an imbalance of estrogen and progesterone.  This often looks like higher levels of estrogen and lower levels of progesterone, and this imbalance triggers a number of hormonal pathways in the body that can lead to acne.  Remember that lymph is a main transport mechanism for progesterone throughout the body.   If your lymph is not working properly, progesterone will not be able to get to where it needs to go – which will contribute to the progesterone-deficiency symptoms – and hormonal acne will be aggravated.
  1. The second way that the lymph and acne is related is really interesting. There are many lymph nodes in the neck, jaw and ear area.   If the lymphatic system is not working well your lymph fluid will tend to accumulate in the lymph nodes in this area – which means that all the fluid above the lymph nodes will stagnate.  If you tend to have a lot of breakouts in those areas – around your ears, around your neck, around your jaw – then there is a chance that your lymph may be stagnated.


How do you optimize the function of your lymphatic system?

  1. Rehydrate.  When you’re dehydrated the lymph fluid becomes very viscous and it is more difficult for a thick liquid to move through the lymph vessels than a thin, light fluid. Drink at least 2L of water and herbal teas per day.
  2. Exercise.  The heart acts like a pump which moves the blood through the cardiovascular system.  In contrast, the lymphatic system does not have a central pump and instead relies on the action of our muscles to move the lymph through the body. Daily movement is critical to keep the lymph flowing through the lymph vessels.

Rebounding is a popular activity to help move the lymph through the body.  The rebounder is a mini-trampoline and 10 minutes to 1 hour of light bouncing is recommended daily.But truthfully, any exercise will help the lymph move through the body. I am a huge advocate of daily yoga and walking – both are amazing exercises to keep the body in shape, the cortisol levels in check and the lymph moving.

  1. Dry skin brushing is a fantastic way to manually drain your lymph. The gentle friction of a dry brush upon dry skin helps move the lymph through the lymph vessels (and also exfoliates the skin!).  Using a natural bristle brush, gently start at your feet and brush in an upwards direction, always towards the heart.  See the image below. Dry brush your entire body for 5-10 minutes every day – it is often most convenient to do this just before a shower
  2. Speaking of a shower – contrast hydrotherapy is another amazing way to drain your lymph. Allow your shower water to be as warm as possible (be careful not to burn yourself) for three minutes and then allow your water to be as cold as you can stand it for one minute.  Repeat this three times.  The warm water dilates the lymphatic vessels and the cold water constricts the lymphatic vessels. This widening and narrowing of the vessels creates a pumping action that moves the lymph through the body.
  3. Lymphatic massage is a featherlight massage that gently encourages the lymph to move through the lymph vessels. It’s beautiful, it’s wonderful. It feels awesome.
  4. Releasing jaw tension. Muscles constrict whenever there is tension and this can place pressure on the lymph nodes which can impede the draining action of the lymph from the face.  And when lymph stagnates in the face, acne can form.
  5. Complex homeopathy. This is my very favourite system of healing and in Europe (where it is very, very popular) it is often called ‘drainage’ because it does just that.  It drains the extracellular matrix, which becomes the lymph!!!

I have used drainage in my naturopathic practice for years, and I continue to use it in my 7-Week Clear Skin Program to help women really clear up their acne.  The amazing thing about drainage is that you can be incredibly specific when it comes to prescribing.  There are over 76 different remedies and each one help to drain a specific area / function of the body.

This system of healing originated in Europe over 200 years ago and is being widely used by many, many doctors around the world because it really works.  This is one instance where you really need the advice of a practitioner to help you figure out the best prescription, and it is worth it.

Okay, I hope that I did not overwhelm you with this post, but I really want to emphasize the importance of the lymphatic system.  It is not to be overlooked, especially when acne is an issue, because the lymph system is a huge part of detoxifying our body properly – and this is a critical part of healing any skin condition.

If you are interested in healing your acne from the inside out for good, you must check out my 7-Week Clear Skin Program here.  It gives you the information you need to know, in a step-by-step, easy to follow program.  Acne is a sign of an imbalance within the body and it can be healed – you just need to know how to do it!

With love,

Dr. Stacey


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