How to Keep Your Lymphatic System Healthy

by | Last updated Jan 9, 2024 | Immune Efficiency

How important is the air force to your country for peace time and during war? How about the factories that produce the bombers and ammunition? An efficient lymphatic system is vital to your body’s defense system.  What conditions reduce its effectiveness? What science-backed natural remedies improve its performance?

The Lymphatic System’s Amazing Contributions

  1. Protection: Lymph nodes act as immune surveillance filters along the lymphatic system. These nodes trap germs like bacteria, viruses, cancer cells, and toxins. The thymus matures T-lymphocytes, so they will be ready to fight a viral infection or destroy cancer cells. The spleen contains B-lymphocytes. The lymph nodes are strategically placed throughout the body and contain white blood cells.
  2. Conservation:  Some protein and fluid from the blood  leak out of the tiny capillaries. The lymphatic system returns them to the blood.The lymphatic system reabsorbs about 2–4 quarts of fluid per day. If this fluid and protein were not returning into the blood, you would soon die because your blood volume would plummet, and then the heart wouldn’t have enough blood to pump to keep you alive!
  3. Absorption of fats, fat-soluble vitamins, and cholesterol: Your small intestine contains blood vessels and lymphatic vessels. Most fats, cholesterol, and fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed first by the lymphatic vessels before entering into the blood.

Unlike the circulation of blood in blood vessels, the lymphatic system forms a unidirectional transit pathway from the space outside the cells to the venous system within the circulatory system. The venous system returns blood to the heart. The lymphatic system actively regulates fluid balance within and the absorption of gastrointestinal lipids. It is involved in specific immunity. 

The Lymphatic System Shapes Cardiovascular Health

Recent research has implicated the lymphatic system in the developing pathogenesis of cardiovascular diseases, including obesity and metabolic disease, elevated blood cholesterol and fat levels, inflammation, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, and heart attacks.1

Obesity Damages the Lymphatic System 

Obesity decreases the efficiency of the lymphatic system. Decreased numbers of lymph vessels and reduced immune contributions in the lymphatic system characterize this dysfunction. The pumping ability of the lymph vessels to move lymph forward is compromised. Additionally, the lymph vessels become leaky, allowing proteins to leak into the tissues. When this happens, unhealthful swelling occurs because proteins attract and hold water. The good news is that aerobic exercise, independent of weight loss, substantially improves lymphatic function and reverses some detrimental changes in gene activity in lymphatic vessels.2

Men who were obese (body mass index equal to or greater than 30) in young adulthood had a 64 percent higher risk for Non-Hodgins lymphoma (NHL) than lean men. Obese women had a 19 percent higher risk.3 4

Diabetes Spells Trouble for the Lymphatic System 

In individuals with type 2 diabetes, the walls of their lymphatic vessels are defective and become increasingly leaky (permeable). The permeability of a healthy lymphatic vessel can be compared to a porous garden hose designed to allow water to escape through small holes in the hose. In contrast, the lymphatic vessel in a person with type 2 diabetes is like a porous garden hose drilled with large holes letting too much water escape. When the lymphatic vessel is too permeable, lymph and antigens are not transported to the lymph nodes.

Nitric oxide is essential so the lymphatic vessels will not become excessively leaky. Unfortunately, diabetic persons have low levels of nitric oxide.5 The amino acid arginine is essential to produce this molecule. Good sources of arginine include pumpkin seeds, spinach, sesame seeds, soybeans, tofu, watercress, peanuts, quinoa, oats, and wheat. 

Lifestyle Factors Improve Lymphatic System 

Daily Exercise: Unlike the heart in the blood circulatory system, the lymphatic system does not have an active pump to propel lymphatic fluid back into the bloodstream. Adequate lymph flow depends on sufficient muscle and joint activity.6 Exercise increases lymph flow by 5 to 25%.

Massage: A particular type of massage called lymphatic massage can reduce swelling and improve circulation throughout the lymphatic system. Massage movements should affect only the skin, so use gentle pressure and do not press hard enough to feel the muscles. 

Deep breathing:  Abdominal breathing exercises stimulate the lymphatic organs in the chest. Abdominal (diaphragmatic) breathing exercises are valuable in stimulating deep lymphatic structures, such as the cisterna chyli, the abdominal part of the thoracic duct, and lumbar trunks and lumbar lymph nodes. Stimulation of these deep lymphatic structures, particularly the thoracic duct (the largest lymph vessel in the body), accelerates the transport of lymph fluid toward the venous angles, through which the lymph fluid is returned into the blood circulatory system.7

Maintain good posture. Poor posture impedes lymphatic drainage in the neck and the chest. 

Adequate hydration. Dehydration causes the lymphatic system to slow down and inhibits waste removal from the body. 

Fresh air: Avoid smoking as it substantially increases the risk of cancer lymphoma. 

Nutrition & the Lymphatic System

The trace mineral zinc is essential for B and T-lymphocyte production. Sources: legumes, nuts, seeds, oatmeal 

Avoid animal products: Consuming foods high in animal protein, saturated fat, eggs, and dairy lead to an increased risk of developing Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL), a cancer that attacks the lymphatic system, part of the body’s immune system.8 Red meat and dairy play a role in the etiology of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and multiple myeloma, increasing the risk.9 

Cruciferous vegetables, green leafy vegetables, and red vegetables reduced NHL risks, especially among women. 10  After adjusting for confounding variables, green leafy vegetables, and citrus fruits gave 27–42% lower risks of death in patients with NHL overall compared to low-intake groups.((Vegetable and fruit intake and non-Hodgkin lymphoma survival in Connecticut women. Leukemia & lybople who have higher intakes of vitamin K from their diet have a lower risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.11 Vitamin K is found in leafy green vegetables.


Adopting a predominantly plant-based, whole food diet, frequent consumption of green and cruciferous vegetables,  good hydration, exercise, deep breathing, and maintaining a good posture promote the health of your lymphatic system.


© 2024, Wildwood Sanitarium. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is educational and general in nature. Neither Wildwood Lifestyle Center, its entities, nor author intend this article as a substitute for medical diagnosis, counsel, or treatment by a qualified health professional.


  1. Jaing X. The Lymphatic System in Obesity, Insulin Resistance, and Cardiovascular Diseases. Front. Physiol., November 14, 2019
  2. Hespe GE. Exercise training improves obesity-related lymphatic dysfunction. J Physiol. 2016 March 2.
  3. American Association for Cancer Research. “Body weight, diet may be risk factors for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 October 2011.=<www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111024084712.htm>.
  4. American Association for Cancer Research. “Body weight and diet may be risk factors for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, October 24, 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111024084712.htm>.
  5. University of Missouri-Columbia. “Impact of Type 2 diabetes on lymphatic vessels identified: Amino acid found in red meat, poultry may improve lymphatic function in diabetes.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, July 14, 2015.
  6. Hespe GE. Exercise training improves obesity-related lymphatic dysfunction. J Physiol. 2016 March 2.
  7. Zurther J. The Benefits of Abdominal Breathing Exercises in the Management of Lymphedema. December 30, 2015. https://www.lymphedemablog.com/2015/12/30/the-benefits-of-abdominal-breathing-exercises-in-the-management-of-lymphedema/
  8. Yale University. “Diets High In Fat And Animal Protein Linked To Increased Risk Of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 March 2004. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/03/040309072619.htm>.
  9. Caini S. Food of animal origin and risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and multiple myeloma: A review of the literature and meta-analysis. Crit Rev Oncol Hematol. 2016 Apr; 100:16-24. doi: 10.1016/j.critrevonc.2016.02.011.
  10. Han X. Vegetable and fruit intake and non-Hodgkin lymphoma survival in Connecticut women. Leukemia & lymphoma51(6), 1047–1054. https://doi.org/10.3109/10428191003690364
  11. Mayo Clinic. “Vitamin K may protect against developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, say Mayo Clinic researchers.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 April 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100419151117.htm>.

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