What is Lymph Drainage and how may it help you

In this article I give an introduction to the Lymphatic system, what it is, why it is so important and how you may support this to promote better health and wellbeing.

The lymphatic system is part of the circulatory system in the body and serves the very important function of detoxification and fighting infection. It also helps remove excess fluid from tissues and helps absorb fat from around the intestine.

The lymphatic system transports lymph, a clear fluid, containing infection-fighting white blood cells, via a network of lymphatic vessels and organs.

Lymph is derived from fluid surrounding the cells of the body, containing waste products from cellular processes. It also comes from excess fluid (plasma) from the arterial blood circulatory system, after it has deposited nutrients and oxygen to the cells. Most of the plasma (approx. 85%), returns to the venous blood circulation for transport back to the lungs for oxygenation. The remaining 15% (which may be up to 3L per day) becomes lymph.

Unlike blood, which flows throughout the body in a continue loop, lymph flows in only one direction — upward toward the neck, along the lymphatic vessels which have one way valves. It relies on muscular contraction, to move the lymph effectively, since it doesn’t have an active pump.

Lymphatic vessels are connected to lymph nodes, where the lymph is filtered and cleansed to remove toxins, infection, cancer cells, waste and other unwanted debris and materials from cellular processes.

Lymphatic vessels then connect to two subclavian veins, which are located on either sides of the neck near the collarbones, and the cleansed fluid re-enters the circulatory system.

There are hundreds of lymph nodes in the human body, either located deep inside the body, such as around the lungs and heart, or closer to the surface, such as under the arm or groin. These swell when we are fighting infection while they are producing white blood cells called lymphocytes, which produce antibodies that specifically kill foreign bacteria, viruses or other infections. The tonsils, adenoids, spleen, bone marrow and thymus are also part of the lymphatic system involved in detecting and fighting infections.

So the lymphatic system is very important for maintaining our health and wellbeing. Without a correctly functioning lymphatic system excess fluids and toxins would build up around cells creating dis-ease, fatigue and illness.

Whilst the lymphatic system runs throughout the human body, it was thought that the brain lacks a lymphatic system, as it has never been observed, until research was published in the journal of Nature just two years ago in 2015. We still have much to learn about the human body and this discovery has implications for our understanding of neurological conditions, which have an immune component.

Maps of the lymphatic system: old (left) and updated to reflect the new discovery published in 2015.University of Virginia Health System.

Factors such as stress, tension, dehydration or lack of physical activity can cause lymph vessels to become clogged with protein and lymph flow to stagnate or stop. This can result in tissue swelling (oedema) or excess fluid build up around the cells (lymphoedema) usually of an arm or leg. As toxins accumulate, cells are not able to function optimally, manifesting in colds, joint pain, infection and dis-ease.

Primary Lymphoedema can occur in some individuals born with a poorly functioning lymphatic system and is less common than Secondary Lymphoedema, which can occur as a result of surgical removal of lymph nodes for cancer treatment in approximately 20% of patients, or as a result of injury or infection. The swelling can be quite debilitating and uncomfortable and affect quality of life.

Efficient activation of the lymphatic system will increase the volume of flow and hence improve the body’s ability to cleanse and detoxify.

So how can we support the lymphatic system to improve lymphatic flow, to improve detoxification, reduce swelling and improve the immune system?

  • Physical exercise is key to aiding good lymphatic flow, such as walking or swimming. Rebounding on a small trampoline is also a fun, popular and effective way to do this. The up and down rhythmic bouncing causes the one-way valves to open and close simultaneously increasing lymph flow many times over. Deep diaphragm breathing is also important.
  • Drinking plenty of water prevents slowing and stagnation of lymph flow.
  • Dry skin body brushing always towards your chest in the direction of lymph flow, avoiding sensitive areas or broken skin, will help rid your body of toxins and improve your immune system. This also has the advantage of exfoliating the skin for a healthy glow.
  • A specialised Reflexology  technique for lymph drainage (RLD) promotes lymph flow.

RLD is a particularly non-invasive and relaxing treatment usually on the feet. This is used effectively to reduce lymphoedema in patients who have had lymph nodes removed after breast cancer surgery and to reduce pain associated with lymphedema. RLD has the advantage that it is away from any area of surgery and is also known to improve mood and a sense of wellbeing.

Finally, cold water immersion is very beneficial as it causes lymph vessels to contract, forcing your lymphatic system to pump lymph fluids throughout your body, flushing the waste. Research studies have also shown this to help treat depression symptoms and boost metabolism for weight loss too !! ….. ice bucket challenge anyone !

Before RLD on the feet
After RLD on the feet

 

 

 

 

 

Images before and after Lymph Drainage Reflexology (RLD) treatment on the foot in a secondary lymphoedema patient.

Article written by Tracy Mills for Local People Magazine issue Sept 2017. Tracy is a full time holistic therapist, passionate about helping you improve your health, wellbeing and quality of life. Her main treatment is Reflexology for promoting relaxation, improving mood and sleep and is an experienced practitioner of RLD.

 

References

Structural and functional features of central nervous system lymphatic vessels. Louveau A, et al  Nature. 2015 Jun 1.

Use of reflexology in managing secondary lymphoedema for patients affected by treatments for breast cancer: A feasibility study .Whately, J et al. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice Volume 23, May 2016, Pages 1-8

Hygge The Feel Good Factor

In this article I look at ways in which we might improve our quality of life and wellbeing, particularly during the cold dark winter months. I turn to Denmark, the country that has attracted much media interest since taking the top spot as happiest country in the 2016 UN happiness rankings out of 156 countries in the world. This is despite Danes paying higher income tax than any other country, at a whopping 56%! Their weather isn’t even that great with their long dreary cold winters with up to 17 hours of darkness in a day.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that the Happiness Research Institute is based in Copenhagen and has undertaken several decades of research focusing on improving wellbeing, happiness and quality of life across the world.

9/10 Danes according to the institute don’t mind paying higher income tax and investing in society as it brings free healthcare, university education and unemployment benefits, elevating those at the bottom, so reducing extreme unhappiness and anxiety. There is seemingly less of a class divide in Denmark. They have the best work life balance in the developed world with a 35 hour working week, 5 weeks annual leave plus state holidays and generous maternity and paternity leave. The Danish culture is not particularly ostentatious or materialistic, in fact quite understated, instead preferring the simple pleasures in life. Progress is not just measured by money but also by improved quality of life. Perhaps we could all take a leaf from the Danes book.

So how can we bring a little bit of the Danish feel good factor into our every day lives ? Some say Scandinavians have a genetic predisposition to happiness. That said, much of their lifestyle mindset can be exported to other countries to promote a feeling of wellbeing that does not necessarily need to cost much. So what is this?

The Danes have a word for it, called “Hygge” pronounced Hoo-Ga. It is derived from a Norwegian word meaning well-being. It is more of a feeling and can mean focussing on the simple pleasures, hugs, comfort and cosiness, spending time with friends or family, or simply on your own reading a good book with candles and blankets by the fire. It is making ordinary, every day moments more meaningful, beautiful or special.

It is about being kind to your self – indulging and having a nice time – it is not restricting diet or strict New Years resolutions. There is a strong element of social interaction and belonging in an inclusive setting, which may be a simple gathering of friends to play board games, enjoying a meal together, taking a walk or cycling in the countryside, appreciating nature or singing in a choir. It is about being in the present moment and not spending time on social media or work emails at the weekend.

These all have recognised health benefits, for example singing increases oxytocin the happy hormone, which can help reduce pain. Those with strong social ties have a longer life expectancy than those with poor social connections. This difference in longevity is about as large as the mortality difference between smokers vs non smokers and larger than any other health risks associated with many well known lifestyle factors such as lack of exercise and obesity. A strong social life reduces stress and helps the immune system to stay strong.

Of course if the dreaded cold does get the better of you, give yourself permission to rest and recuperate, stay nourished and hydrated. You probably won’t feel much like socialising or going out anyway and staying at home prevents passing it on to others, being particularly mindful of those more vulnerable in the community such as the elderly whose immune systems are more compromised.

If in need here is a list of some of my personal rescue kit of natural remedies for nurturing the immune system, keeping colds at bay and improving wellbeing :

  • A few slices of fresh lemon, ginger and honey infused in boiling water, or
  • A few sprigs of thyme with honey infused in boiling water – a great soothing respiratory antiseptic that can be grown on the windowsill.
  • A few drops of Propolis mixed in cold water. This is what bees use to keep their hives free from infection
  • For an occasional boost a weeks supply of Royal Jelly – again bees use this to feed the Queen bee, helping her to live up to 40 x longer.
  • Dr Bach rescue remedy for helping to promote relaxation
  • Comvita Immune support
  • A good multi-vitamin

On the subject of cosy blankets, sleeping under a weighted blanket to feel swaddled is now understood to help improve sleep and reduce anxiety . Seek the guidance of a doctor as this may not be suitable for everyone, for example those suffering from respiratory, circulatory and other conditions.

If you enjoy reading, then one of my personal favourite feel good books is “The Power of Now” by Ekhart Tolle. ‘The Little Book of Hygge” is also good.

When feeling stronger some good walks in the fresh air for building strength are wonderful and even better with a bunch of others for company. The Ramblers Association offer a wide variety of walks and also work to help keep footpaths accessible. From spring onwards they will offer shorter walks for health. Local groups like the Bollington Bridgend Community Centre also offer regular weekly walks.

Touch therapies such as massage and reflexology also promote relaxation and wellbeing and increase levels of the feel good hormone oxytocin. Give yourself permission to take time out, put your feet up and indulge in some relaxation ! You would be in good company, as the well-known TV presenter Julia Bradbury has just listed reflexology as one of the five things together with country walking and her children, that she would not live without.

Article written by Tracy Mills (B.Sc Hons, Genetics), MAR, PRM, ARR, BFRP, for The Macclesfield Local People Magazine issue Feb 2017. Tracy is a full time holistic therapist with a Biomedical research background, passionate about helping you improve your health, wellbeing and quality of life. Her main treatment is Reflexology for promoting relaxation, improving mood and sleep.

 

Yellow Card

In my last article, Hello World! the merits of integrating Eastern and Western medicine were discussed, particularly, to help reduce the burden on the NHS of chronic conditions and minimising adverse drug reactions. This article continues by looking more closely at chronic conditions and adverse drug
reactions (ADRs) and how these may be managed. The hope is that this will be informative and helpful to readers.

A chronic condition is a persistent health condition or disease lasting longer than 3 months, such as heart disease, cancer, pain conditions, diabetes, stroke, dementia and arthritis. Although these are common, unpleasant and costly, many are preventable and linked to lifestyle. They take up 70% of the NHS budget. Often patients are also taking
medications long term, which can cause side effects.

One cause of chronic health conditions is stress. Stress changes the way our genes are switched on or off (expressed). Studies have shown, that when comparing the gene expression of people who are stressed with those who are relaxed, stressed people have more pro–inflammatory genes switched on and more anti- inflammatory genes switched
off. Those who are relaxed have more anti-inflammatory genes switched on and more pro-inflammatory genes switched off. We know that many chronic health conditions start with inflammation and that pain signals are increased when we have inflammation.

It stands to reason that by reducing our stress, we can reduce inflammation and in doing so, reduce our risks of chronic health conditions as well as pain. In turn we can reduce our need for medications, thus protecting us from their side effects; for example, long
term use of non–steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) more than doubles the risk of renal cell (kidney) carcinoma.

The good news is that there are natural, healthy and enjoyable ways of reducing stress levels, and it is important to take time out for activities like yoga, regular walking, exercising at a local fitness club, an art class, mindfulness, massage or regular reflexology treatments well known to promote relaxation, reduce stress, improve sleep and mood or indeed a combination of these. It is also helpful to reduce caffeine, alcohol
and nicotine, as well as pro-inflammatory foods such as sugar which lessens a person’s ability to cope with stress:

“it is perhaps no coincidence that stressed spelled backwards is desserts.”

It is always important to discuss your medications with your GP and if you are taking any medications long term, have regular liver and kidney function tests and have your medicines reviewed at least annually to check whether you still need to be taking them.

If you are referred to a hospital or consultant for specialist care, it is your legal right as a patient to choose which hospital in England to go to as well as choose which consultant led team will be in charge of your treatment, to ensure you receive the best possible care. For example, for Endometriosis care, a BSGE (British Society of Gynaecological Endoscopy) accredited centre will be the best option, such as St Marys in Manchester.

mhra-yellow-cardIf you believe you are suffering any side effects from a medication, you can now fill in a yellow card on the government website. This is vital in enabling the drug regulatory agency to monitor safety of healthcare products and minimise risks for patients. If in doubt whether to report a suspected adverse drug reaction (ADR) the agency prefers that you complete a Yellow Card.

The agency are especially interested in monitoring any effects in
• children because their metabolism isn’t fully developed and many drugs routinely used in children are not tested for their use in children.
• people over 65, because they may be more susceptible to developing
reactions as they may metabolise medicines less effectively and be more
sensitive to their effects.
• Drug-drug interactions because side effects can increase with the number of medications being taken
• Delayed drug side effects because these can occur months or even years
after drug exposure, eg cancers. Reye’s syndrome was associated with
aspirin eight decades after it was first marketed.
• Vaccines & Biological Medicines (such as antibodies, blood products or gene therapy). These vary from batch to batch and brand and must be monitored.
• Herbal Remedies require monitoring too as only some are actually licensed and it is important to ensure their safety. Also, herbal medicines may interact with conventional medicines; St Johns Wort affects many other medicines, such as the birth control pill which is less effective with St Johns Wort.
• E-cigarette products are now also being monitored for any side effects by the agency.

The yellow card can be completed online on the government website or by telephone or via the downloadable app on a mobile device.

https://yellowcard.mhra.gov.uk/the-yellow-card-scheme/

The MHRA may be contacted by phone on 0808 100 3352 (10am to 2pm Monday-Friday only)

By taking the time and trouble to fill in a yellow card you will be
providing valuable data which can help improve the drug labelling and
how a drug is prescribed.

Tracy is a full time holistic therapist passionate about helping you improve your health. She brings the knowledge from her research career in Biomedical Genetics into her practice. She discovered a gene
responsible for pain sensation and specialised in the genetics of drug safety and metabolism, for personalised medicine. Her main treatment is Reflexology which is complementary to conventional medicine.

Tracy Mills BSc (Hons, Genetics) MFHT, MAR, BFRP
www.toptotoetreatments.co.uk
www.facebook.com/toptotoetreatments
Reflexology, Bach Flower Remedies, Indian Head Massage
Treatment rooms in Bollington, Prestbury and mobile to your home.
Tel: 07811 153380

Hello World!

worldIn this health article, I will take a look at Eastern and Western approaches to Medicine and how Medicine might look in the future.

Medicine in the East has tended to work with the whole person and their environment, looking at the big picture, working on the principle that everything is connected and nothing is separate.

This is what is meant by holistic. It is approached with intuition, from a creative, right brain perspective. It treats each person as an individual, owing to the wide range of variables that may be contributing to a person’s health, which will be unique to each person. Therapies are tailored to the individual.

Examples of holistic treatments include Acupuncture, Reflexology, also herbal medicine, which uses the whole plant, with many ingredients working, to balance different parts of the body, to work better together. They are often subtle and gentle in their effects and recognise the mind:body connection and that our emotions and beliefs can affect our physical health. Physical symptoms are seen as helpful signals, informing us to get back into balance, tune into and respond to their signals.

Traditional Eastern holistic medicine is derived from ancient cultures and is preventative, encouraging balance in the body, promoting and maintaining health. The Eastern way is to adapt to and live in harmony with the environment.

yinyangMedicine in the West as we know it, by contrast, started very recently, at around the turn of the twentieth century with the advent of the modern pharmaceutical industry. It has tended to look in detail at parts of the body in isolation, approached from a logical, linear, left brain perspective.

Western medicine is based on a single purified chemical drug targeted to the specific part of the body showing a symptom. These have tended to be made as a “one size fits all” drug, designed to use in all patients with a particular symptom, without needing to know too much about the individual or the route cause of their symptom. These medicines are prescribed, to remove the symptoms, but not the underlying cause. As such symptoms will persist unless the patient identifies the cause or continues to take the medicine, which may cause side effects due to the targeted nature of a drug.

The western drug model, is now starting to become more personalised, by understanding variables, such as genetics to stratify patients with a symptom into subsets and identify those likely to benefit from a drug and those that wouldn’t benefit or may have side effects. This would require a genetic or blood marker test at the doctors to prescribe a drug. This is still a long way off actually happening routinely in clinical practice and requires much research and resource. It is still not truly individualised but based on population subsets.

Interestingly there seems to be a global shift in approaches to medicine with an upsurge of interest in holistic person centred approaches in the West and a rapid expansion of the pharmaceutical industry in the East. Just as we need the left and right hemispheres of the brain to work together to give full meaning of a situation, we need both the Eastern and Western medicine approaches to come together and improve healthcare provision.

With the burden on our NHS of long-term chronic health conditions, as well as side effects of long-term use of drugs such as pain killers, not to mention the cost to the NHS of hospital admissions due to adverse drug reactions, there is great merit in integrating well regulated traditional medicine (TM) approaches with Western medicine. Indeed the World Health Organisation has put in place a TM strategy 2014-2023 which aims to integrate TM to “capitalise on the potential contribution of TM to improve health services and health outcomes.”

Written by Tracy Mills MAR, B.Sc (Hons, Genetics) for Macclesfield Local People Magazine.
September 2016