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Lymph: The Plasma Purifier
Lymphatic-drainage massage can help detoxify the body. Learn why the lymphatic system is important with Groupon’s brief tour.
The lymphatic system’s job is not a glamorous one. Cells of all sorts release their waste products into the body’s interstitial fluid, a soup of free-floating plasma that leaks into the body's tissues from nearby blood vessels. It falls to the lymphatic system to clean this up. By purifying and filtering the liquids that will become blood plasma, it works to get toxins out of the human body. Some small waste molecules, such as carbon dioxide, can be absorbed back into the bloodstream, but other waste—including some environmental toxins—are too big to fit into the microscopic capillaries that ferry blood to most of the tissues in the body to keep them healthy and optimally squishy.
Enter the lymph vessels, which suck up large, free-floating proteins along with about 10% of the body's interstitial fluid, creating a clear or whitish liquid known as lymph. As it ventures back toward the bloodstream via the subclavian veins in the neck, lymph is filtered through a series of bean-sized lymph nodes packed with specialized white blood cells. (You may feel these swell or ache at the sides of the groin, under the arms, and in the neck when fighting off a virus or infection.) The cells attack bacteria and other pathogens, leaving the resulting plasma as pure as possible.
Since the lymphatic system is powered by the squeezing of skeletal muscles, not the beating of the heart or the energy of the sun, it's easy for circulation to get sluggish. Blockage anywhere in the system can cause swelling, or lymphedema, as well as a buildup of waste. Treatments that stimulate lymph flow, such as manual lymphatic drainage, strive to flush away these toxins in order to relieve symptoms such as congestion and fatigue. Since lymph naturally transports free fatty acids from the small intestine to the bloodstream, some people believe that such therapies can help speed weight loss and reduce cellulite.