You've committed to eating more whole plant-based foods for the sake of your health, but want to lower inflammation, fight toxins, and look for other ways to reduce your chemical load. More and more health-minded athletes and influencers are expounding on the virtues of lymphatic drainage massage, a holistic treatment that is as natural as avocado toast and as old. But what is it, and should you try it?

Essentially this method of self-massage can help your skin and muscles expel waste more efficiently so that you get the glow and energy you deserve from all those green juices.

What is the lymphatic system?

The primary function of the lymphatic system is to maintain fluid levels in the body, collecting excess fluid that drains from cells and returning it to the bloodstream.

We spoke to Chinese medicine practitioner and founder of popular holistic brand Hayo’u, Katie Brindle about lymphatic drainage and why this holistic treatment is trending. As Brindle notes, ‘the lymphatic system is an important part of our immune system and consists primarily of lymphatic vessels, which are like the veins and capillaries" but your lymph system is a network of channels throughout the body that carries immune cells to the organs and bloodstream to keep them safe from infection of disease.

These vessels transport lymph, which brings infection-fighting white blood cells called lymphocytes that can flush out bad agents before they take hold. Your lymph system plays a vital role in fighting bacteria, infections, and a multitude of diseases. It has even been known to play a part in destroying abnormal cells within the body to cut off cancer.

As the blood circulates around the body, fluid moves from the blood vessels into tissues to carry fuel and collect waste such as unwanted bacteria and damaged cells; this waste drains through the blood and gets exported from the body safely. Lymphatic drainage is a method of encouraging this drainage process, to keep the lymphatic system running smoothly.

What is lymphatic drainage?

Simply put it's a gentle massage technique that uses light pressure and fluid movements to help the flow of lymphatic fluid under the skin. Keeping lymph pathways clear is essential – since if they become blocked or stagnant, due to infection, chronic illness (or even stress and fatigue) it can potentially lead to a build-up of toxins which can result in lower immunity and other health issues. Athletes and others use massage to fight inflammation and speed recovery; lymphatic drainage is another tool for optimal self-care.

How to keep your lymphatic system healthy

To keep your lymphatic system healthy and encourage normal drainage, there are several things to make sure you're doing. One is to eat a whole-food, plant-based diet of minimally processed foods.

Eat to avoid toxins

Reducing your exposure to chemicals, be they airborne or consumed in food, is a good starting point. Cutting back on processed foods can help your lymphatic system function.

Additionally, avoiding pesticides, as well as the hormone disruptor BPA, and contaminants in meat and preservatives can help to prevent overloading the body with toxic chemicals.

Take care of your gut

The digestive system and lymphatic system are connected, and gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) runs throughout the intestines, protecting us from harmful substances that make their way into our food.

Supporting your gut places less pressure on the lymph system by reducing the chemical load on the body. Eating gut-friendly produce such as whole fruit and vegetables, and adding anti-inflammatory spices to our diet can also help, such as ginger, turmeric, and garlic.

Stay hydrated

Because the lymph fluid is comprised mostly of water, when we become dehydrated it becomes more viscous and struggles to pass through our system. Drinking water throughout the day, can help. The goal is to drink 10 cups or more of water while avoiding caffeinated drinks such as tea or coffee, as well as sodas.

Keep active

Keeping active is another crucial way to encourage proper lymphatic drainage. Unlike the circulatory system, the lymphatic structure doesn’t have a heart-like device that can ‘pump’ the fluid along and instead relies on the movement of the body from the contractions and relaxation in muscles and joints.

A particular practice Brindle encourages anyone to try is the traditional Chinese movement, Qi gong, since it requires muscular movement in the arms, armpits, and chest, causing lymphatic fluid to flow efficiently and rid the chest area of toxins. She adds that exercise, in general, is beneficial as the ‘flow of lymph into our circulation can increase by ten to fifteen percent when we work out. The movement of our muscles combined with the deeper breathing we do when exercising increases the lymphatic flow, so even going for a gentle jog or stroll in the park can be extremely beneficial.

Lymphatic massage

Lymphatic massage has been around for thousands of years, in Chinese medicine. In the west, it was developed as a natural remedy to help control lymphedema, the swelling that can occur after breast cancer treatment, and other conditions related to the immune system. It is essentially a gentle massage that is used to move lymph along the lymphatic system and always flows in the direction that the lymph vessels carry fluid away from the cells.

Lymphatic massage can be done by a professional and an increasing number of salons and treatment centers now offer lymphatic drainage massage, but it is also something that can be done effectively at home. There are a variety of tools you can use to stimulate your lymphatic system, ranging from gua sha to a simple body brush.

People use jade handheld rollers and gua sha heart-shaped stones often in cooling rose quartz along with other tools to help drain the puffiness out of their faces. The latest health craze is to share techniques and videos of yourself doing it on social media.

How to try lymphatic drainage at home

Beauty experts recommend a number of methods and easy tools to try at home to help lymphatic drainage and boost skin health.

Gua Sha

Because a gua sha stone allows you to work deep into your tissue it is a great investment as part of a daily routine. This is because it removes any lactic acid that can build up after a workout. When it comes to using a gua sha on the body, Brindle recommends starting on the chest, neck, and upper back because it helps to clear lymph from the upper body first, to help reduce inflammation. You can then move down your body to your stomach and legs to help with any swelling or stagnant fluid in these areas.

Experience the benefits of gua sha on your face on days when you feel puffy, by using this or a roller to tackle water retention along the jaw or under the eyes. Katie recommends ‘starting on your neck (with gentle movements that go from the chin down to the collar bone) and working upwards starting at the jaw, then along the cheeks and across and down the forehead’. Gently sweep the gua sha back down the sides of your face and neck for a brighter glow and bring circulation to the area for tighter skin.

Body brush or comb

Similarly, you can use a body brush or a crystal comb to gently stroke your limbs and your core area, to encourage lymph movement and reveal smoother, healthy-looking skin. Not only does a bristled body brush help your lymph drainage, but it will also remove dead skin, so you’ll look and feel renewed.

Try tapping

If a gua sha, body brush, or comb isn’t for you, then you may prefer tapping, a technique that has been practiced for thousands of years to support overall health. Using a firm tool such as a bamboo body tapper to help improve circulation and boost energy levels.

As with any massage, Brindle strongly recommends drinking plenty of water afterward to help flush out the toxins and clean the system.

Bottom Line: Lymphatic Massage Is Just One Area of Self Care

Eating a plant-based diet, staying hydrated and active, and using lymphatic massage can help boost the body's natural immune system.

Taking care of your lymphatic system is beneficial to your overall health and can lead to increased immunity, extra energy, and reduced water retention. Despite being a trend lymphatic massage is a time-honored tradition that has been used in China for millennia.