How Stress Affects The Lymph

By Kate Shapland

The lymphatic system is the largest circulatory system in the body and is uniquely susceptible to stress. In fact, prolonged exposure to surges of cortisol, the stress hormone, can pretty much bring the lymph to a halt. Which sends a cascade of negative effects through the body.

If, like so many of us today, you find yourself with a permanently growing ‘to do’ list that goes unchecked for too long, the stress can have a devastating effect on the adrenals, your digestive microbes, your brain, and, perhaps most critically, potentially damage the lymphatic system which – until more recently – almost no one talked about.

I talk about the lymph a lot – it’s the basis to the feel good and shape up benefits of Legology, but people often don’t know what it is

Here’s why it’s important, and why managing stress is so important to avoid compromising this delicate and extremely helpful body system.

The 3 Basic Functions of the Lymphatic System:

1. The lymphatic system is the primary delivery system for energising every cell of the body after each meal. Triglyceride fats are transported from the lymphatic-collecting ducts in the intestines, providing baseline energy for the body. When the lymphatics become congested, energy levels will drop and these fats can potentially be stored around the belly, increasing the risk of weight gain.

2. The lymphatic system is the main carrier of the immune system. When the lymphatic system is congested as a result of acute stress or poor digestion, its ability to circulate can be adversely affected.

3. The lymphatic system is a major detoxification channel for fats and proteins that have been incompletely digested upstream in the stomach and small intestines. When the upper digestion is weak, hard-to-digest proteins, like gluten, and toxic fats from pesticides and environmental pollutants that are too big to enter the bloodstream end up being collected into the larger lymphatic vessels that line the intestinal tract. As a result, the lymph vessels around the intestines, called the gut-associated lymphatic tissue (GALT), and mesenteric lymphs that surround the small intestines can become congested, causing weight gain, and reduced energy reserves.

The adrenal role in stress

The adrenal gland is the primary manufacturing site for the stress hormone, cortisol. While small, intermittent dosages of cortisol throughout the day are manageable by the body, long term exposure has a degenerative effect.

Initially, the primary role of the adrenals is to deal with emergencies. Like a fireman putting out fires, the adrenals secrete cortisol to stop stress-related reduction in the flow of vital nutrients to the affected area. Some of cortisol’s beneficial roles in fighting stress are:

1. It reduces the production of proteolytic enzymes that are secreted by cells in reaction to the stressful event. Initially, production of these enzymes is a protective response to the release of stress-related histamine into the bloodstream, but too much can become a problem, so the body is constantly trying to find this balance when under stress.

2. Adrenal cortisol decreases the ability of the capillaries to push excess fluid into the stressed area.

3. Cortisol temporarily decreases white blood cell flow to the area, preventing the stressed cells from becoming overwhelmed by excess fluid.

4. Cortisol blocks lymphatic drainage of the area. Again, in an attempt to wall the area off to prevent excess fluid circulation.

Too much of a good thing

While adrenals are our first responders to stress, when stress is long term and excessive, things begin to break down. Not only can excessive stress severely compromise the lymphatic system, the lymphatic system is also directly innervated by the fight-or-flight, sympathetic nervous system. Sympathetic stress initially helps the lymph remove toxic particles from the stressed area.

But when stress is excessive, the lymphatic response can be slowed, allowing dangerous toxins to migrate to different areas of the body through the lymphatics

When we experience stress, cortisol (a stress fighting hormone) is released, resulting in metabolic acidosis. Cortisol’s acidic nature can cause a breakdown of lymphoid tissue and impede lymphatic flow. Chronic exposure to cortisol can in also suppress immune function, reducing the circulation of protective antibodies and thus increasing our susceptibility to infection and disease.

This reduction of lymphatic flow can also compromise our digestive system, resulting in bloating, constipation and weight gain.

So given the fundamental role the lymphatic system plays in the health of our legs and overall wellbeing, managing stress to keep the lymph healthy and free-flowing is crucial.