A healthy functioning lymphatic system is an area of health that fascinates me. I’ve been focused on helping people improve their lymph flow for many years in practice. It may seem esoteric but the lymphatic system is an important part of your overall health and impacts the way we feel in our bodies on a daily basis. 

Although, the lymphatic system is coming into its own in recent years–no longer seen as “second fiddle” to the other major circulatory system in the body, which is of course the blood. This is due to improved imaging technologies as well as developments in cellular, molecular and genetic approaches to understanding human physiology.  

Our blood circulates because it has a pump, the heart, whereas lymph must be moved along by the contraction of the musculature around the lymphatic vessels. This is why movement is so key for healthy lymph flow. In addition, lack of constriction in the connective tissues and the free flow of molecules through what is called the extracellular matrix (ECM) is essential for optimal lymph health. 

Why is this so? Lymphatic fluid carries away all the leftover byproducts of cellular metabolism and from our tissues overall. It is our major waste management system! If the lymph system isn’t functioning properly then swelling, or edema, will occur and toxicity will build up first and foremost. Sluggish lymph also makes us more susceptible to infections. If the lymph system were to shut down altogether, death would ensue within approximately 24 hours. 

Lymphatic vessels permeate every part of our bodies (except the bone marrow and retina) even into our heads, surrounding the brain. Lymphatic fluid drains from the head when we sleep and this is why sleeping on one’s side is important for lymph flow. Swelling and sluggishness in various areas of the body is related to the lymph system. Many people complain about puffiness around their eyes, or in their faces overall. One’s fingers, ankles and extremities in general are frequently the areas where we see the effects of a sluggish lymph system. Frequent sore throats are also a common complaint as the tonsils are big clumps of lymphoid tissue. 

Copious amounts of lymphatic channels also surround the intestinal tract and are immediately activated when we have a meal or eat ingest anything into our gut. If your digestive system is irritated, or you have food sensitivities, there is likely a connection with your lymph. Food sensitivities are only one way lymph relates to your immune system. 

The lymph system plays a central role in overall immunity since it protects your body against foreign invaders such as bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi. It produces and releases lymphocytes (white blood cells) and other immune cells that monitor and then destroy these pathogens. It is well established that an infection of any kind will need aid from the lymphatic system to help eradicate the pathogen. Leftover effects of an infection vary widely but many patients I see with long-term effects from viral and bacterial infections have major issues with both connective tissue tightness, stiffness and many have swollen or tender lymph nodes. Addressing lymphatic health is always part of my approach. 

The lymph nodes are like little sponges along the delicate vessels that make up the lymph system. Lymphatic fluid percolates through the lymph node and usually has to pass through several nodes to be fully filtered or “cleaned” of debris from normal metabolic processes that take place all day, every day. This reduces your overall body burden of waste and oftentimes indirectly helps you become less reactive to allergens as well as less susceptible to infection. 

Many people are familiar with the idea of lymph nodes since over the course of our lives we may have had a swollen node during an acute illness or even chronically swollen nodes in our necks, armpits and/or groin area. Lymph nodes can be painful or they may be swollen without any accompanying pain. Sometimes this chronic process can be associated with frequent sore throats, chronic sinusitis, hypersensitivity to many foods and environmental substances and a general sense of malaise. 

Basically, lymph nodes are immunological meeting places able to produce white blood cells called lymphocytes and specific antibodies to fight off various pathogens.  Lymph nodes can also create specialized antibodies that kill cancerous cells. This is why the lymph system must be evaluated if there is a cancerous process happening in one’s body. Damage to lymph nodes and lymph vessels can occur from trauma, burns, radiation, infections, or compression or invasion of lymph nodes by tumors. There are a number of parasites connected to lymphatic health that are well established in medical literature. 

When the lymphatic system cannot fully resolve an infection it can result in immunodeficiency. The immune system is incredibly complex and not all people recover fully from various exposures. This is where my role as a naturopathic doctor is needed–antibiotics and acute measures are no longer effective and a more comprehensive evaluation of immune function is often necessary. I use whole-body thermography as part of that evaluation. To learn more about the specific technology I use, you can visit the AlfaVue website as well. 

Want to learn more about the lymphatic system and hormone health specifically? Check out Dr. Nash’s article The Lymphatic System: A Critical Factor in Female Hormone Balance 

REFERENCES: 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK513247/

 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3312397/  

 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3010157/  

 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5152733/  

 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4967732/ 

 https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001117.htm 

 https://www.jci.org/articles/view/46125 

The human digestive tract contains more microorganisms than there are cells in our entire body. Estimates show we have roughly 100,000 organisms with 500-1000 species that constitute the microbiome. Some of those critters are yeasts and that will be the focus of this article. Don’t panic–all of us have yeast in our gut. In fact, some of these fungi play a protective role by stimulating the immune system to be wary of more dangerous pathogens. The question is, what role are these yeasts playing in our individual overall health? 

Yeasts are part of the larger category of fungus, an entire biological kingdom. Fungi are complex and differ from other kingdoms in complex ways. Here’s how:  

“Unlike animals, they have cell walls, not membranes; unlike plants, they cannot make their own food; unlike bacteria, they hold their DNA within a nucleus and pack cells with organelles—features that make them, at the cellular level, weirdly similar to us. Fungi break rocks, nourish plants, seed clouds, cloak our skin and pack our guts, a mostly hidden and unrecorded world living alongside us and within us.”

the mycobiome (fungal microbiome)

The part of your microbiome which contains these yeasts is called the mycobiome. There are relatively few species of fungus that can colonize our gut but in some cases they can have a great impact on our health. Candida albicans is the most commonly encountered fungal pathogen of humans, and is frequently found on the mucosal surfaces of the body. It is the host response to these microorganisms which is so variable. This brings me to a very important bit of clinical experience–you don’t always want to treat yeast and if you do treat, you may not want to engage in a purely “kill everything” approach.

Diet and environmental factors play a role in the mycobiome and overall the mycobiome is less stable than the bacterial levels in the gut. Meaning, your daily intake of foods can shift the levels of yeast or fungus in your gut pretty quickly. Dietary sources of fungus come mainly from fresh fruits and vegetables. I’m not about to tell you to stop eating those! 

Candida species have these little “feet”, if you will, called hyphae. Hyphae can stomp little holes in the intestinal wall lining, increasing the permeability of this barrier and leading to what is commonly called “leaky gut.” If you have a leaky gut, particles of food and other environmental exposures can translocate to the lymphatic system and even reach your bloodstream in some cases. This is why leaky gut is so significant, it means there will be effects across your whole body. 

Leaky gut has been correlated with numerous systemic conditions–allergies, fatigue, brain fog, general lymphatic sluggishness and more detrimental conditions related to oxidative stress/inflammation that may be destructive to healthy nerve tissues. In my experience, one of the most common reasons for a person to develop “leaky gut” is an overgrowth, or colonization, of fungus in the digestive tract. 

So how does one know if they have fungal colonization in the gut? First, there are a set of questions I always ask my patients and many of them point to a yeast overgrowth issue. Since I am also steeped in blood type physiology science, it’s also interesting to note that Blood Type O individuals have a higher level of what is called “Candida carriage.” The Blood Type O antigen that is expressed all along our digestive tracts, is made up of fucose–a preferred food source for many Candida species. 

Common symptoms of a yeast overgrowth issue include:

  • Fatigue 
  • Rashes and skin irritations, especially the classic redness that many yeasty rashes produce 
  • Persistent itching anywhere on the body, but especially rectal itching after a bowel movement 
  • Chronic vaginal yeast including discharge, burning and discomfort 
  • Chronic toe or fingernail fungus 
  • Gas and bloating in the abdomen with a lot of dietary triggers 
  • Variability in stool quality–alternating constipation and diarrhea (much like small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) in this case it’s fungal overgrowth, or SIFO. 
  • Foggy thinking, or “brain fog”–a very common symptom many don’t realize is associated with fungal overgrowth 

The interesting thing is that these signs and symptoms may not be present, even in people where yeast is playing a detrimental role in overall health. I’ve seen many female patients who have had a microscopic exam done at the gynecologist and no yeast is present. Yet the body is still reacting to yeast in ways that are producing discomfort. Conversely, some women are told they have a “yeast infection” even though they were not symptomatic at all. 

One’s sensitivity to yeast is what is really crucial. This is why I love using the Yeast mix of low dose immunotherapy (LDI) for some individuals. It’s not matter of the gross amount of yeast present but how sensitive any given individual is to its presence. In fact, this is the case for many of the antigens/pathogens that I use LDI for. 

Having said that, testing for fungal overgrowth can be an important part of evaluation but also tricky. Candida albicans can form biofilms, tightly packed communities of organisms that can evade immune detection. These biofilms can also colonize mucosal surfaces and make it more difficult to get positive findings in cultures. 

The gold standard for testing is organic acid testing through urine. In particular, the marker for arabinose is associated with yeast colonization in the gut. I routinely use organic acid testing that measures multiple markers for fungal overgrowth. There are two labs that offer comprehensive testing that I rely on for objective data about the current state of your digestive system–and much more like neurotransmitter levels and nutritional status for a number of things that are not easy to measure through a blood draw. They are Great Plains and US Biotek

Treating Candida

As mentioned above, dietary changes can have some effect on fungal levels in the gut. The main areas I focus on are the removal of refined sugars and increasing healthy fibers, both of which support a healthy microbiome overall. 

If a person has longer-standing issues, it is often necessary to treat them with a number of approaches. Anti-fungal foods, herbs and nutritional supplements can be the mainstay of my approach with certain patients. With others we need to do more biofilm disruptors for those that have deeper-seated colonization and for others it’s more of an immune tolerance approach using complex homeopathics and potentially LDI

One must exercise caution when attempting to eradicate yeast in their digestive tracts. As the organisms die off they can release mycotoxins that can create an acute inflammatory state in the body, what I call an “aggravation.” It’s always prudent to have a plan in place for this possibility. 

Using binders and being careful with dosing are just two simple things that can reduce the symptoms during an aggravation, or sidestepping one altogether. I’ve got lots of other tricks up my sleeve as well after many years in practice, many of them relate to a healthy functioning lymphatic system as well. As always, individualized care is the cornerstone of my work in naturopathic medicine. There simply are no protocols for complex chronic illnesses like yeast overgrowth and the havoc it can wreak on a person’s body. 

References: 

https://www.cell.com/cell/fulltext/S0092-8674(21)00059-3

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/deadly-fungi-are-the-newest-emerging-microbe-threat-all-over-the-world/ 

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8344100/

https://academic.oup.com/mmy/article-abstract/26/1/49/995350?redirectedFrom=fulltext

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4860025/

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fcimb.2020.00094/full

https://dadamo.com/txt/index.pl?0

Lyme for Beginners: or How Do I Know if I Have “Lyme?” 

When I started my practice in 1999, I didn’t want to focus on Lyme and other chronic “infections.” But alas, here in Connecticut a doctor has to know a thing or two in order to determine the likelihood of an acute infection or more commonly, a post-infectious syndrome. 

Here are some basic facts about tick-borne disease to help you better understand the difficulty many people face in terms of proper evaluation: 

Lyme Disease bacteria

1. You can’t believe the tests. Blood tests for Lyme and its common co-infections are notoriously inaccurate. There’s a few reasons for this and it’s my opinion that one of the most significant reasons has to do with whether your immune system is able to react properly to many pathogens. Sometimes I use one of the labs that specialize in infectious disease diagnosis. Over the years, I have seen a number of co-infections test positive from Medical Diagnostic Labs or Igenix, when other lab results were not showing an issue. 

2. You can’t believe the tests. Didn’t I just say that? I’m saying it again because sometimes you’ll have positive results for years after the infection has cleared but you still are dealing with the “leftover effects” on various tissues of the body. I sometimes think of these leftover effects as patterns, or loops, that the body’s immune system and nervous system is struggling to shift away from. The ability to regain good health must incorporate therapies that address these two systems. This is why antibiotics are not the only way, nor the best way, to deal with Lyme and co-infections in the long-term. In the short-term, or in sub-acute disease, they can be very helpful!

3. Dr. Richard Horowitz’s MSIDS questionnaire is also a helpful tool and can be found here. This questionnaire can help you get an idea of the likelihood you’re dealing with a chronic infection, even if you’ve had negative test results.

4. Your main symptoms may not be musculoskeletal pain. Although a good indicator of Lyme disease is migrating joint pains, a lot of folks have mainly neurological symptoms like brain fog, confusion, poor memory and sudden mood swings. There’s a real thing called “Lyme rages” and anxiety is very common as well. Other people have a lot of cardiac symptoms with rapid heart rate, flutters and skipped beats. Many people have debilitating headaches and some have low-grade fever and just a sense of feeling unwell and almost everyone has fatigue and/or weakness. Most commonly, I hear people complain of some combination of these issues.

5. Your lymphatic system is certainly involved with any lingering syndrome after infection. The lymphatic system is responsible for triggering a proper immune reaction in response to exposure to all bacteria, not just the ones that are carried by ticks, insects and other animals–like lizards! Crazy! It is the lymphatic system that must spring into action when the tissues are exposed to a pathogen, be it bacterial, viral, mold toxins, etc. The lymph nodes (little sponges along the delicate lymphatic channels) must create antibodies to help the body rid itself of infection. Furthermore, the lymphatic system must act as the “waste management system” as well, eliminating the toxins left behind once the acute infection has been eradicated. When people are sedentary, have scars or an overload of toxins already present in the body, the lymph system may be overtaxed and not able to do its job as efficiently as it should. This is why it’s a two-way street–having sluggish lymph can make you more susceptible to developing chronic symptoms of infection and the lymph can also be affected when you’ve been dealing with a long-term infection for months, years or even decades! Addressing lymphatic health is important regardless of your current health status, but anyone dealing with lingering symptoms of infection must consider support for this critical system in the body.

6. Many people will see rheumatologists, neurologists, cardiologists, multiple internists, infectious disease docs and still no one can put it all together and address the real underlying issues with chronic infections–inflammation, immune system confusion (auto-immune issues) immune system depletion and the need for regular bodywork to keep the connective tissue “untwisted” and the lymphatic system able to do its job! It takes a team.

7. Finding a doctor that is literate in all the various problems chronic infections can cause (inflammation, brain issues, gut disturbances, cardiac issues) is hard enough but finding a Lyme-literate MD (LLMD) that actually knows how to help tissues heal and the body recover is even harder. Then the hurdle of getting an appointment with them and having thousands of extra dollars laying around to spend on your health! It’s a huge problem. I suggest doing the research and finding a Lyme-literate naturopathic doctor in your area. It’s becoming such an epidemic that we (NDs) are doing more and more of this work because we are the doctors that often trust what our patients are telling us about the way their bodies feel.

8. Get support–you’re not alone! One caveat, some of the support groups can be pretty overwhelming so by “support” I mean, find your care team and perhaps one or two sympathetic friends or family. Not everyone understands this complex chronic illness. 

Here are some of the products I have recommended over the years for both support of the lymphatic system and helping support your immune system to recover from chronic pathogen patterns. I don’t recommend using the potent anti-microbial herbs that are effective to eradicate symptoms without the guidance of a licensed practitioner. 

 

Lymph support: the following products are safe and effective for helping support healthy lymphatic flow. Please be sure to follow the dosages on the bottle and homeopathics must be taken away from food by a few minutes minimum.

Guna Lympho:

Lymph 1 by Viatrexx:

Immune support: the following are two herbal products I have used for many years to help gently support the immune aspect of the body and act as anti-inflammatory support. And I included one of my very favorite Vitamin D supplements which is also essential when inflammation is present in the body.

Genoma Security by D’Adamo Personalized Nutrition:

Immune Support by Vital Nutrients:

Bio D/K by Biotics Research:

Binders: binders are important as you begin to eradicate the waste products from your body. If you experience an “aggravation” when changing your diet or begin moving the lymph or addressing chronic infections, it’s always good to take a binder before bed so that your body has some extra help “sopping up” the toxins.

GI Detox:

Ultra Binder: Universal Toxin Binder: