Lymphedema, lipedema, and other lymphatic system-related conditions have had treatment options that focus on reducing and managing the swelling that comes with them. Complete decongestive therapy (CDT) has been the primary treatment method for decades, which consists of compression bandaging or garments, manual lymphatic drainage, exercise, and self-care. Over the last few years, the term “lymphatic health” and “lymphatic wellness” are becoming mainstream wellness buzzwords as society begins to learn the role and importance of the lymphatic system.
Ideally, for lymphatic health for those with lymphatic conditions like lymphedema, we begin to transition from the role of traditional treatment with CDT only and begin to include general lymphatic health, which can also play a preventative role as well as supplement the management to maximize overall health. Not sure what health and wellness priorities to focus on this year? Read on for more information.
With hundreds of diets being marketed daily, how do we know which is the best for the lymphatic system? At this time, no strong research has been done to answer this question with confidence. An anti-inflammatory diet may be beneficial because of the higher levels of inflammation found in the body with lymphedema and lipedema. Anti-inflammatory diets are made up of foods high in antioxidants and polyphenols, which provide protective compounds found in plants. Foods considered anti-inflammatory include berries, leafy green vegetables, nuts, and fatty fish. Focusing on filling up with anti-inflammatory foods makes it less likely that one will want to reach the pro-inflammatory foods which cause inflammation, like soda, sugar, fried foods, and refined carbohydrates.
Another diet that is gaining awareness for lipedema and lymphedema is the ketogenic diet. The ketogenic diet is primarily high in healthy fats, a moderate amount of protein, and very low in carbohydrates. This diet is a possible option for lymphatic conditions because of the correlation between obesity and the lymphatic system. Lymphatic fluid congestion has been found to increase for those who are obese or morbidly obese, which can worsen and progress lymphatic diseases. Small research studies have shown that those who completed lifestyle modifications, including a ketogenic diet, lost weight, which in turn helped improve edema and lymphatic flow.
Currently, without a specific diet shown to improve lymphatic health, the focus remains on reducing obesity and maintaining a healthy body weight to optimize lymphatic flow. Each person is different and working with a dietician or specialist to find a diet that works for them consistently is the best diet to follow.
When someone holds more fluid or has lymphatic congestion, one’s reaction may be to try and limit the amount of water or fluid they drink. The lymphatic system needs fluid to work at an optimal level, and if someone is dehydrated, the lymph nodes can swell, which can slow down the lymphatic system further. According to the Cleveland Clinic, drinking a good amount of water can allow the lymph fluid to flow more freely.
Staying hydrated is critical to improving the lymphatic system, but how much is enough? The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined that an adequate daily fluid intake is about 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids for men and about 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids for women. This will vary on an individual’s size, living environment, and activity level. Ideally, about 80% of this fluid comes from water, and limiting the other 20% to other beverages will help find a healthy lifestyle balance.
Without your muscles, your lymphatic vessels wouldn’t be able to move fluid through them to your lymph nodes and back to your heart. Your muscles pump and activate around the lymphatic vessels, which propels fluid forward. If someone is inactive or sits a lot during the day, they may notice increased swelling in the legs. This is in part because the muscles are not being used. The body produces 8-12 liters of lymphatic fluid daily, so daily exercise and physical activity are crucial for consistent lymphatic health to keep this fluid moving.
It’s best to find activities or exercises that you enjoy. For some, this may be walking. For others, this may be gardening, biking, or swimming. If someone can find an activity they enjoy, they are much more likely to stay consistent with it, which will benefit the lymphatic system in the long run. Bonus tip: wearing a compression garment during these activities can give the lymphatic system an extra boost in moving fluid!
Moving Lymphatic Fluid
Along with exercise, moving lymphatic fluid with manual or massage-like techniques is effective for daily lymphatic health. The most well-known technique is manual lymphatic drainage (MLD). MLD is done by a certified lymphedema therapist (CLT), or it can be done yourself at home. It’s done by using the hand and providing a gentle skin stretch to stimulate the lymph vessels under the skin. The traditional method starts closest to the heart and follows a sequence that works through regions of the body further from the heart, reversing the order and working back closer to the heart. This sequence allows clearance of any congested parts first before moving fluid from other areas. All the fluid is directed towards lymph nodes in each body area, where the lymph will be filtered before moving back to the heart.
Another option for daily lymphatic movement is using a pneumatic compression pump, such as AIROS Medical’s compression device line. The devices provide compression support in a sequential pattern, similar to manual lymphatic drainage. They can take the strain off the hands by allowing the device to give lymphatic drainage. Using a pump once a day is a fantastic way to help the lymphatic system stay healthy and flowing. To learn more about the AIROS product line, visit our website at http://www.airosmedical.com.
Lymphatic system diseases and conditions require diligent care to manage the swelling and congestion, but lifestyle modifications to include lymphatic wellness can help improve symptoms and progression of these conditions. There is nothing more important than being consistent with these changes, so try picking one or two of these areas to start with and implement for 2023 to optimize the health of your lymphatic system.
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Cleveland clinic. Lymphatic System. February 2020. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/21199-lymphatic-system
Dietary reference intakes for electrolytes and water. U.S. National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. https://www.nationalacademies.org/our-work/dietary-reference-intakes-for-electrolytes-and-water.