autoimmune

lymphatic system

Lymphatic System

A key player in immunity, detoxification and overall health!

The lymphatic system is one that is regularly overlooked when it comes to health. Comprised of a complex interrelated network of vessels and lymph nodes as extensive as the cardiovascular system, the lymphatic system is vital in maintaining our life force. The lymphatic system also includes the organs of the spleen and thymus gland as well as the tonsils and adenoids – highlighting its importance in immune function as well.

The lymph and its special role in regulating an entire host of functions, has historically held great importance in cross cultural medicinal traditions. Hippocrates, the father of both western and herbal medicine, was the first ever to document what we now know as the lymphatic system in the Hippocratic treatise ‘On Glands’or Peri adenon.  Since ancient times our knowledge of the lymphatic system has deepened although much of our understanding remains the same. Hippocrates postulated that lymph glands both attracted and received fluid and that the fluid or moisture in the body caused these lymph nodes to become overfilled in times of illness and imbalance. Contrast this to our current understanding and it is clear that not much has changed. Our current understanding of the lymphatic system’s role, though much more detailed than what Hippocrates first proposed, includes fluid regulation, waste removal and filtration and immunity.

 

Fluid Return

Our lymphatic system is the little brother to our cardiovascular system. Our heart and blood vessels work hard to deliver much-needed nutrients and oxygen around our body. Due to complicated reasons, the exchange of blood that happens at our tissues results in a little more fluid being given to our cells than received back by our blood vessels. This difference in fluid is where the lymphatic system comes in. The lymphatic vessels collect this extra cellular fluid and return it to the heart via a complex network of vessels and lymph nodes.

Without a proper functioning lymphatic system, fluid accumulates resulting in swelling and oedema. In naturopathic philosophy there are certain constitutions that are more prone to lymphatic congestion. If you find you are prone to swollen lymph nodes and oedema there are certain things that can be done to support your lymphatic system.  However, please note that if you are experiencing oedema of any kind it is best to talk to your medical practitioner to rule out any serious health conditions.

As the lymphatic system is comprised of vessels that run towards the heart, for most of the time the flow of lymph is fighting against gravity. Unlike the blood vessels that are aided by the strong muscular force of the heart beat to transport blood, the lymphatic vessels rely on a more passive process of muscular contractions to help direct the flow. This is why lymphatic swelling is usually located in the lower limbs – it is hard work moving against the downward forces of gravity. Manual manipulation can be used in cases of insufficient lymph flow to support the return of fluid back to the cardiovascular system. As the lymph vessels are located superficially – quite close to the skin surface, gentle pressure is best. Ways to support the lymph flow manually include a specific type of massage, known as lymphatic drainage massage, usually perfomed by a remedial masseuse or alternatively dry skin brushing that you can do yourself.

Dry skin brushing is a traditional technique used and recommended by natural health practitioners to encourage the drainage of lymphatic vessels. It involves applying a light amount of pressure to the skin using a soft-bristled brush in long stroke motions towards the heart. (NB: we sell these dry skin brushes over the counter at Noosa Holistic Health).

Another lifestyle recommendation that has been shown to improve lymphatic flow is movement. As mentioned above, muscular contraction aids the flow of lymph, so a sedentary lifestyle can aggravate lymph congestion. Whereas engaging in mild to moderate exercise – including simple walking and yoga, causes the muscles surrounding lymph tissue to contract helping to push the lymphatic fluid towards the heart thereby promoting clearance. Rebounding, which involves bouncing on a mini trampoline, is an excellent exercise to promote lymphatic flow as the gentle movements work against gravity.

There are certain herbal remedies with an affinity for the lymphatic system and fluid balance, such as dandelion leaf, calendula, red root, violet and cleavers. Incorporating herbal teas into your diet and ensuring you are drinking enough water are gentle ways of supporting lymphatic flow. For a more tailored and therapeutic approach consulting a naturopathic physician may be more appropriate for longstanding lymphatic congestion. 

 Immunity & Toxin Clearance

Lymph nodes are bean-shaped organs situated along the lymphatic vessels. There are approximately 500 lymph nodes within our bodies ranging in size from 1mm to 4cm. Their job is to filter unwanted pathogens such as bacteria and viruses from the blood and toxins from the environment. Sometimes lymph nodes become overwhelmed from the pathogens they are trying to destroy or the toxins they are trying to clear. High levels of bacteria or viruses might get trapped in the node, but due to an insufficient immune response these pathogens are not dealt with effectively. Likewise, if we are exposed to a higher burden of pollution or toxins, there may be a localized swelling as the toxins are cleared.  Both of these issues can result in lymph node swelling. Painful lymph nodes usually occur during infection whereas lymph node swelling not associated with pain or tenderness can be a sign of certain types of cancers. In cases of chronic lymph node swelling not associated with infection, it is best to consult your doctor for further investigations.

As the lymphatic system is so intrinsically linked to our immunity it is important to not only support the flow of lymph but also the immune system when addressing lymphatic congestion. It should come as no surprise that eating foods high in antioxidants and fibre supports your immune system. When fighting infection both the immune system and the bacteria and viruses themselves can produce chemicals and toxins that promote inflammation. Antioxidants help reduce this inflammation and promote healing. Usually most people think of fibre for improving gut function and regulating bowel motions. In addition to these actions, fibre also provides our healthy gut microbes with food. About 80% of our immune system resides in our gut and is influenced by the microbes that inhabit our colon. Supporting a healthy microbiome (the collective term for our friendly inhabitants) also supports a healthy immune system.

Given our current lives, most of us do not get enough sunlight to support the production of vitamin D. Vitamin D plays an important role in regulating our immune system and there are other important health benefits from exposure to natural sun light and full spectrum light. An article detailing the importance of sunlight exposure and vitamin D can be found here.

So all in all, a healthy diet, fresh air, regular exercise and keeping hydrated with pure water, will go a long way to support our lymphatic system – one of our most important, but often overlooked pathways of detoxification and immune function. If extra support could be beneficial for you to promote specific aspects of immunity or detoxification, then consider a tailored approach of herbs and nutrients to optimise your lymphatic system by seeing Karen for an appointment.

 

 

 

Turmeric

Turmeric Health Benefits

Turmeric, also know as Curcuma longa,  is a spicy perennial plant of the ginger family, (Zingiberaceae) with potent health benefits.

turmeric plantNative to the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, Turmeric has been used for thousands of years for both medicinal, dyeing and culinary purposes in a range of cultures. Turmeric was often used as a cheap substitute for saffron to give fabrics or foods a bright yellow colour.

In recent years Turmeric has been under the spotlight and undergone much research. In particular the active ingredient Curcumin is the most potent agent of research. Curcumin is a polyphenol, a particularly beneficial molecule found in many fruits and vegetables. 

Curcumin, which gives the yellow color to turmeric, was first isolated in 1910. Traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine has long used Turmeric for a wide variety of diseases and conditions, including those of the skin, lung and digestion systems and for general aches, pains, wounds, sprains, and liver disorders. Extensive research within the last half century has proven that most of these activities, once associated with turmeric, are due to curcumin.

turmeric & gingerResearch has found that curcumin beneficially modulates many diseases including diabetes, fatty-liver disease, atherosclerosis, arthritis, cancer and neurological disorders such as depression, Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease. It's primary role is as a potent anti-inflammatory and many of the modern chronic diseases have an inflammatory component driving them. You can use curcumin for pain such as headaches, period pain and back or joint pain.

Curcumin also displays potent antimicrobial actions against different bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites and can play a role in antibiotic resistance. A synergy between curcumin and antibiotics has yielded favourable results in some studies, but caution is warranted against using it routinely with all antibiotics as curcumin has also been shown to decrease the efficacy of some classes antibiotics by mechanisms which protected the bacteria from the action of the drug. 1

Curcumin can be a bit difficult to absorb and the best results come from a supplement that is altered to ensure it is well absorbed. Specifically it needs the present of fat to aid absorption. While the absorption and bioavailability is something we always focus on, in some cases, turmeric still has a beneficial role even with poor absorption. Interesting new research has found that curcumin could maintain the intestinal integrity and improve the barrier of the gut and and thereby decrease the release of gut bacteria-derived lipopolysaccharide (LPS), even with marginal absorption.   High levels of circulating LPS are linked to chronic inflammation and many metabolic disease. 2

Supplements v Dietary Intake?

While using Turmeric in cooking is a great idea, it may be difficult to get high amounts of the active ingredients in cooking.  Absorption is definitely enhanced by fats and black pepper - which is why these ingredients appear in the classic Golden Paste recipe. There will be many benefits from eating fresh or dried turmeric root as a regular part of your diet, but if you are after a superior action on inflammation, pain, bacteria or cancer, it will be more useful to take a quality supplement. Moreover, many people get sick of the turmeric taste in their cooking and may find it hard to get sufficient turmeric into their diet or regularly enough to have a big impact.

curcumin capsulesSupplements should have concentrated amounts of curcumin and also be combined in a way to enhance absorption - such as including the addition of liposomes or phospholipid complexes. Differences in absorption of different curcumin supplements can be as much as 10 fold, and you definitely pay for what you get! As practitioners, we source some of the best supplements, so come in and have a chat if you are interested in trying it out. In some cases we combine it with other herbs to give a more beneficial result.

All in all, Turmeric and its active ingredient curcumin are highly useful for many health conditions - both prevention and treatment.
It is so easy to include it in your diet, it also pares well with its sister plant, ginger, in cooking and medicine.  So try some of my Golden Paste and see how you go with this little gold nugget of a herb!

 

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24877064
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29420166

 

natural treatment for autoimmune disease

Natural Treatment for Autoimmune Disease

We have seen a real increase over the past few decades in a host of diseases that are often called diseases of affluence. These degenerative diseases are on the rise include heart disease, cancer and a category known as autoimmune diseases.

Antibodies attack normal healthy cells in the body in cases of autoimmune disease.

Antibodies attack normal healthy cells in the body in cases of autoimmune disease.

Autoimmune diseases are a broad category that share a common immune dysfunction – essentially when the body attacks itself. In autoimmune diseases, the body fails to recognise itself correctly and starts to see its own tissues or cells as foreign it begins to attack the tissue as if it is a foreign invader. Immune cells, called antibodies, are created against our own tissue and launch an attack which destroys and damages the tissue.

Autoimmune diseases can affect many different parts of the body and there are thought to be more than 80 known autoimmune disorders. For example in rheumatoid arthritis the antibodies are directed against the joints causing inflammation, pain and loss of mobility. In Hashimotos or Graves disease the body makes antibodies against a person’s thyroid causing an overactive or underactive thyroid disorder. Other autoimmune diseases include inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis and Crohns diease), lupus, multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes. All autoimmune diseases result in destruction of tissue which leads to loss of function over time. Some people can get more than one autoimmune disease.

General symptoms of autoimmune disease may include fatigue, malaise and low grade fevers. Symptoms of autoimmune diseases can come and go with some cases going in to remission for years. Many patients report increased stress as a prelude to developing an autoimmune disease or as a flare up of existing autoimmune disorder. This can seem odd as we know that stress normally has a negative effect on the immune system as increased levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, has an immune suppressant effect. So this reveals the complexity of the immune system – a system that has a delicate balance that can be easily upset.  Interestingly, many women find that their autoimmune disease goes into remission while they are pregnant as the immune system normally is mildly suppressed during pregnancy.

Causes of Autoimmune Disease

viral autoThe exact cause of autoimmunity is not known, but there are some theories as to why the immune system becomes aberrant. Other than stress, mentioned above, other triggers known to stimulate autoimmune disease can be infections – in this case the immune system gets a workout and the heightened activity appears to increase certain immune cells that can cause autoimmunity. Research has shown that viruses are behind many autoimmune disorders, with different potential actions such as molecular mimicry, bystander activation and the persistence of a virus that leads to high antibody levels. Multiple sclerosis, myocarditis and diabetes are three immune-medicated diseases often linked with virus infections. Allergies are another possible cause of autoimmune diseases. There is much research being done to identify possible allergens that can mimic our own body cells. For example some allergens have a very close resemblance to our own cells. The immune cells constantly circulate looking for the allergens but when they find the similar looking body cells they can attack these by mistake.

Treatments for Autoimmune Disease

Conventional treatments for autoimmune disease include suppressing the immune system with drugs (such as steroids) or it may require replacing a hormone or substance that has become deficient. For example in Type I diabetes, destruction of the pancreas impedes the output of insulin so the patient is required to inject insulin to maintain health. In Hashimotos disease, patients need to have thyroid hormone as the destruction of the thyroid tissue decreases the output of this essential hormone.

Getting sunshine for vitamin D is essential for treating autoimmune disease.

Getting sunshine for vitamin D is essential for treating autoimmune disease.

Naturopathic treatments assess the whole person and tries to identify imbalances that can cause dysfunction. Reducing the allergenic load of a patient can calm the immune response and may bring about a reduction in the symptoms of some types of autoimmunity. Assessment of an individual’s diet and digestive health is a very important component of managing autoimmune diseases. Removing potential food allergens and following an anti-inflammatory diet can definitely help some autoimmune diseases. Vitamin D deficiency has now been linked with a range of autoimmune diseases as the nutrient interacts with our genes and modulates our immunity. Many patients I have seen with autoimmune disease are very deficient in this important nutrient and correcting deficiency is essential.

Echinacea is a great immune modulating herb.

Echinacea is a great immune modulating herb.

Other nutrients such as omega 3 fats and certain herbs can bring about a reduction in inflammation and pain in some patients. There is often a mistaken belief that immune boosting herbs such as Echinacea should not be used in autoimmunity. This is incorrect, as many of the immune supportive herbs actually work to normalise and modulate immune function rather than stimulate it per se. For example in cases where the immunity is overstimulated the herbs can help to calm the response and in cases where the immune system is underactive the herbs can stimulate a normal response.

Other herbs such as Hemidesmus have more of an immune suppressant action. I have used immune modulating herbs many times with good outcomes in patients with autoimmunity. Consulting with a professional naturopath or herbalist is always the best way to get the right formula matched to your individual case.

Hopefully, more research in the future will uncover the causes behind autoimmunity and bring about increased understanding, improved prevention and better treatments.

 

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