Thursday, May 3, 2018

A Primal Primer: Lymphatic Health

Inline_Lymphatic Health.jpegI get more questions these days about lymphatic health—particularly lymphedema. Sometimes it’s an issue related to a reader’s cancer recovery or a co-occurring symptom seen with a loved one’s other health concerns. While I might take up specific conditions in future posts (let me know if you have suggestions there), I thought I’d spend today taking apart the basics of lymphatic health. As with many of the body’s core operating functions, the real story often gets camouflaged within vague, consumer-based terms that end up being only medically tangential. Consider today’s post a trip into the weeds and (maybe) the beginning of an ongoing conversation on the topic.

In essence, the lymphatic system is the body’s filtration system, helping to sample incoming substances, filter out waste products from cells, regulate fluid homeostasis, and prime the immune system for action when a threat is located. Central to the entire system is the transportation of lymph, a clear fluid that stores and transports white blood cells, proteins, salts, glucose, bacteria and certain waste products.

Lymphatic vessels perform a similar role to the blood circulatory system, carrying lymph to virtually all areas of the body other than bone marrow.  Unlike the blood system, however, a series of valves force lymph to travel in just one direction, taking it ever-upward towards the neck, whereupon it re-enters the venous circulatory system. New lymph is formed when specialized lymphatic capillaries allow soluble materials and cells to court their way back into the lymphatic vessels.

Lymphatic vessels are connected to lymph organs. These organs are where the lymph is filtered and lymphocyte is created—arguably where most of the exciting action happens.

Red bone marrow and the thymus gland are considered the primary lymphoid organs and act as incubators for maturation of lymphocytes—a type of white blood cell. As these lymphocytes get older, they’re sent into the lymphatic vessels to hunt down and attacking infected or cancerous cells.

Secondary lymphoid organs, which include the lymph nodes, tonsils and spleen, act as traps for incoming pathogens, whereupon foreign bodies are set upon by mature lymphocytes.

Your Lymphatic System In Action

Up until quite recently, the lymphatic system was considered secondary to the blood circulatory systemA series of groundbreaking discoveries in the 90s changed all this, and we’ve been learning since.

For one, the lymphatic system plays a key part in our adaptive immunity. Antigens that make their way into the body or develop within our cells are recognized primarily by the lymphocytes produced by the thymus and bone marrow, or picked up as they pass through the secondary lymphatic organs. Upon detection of the antigen, the lymphatic system initiates a immunological cascade that activates or produces more and more lymphocytes to wipe out the threat. Lymph nodes and other secondary lymphatic organs are strategically located around the body where they are well placed to sample incoming materials and intercept potential threats.

Beyond immunity, there’s the equally important fluid homeostasis role that the lymphatic system plays. Lymphatic vessels act as conduits, allowing surrounding tissues to expel or absorb fluid in order to maintain homeostasis and prevent excess swelling. Recent research has even discovered an element of the lymphatic system devoted to draining interstitial fluid from in and around the brain, thereby exhibiting a critical function in alleviating pressure in the CNS.

Add to that the lymphatic system’s roles in lipid absorption and transportation from the digestive system, and the efficient removal of metabolic wastes from tissue, organs and the central nervous system, and it’s not hard to see why the lymphatic system is so nuanced (not to mention critical).

Lymphatic Dysfunction

It’s all well and good when the lymphatic system is doing what it ought to, but lymphatic disruption can portend unfortunate news for your health: compromised immune function and lymphedema for starters. 

Like any system within the body, factors like chronic inflammation, lifestyle choices, and toxin exposure can all place stress on the lymphatic system. Problems often occur when the flow of lymph is disrupted, whether with systemic inflammation or localized swelling at the nodes and vessels, whereby the entire system can become compromised as it relies on that constant movement of lymph to do its job.

And then there’s the fact that the lymphatic system acts as a sort of microbiological conveyor belt—fundamentally useful when antibodies can be released in a timely and efficient fashion to dispatch any antigens, but highly problematic when the system is overwhelmed or overrun. In these scenarios, the lymphatic system can quickly become a means by which infection can rapidly disseminate throughout the body.

Common diseases associated with the lymphatic system include:

  • Lymphedema—pooling of lymph fluid in the surrounding tissue, typically in the feet or lower legs.
  • Lymphadenitis—inflammation of a lymph node or nodes due to an infection of the tissue, usually in the neck.
  • Lymphoma—a group of cancers that develop in the lymphatic system, involving multiplication of lymphocytes eventually forming a malignant tumor in the lymph nodes and other parts of the body.
  • Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma—another subset of lymphatic cancers that can involve either B cells or T cells.
  • Splenomegaly—more conveniently known as an enlarged spleen. This is caused by several possible factors, including infection or cancer.
  • Tonsillitis—recurrent infection of the lymphoid tissues in the back of the mouth and top of the throat, which together form the tonsils.

There’s plenty more where that came from, but it’s fair to say that if your lymphatic system is ailing, your health in general will be lacking.

Factors That Help or Hinder Lymphatic Health

Inflammation (or Lack Thereof)

While the lymphatic system plays a key role in regulating inflammatory response within the body, it’s also susceptible to inflammation-driven dysfunction. As with every other angle of health, keeping inflammatory foods to a minimum, and anti-inflammatory foods on the regular, is definitely a plus for supporting lymphatic health. 

I’ve periodically shared my thoughts on the most anti-inflammatory foods, so be sure to check out the likes of this post if you’re not already familiar. Foods like wild fish oil/fat, berries, turmeric and pastured animal fat have all been shown to significantly lower chronic inflammation patterns. One interesting case study showed that MCT oil along with fat soluble vitamins helped to improve symptoms of intestinal lymphangiectasia.

Aside from anti-inflammatory foods, there’s the usual lifestyle choices that can make or break an anti-inflammatory way of life: getting plenty of sleep, regular (but not excessive) exercise, and avoiding chronic stress wherever possible.

Movement

Whereas the blood circulatory system is propelled by the pump-like workings of the heart, our lymphatic system relies on the contraction and relaxation of a complex series of smaller muscles to keep lymph continually flowing. While lymphatic vessels are equipped with their very own smooth muscle cells, research shows that “outer” forces such as skeletal muscle motion help to maintain healthy lymphatic flow.

Logically-speaking, the more movement you get, the better off your lymphatic system should be—and the literature seems to support this notion. A 2012 literature review concluded that exercise is an effective therapy for the treatment of lymphedema, while a considerable number of other studies indicate that water exercise in particular is a proven, safe way to treat swelling associated with secondary lymphedema.

Rebounding (e.g. jumping up and down on a trampoline), for one, has attained something of akin to cult status, and anecdotal evidence at least suggests there might be something in it. According to its proponents, rebounding helps to stimulate and maintain the flow of lymph by the dual action of weightlessness and “double gravity,” in addition to providing passive lymphatic muscular stimulation throughout many of the major muscle groups.

From a theoretical standpoint, it makes a lot of sense. While there are plenty of enthusiasts, I haven’t been able to dig up direct (confirmed) links between rebounding and lymphatic health. That being said, there’s no doubt that rebounding is good for our general health, so I see no reason not to give it a go.

Stress

Stress, as it happens, can exhibit a direct negative effect on the lymphatic system. A study published a couple of years ago, for example, showed that “chronic stress restructures lymphatic networks within and around tumours to provide pathways for tumour cell escape.” Not an ideal scenario…

Consciously pursuing a limited stress lifestyle (and taking advantage of stress reduction strategies) is critical for promoting a robust lymphatic system that’s still capable of fighting infection, regulating fluid, and removing waste. As always, daily meditation is a big step in the right direction, along with regular movement (somehow we keep coming back to that), plenty of social interaction, and getting out into nature as much as possible.

Lymphatic Massage

Lymphatic massage, otherwise known as lymphatic drainage, was developed in Germany specifically for the treatment of lymphedema. While the massage technique varies depending on the location and nature of the lymphedema (lymphatic blockage leading to painful swelling), it generally involves a practitioner gently rubbing, stroking and manipulating the skin in directions that follow the structure of lymphatic pathways. In this way, accumulated lymph fluid is forced to drain from the area of swelling.

And as far as the literature is concerned, lymphatic massage produces tangible results. A 2015 review of six applicable trials found that lymphatic massage was at least moderately effective across the board, particularly when combined with compression bandaging or sleeves. A recent Chinese study also showed that a combination of lymphatic drainage massage and exercise were beneficial in the treatment of axillary web syndrome, a common lymphatic condition in post-op breast cancer patients.

Far-Infrared Saunas

An alternative therapy for lymphatic conditions like lymphedema that shows some promise (although peer-reviewed research is thus far lacking) is far-infrared treatment. 

Disclaimer aside, the premise of infrared sauna treatment is thus: it purportedly stimulates mitochondrial function directly beneath the skin, which just so happens to be where some of the lymphatic system (and action) resides. In theory, more red light means more cellular energy, thereby encouraging more efficient flow of lymph and the possible treatment of conditions like lymphedema. With the cell-repairing, wound-healing, and other probable/confirmed benefits of far-infrared, it’s probably a therapy worth considering if lymph dysfunction is an issue.

Thanks for stopping by. Have you or anyone you know suffered from lymphatic issues? What treatments and/or lifestyle changes have been pivotal? Share your thoughts and questions below, and have a great end to your week, everyone.

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I Said A Hip, Hop

On Monday night Claire organized a group of us to try a new hip hop dance class in a dance studio downtown.

I was a dancer growing up, but my focus was on tap, jazz, and ballet, which have a lot of similarities. Hip hop is a tooooootally different ball game! Needless to say, we were all quite a bit nervous!

Our instructor was Edna-James, who told us right away that she was 68 years old and has been teaching hip hop for decades. She did a few quick moves for us, and girl can get dooown! She was great though, and she made the class very fun. There was about 10 of us total, and four in our group (our friend Mack joined us late!) We went through a warm up, floor exercises, and then learned a short routine.

As with any new activity, the first five minutes were totally awkward! I was embarrassed and laughing. But just like anything new you do in a group, I reminded myself no one cared what I looked like and relaxed into the moves.

I absolutely loved the class, especially the routine we learned to Liam Payne’s “Strip That Down.” (Love that song.) I caught on to the choreography quickly and danced well, but my hip hop style was lacking big time. I looked like a jazz dancer out there! Not to mention I am pregnant. LOL – have you seen anything more hilarious:

We are hoping to go back on a regular basis!

Afterwards we had dinner at Monsoon where I got a delicious Pad Thai!

Have you ever taken a dance fitness class? My friend Diana takes them in NYC and sometimes posts videos of her class. They look so fun! I’m sure with practice I’ll get better at my style : )

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Quick & Easy Mediterranean Shrimp Bowls with Tahini Sauce

I have quite the delicious recipe to share with you guys! Well, actually, it’s more of a meal idea, so feel free to play around with the measurements of each of the ingredients depending on your taste preferences. Either way, it’s a dish that comes together in a matter of minutes, especially if you prepare the ingredients ahead of time, like on your meal prep day. Let’s just say, for a weeknight dinner or packable lunch, it’s definitely a winner!

Some prep notes to make this meal really come together in a flash:

  • Buy already cooked and detailed (peeled and deveined) shrimp, so all you need to do is heat it up.
  • Cook rice ahead of time. I just started using our Instant Pot to make ours, and it’s THE BEST and so much more affordable (and not cooked in plastic) than the microwave bagged stuff we were using.
  • Make tahini dressing ahead of time and store it in the fridge. I actually made a huge batch, so we have it on-hand whenever we need it.
  • Use jarred olives and sundried tomatoes – just grab a fork and add some to your bowl!

Mediterranean Shrimp Bowls with Tahini Sauce

  • 1 pound large shrimp (peeled and deveined) (defrosted)
  • 2 cups white rice (cooked)
  • 1/2 cup Kalamata olives (pitted)
  • 1/2 cup sundried tomatoes (drained)
  • 2 tbsp pine nuts
  • tahini dressing
  1. Detail shrimp and cook as directed. Cook rice as directed. When shrimp and rice are finished cooking, assemble bowls by adding olives, sundried tomatoes, and pine nuts. Finally, drizzle tahini dressing on top. Dig in!

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Clean Eating Layered Sweet Potato Casserole Recipe

This clean eating layered sweet potato casserole doesn’t look like much, but it’s mighty delicious!!

YOU:

Still struggling to get into the kitchen more often? Wishing it were easier to cook healthier foods more often? Don’t want to give up hours of your precious weekend for food prep?

I understand. Bringing time into your life for nourishment is not always the quick thing we hope it will be. Getting into the kitchen on a daily basis is truly difficult for some people. But I’ve found that for many, it’s less a matter of time, and more a matter of knowhow.

So many of you have grown up on boxed and packaged foods. If you’ve grown up with microwaved meals, the truth is, it’s going to take some effort on your part to start making sure you have kitchen time, each and every day.

A white plate sits on a wooden table in front of a white casserole dish that this Clean Eating Layered Sweet Potato Casserole was baked in. It has a serving of the potatoes on the plate with fresh parsley sprinkled over the top for garnish.

And for those of you that do cook, many of you cook the same things over and over again because it’s what you know, and because you know it, it’s the easiest thing to do. So you eat the same thing over and over.

But nourishment is meant to include variety. We literally need to “eat the rainbow” to keep or improve out health.

At my last doctor visit, my doctor told me that the liver loves orange foods. It thrives off of the nutrients it gets from carrots, sweet potatoes, orange bell peppers and more.

So ya, on top of needing to find time to get into the kitchen, you also need to ensure you are getting variety. And including variety means you need knowledge on how to work with different foods. Something that the current generation is sadly growing up without.

Recipes like the one here do take a bit of baking time. But the prep time is reasonably short. So if you’re stressing out about actual time in the kitchen, this one is actually pretty simple and basic. You’ll be in and out of the kitchen in 15-20 minutes.

When you are trying to adjust to cooking regularly, it’s important to start with basic recipes. Simple ingredients and recipe instructions that aren’t a mile long are key to helping you make that adjustment.

So if this is where you’re at, start with the recipes. Take an hour on some evening and print out a bunch of recipes that have super simple ingredients and just a few instructional steps. Because if you can keep the prep time short, the baking time on a recipe like this is no big deal because you can be doing other things while this bakes.

THE RECIPE:

I know how it is when you start to get bored in the kitchen. Night after night, it’s chicken and rice, chicken and rice, chicken and rice. Especially if you are looking to keep things simple for both time and your experience level. But you have to branch out just a little from time to time to get comfortable with doing different things in the kitchen. Cooking is one of those things where the more you do it, the easier and faster it gets. So don’t panic if you need more time in the beginning. I promise, it will get better!

I’ve already covered all the different ways you can keep things interesting with chicken breasts, but I don’t often move past the brown rice. I mean, it’s easy to make, simple to “dress up” with different things and it’s a healthy option for many people.

That being said, rice can get old. And since I’m a big sweet potato fan these days (I didn’t used to be!), I thought I’d take a stab at making this Clean Eating Layered Sweet Potato Casserole. Truth be told, I enjoyed this for a 100% plant-based breakfast!

But really, it’s a wonderful side dish for just about anything, chicken in particular.

CLICK PLAY TO SEE THIS RECIPE IN ACTION!

YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY THESE CLEAN EATING RECIPES:

Copyright Information For The Gracious Pantry

CLEAN EATING LAYERED SWEET POTATO CASSEROLE RECIPE:

Clean Eating Layered Sweet Potato Casserole

This wonderful side dish is packed with delicious flavor! I personally made this with nutritional yeast and I can honestly say I would have preferred it with parmesan if I was still eating cheese. So I highly suggest that if you do eat parmesan cheese, that you use about a 1/4 cup of that in place of the nutritional yeast. It's good with the NY, but I know it would be far tastier with parmesan.

Course: Casserole, Side Dish

Cuisine: American

Yield: 8 servings

Calories: 107 kcal

Author: The Gracious Pantry

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 lb. sweet potatoes (peeled and sliced evenly - See video for how I sliced mine)
  • 1 tbsp. oil
  • 3/4 cup almond milk (unsweetened)
  • 2 tsp. nutritional yeast (or a /14 cup grated parmesan)
  • 2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 2 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. ground turmeric
  • fresh parsley (chopped for garnish)
  • salt and pepper (to taste after cooking)

Instructions

  1. Slice your potatoes as evenly as you can. They don't have to be perfect, but close.

  2. Whisk together the almond milk, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, onion powder and ground turmeric.

  3. Oil a casserole dish with the oil.

  4. Layer the sweet potatoes in the first layer around bottom the casserole dish.

  5. Drizzle a small amount of the almond milk mixture over the first layer of sliced potatoes.

  6. Add another layer of potatoes, drizzle on a bit more of the liquid and repeat, ending with a top layer of the almond milk mixture.

  7. Cover the casserole dish with foil and place in the oven for about 60 minutes (time can vary slightly by oven).

  8. When you can easily pierce the potatoes with a knife, they are done.

  9. Remove the dish from the oven, remove the foil, sprinkle with parsley if you wish.

  10. Season with salt and pepper to taste at serving.

Recipe Notes

Please note that the nutrition data below is a ballpark figure. Exact data is not possible.

Nutrition Facts

Clean Eating Layered Sweet Potato Casserole

Amount Per Serving

Calories 107 Calories from Fat 18

% Daily Value*

Total Fat 2g 3%

Sodium 79mg 3%

Potassium 353mg 10%

Total Carbohydrates 19g 6%

Dietary Fiber 3g 12%

Sugars 3g

Protein 2g 4%

Vitamin A 241.3%

Vitamin C 3%

Calcium 5.8%

Iron 5.4%

* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.



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