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Everything is everything… the problem is not always the problem”

I’ve been having a love affair with my lymphatic system since we first started filming the podcast in October… and just like my lymph, I’M PUMPED to give you guys the deets (get it?! pumped? no? kk). 

If you’re reading this blog post, there’s a good chance you know the following details about me: 

1. My mother has Alzheimer’s disease, and I’m committed to taking care of my brain to hopefully change the cycle…

2. I have a chronically “swollen” ankle.

Throughout this episode, you’ll be a witness I discover in-the-moment that the two may be very intimately related… but before I get into that, I want to give you the full rundown on what your lymphatic system even is, and why you should care ASAP.


This week on the pod, I sat down with yet another lovely leo, Lisa Levitt Gainsley of The Lymphatic Message

Lisa has been on the front lines of the lymphatic awareness battle for the past 25 years and she has a lot to say about recent research advancements. She drops a ton of knowledge about what our lymphatic system is, what it’s responsible for, how it plays a role in our digestion, brain detox, waste clearance, hormone health…. AND the possible connection between the lymph and diseases like Alzheimer’s, Crohn’s Disease, and ulcerative colitis. This episode will help understand what your lymphatic system is doing, as well as the signs of stagnation/dysfunction. You’ll learn how to make sure it’s optimized through food, exercise, and at-home self massage… and you’ll leave wondering why no one is stressing the importance of this under-appreciated circulatory system.


“Your lymphatic system runs like rivers through your entire body, similar to your bloodstream. If you visualize the root system of a tree, you’ll begin to see how this incredible system absorbs excess waste into the capillaries. The waste gets filtered into the areas in your body where you have lymph nodes to be excreted out. “ Lisa Levitt Gainsley

The lymphatic system just sounds like something juicy AF. And it is, because your lymphatic system is the largest circulatory system in your body – yes, twice as big as your circulatory system! Yet, while your circulatory system has your heart to pump and clean your blood automatically, your lymph has NO built-in pump whatsoever. Lymph only moves manually through exercise, massage, and diet; which is why it’s so easy to get backed up with our modern lifestyle.

Your lymphatic system basically has 3 major functions:

1. Returns all excess fluid that the cardiovascular system couldn’t pick up (which is a lot – about 3L per day).

2. Absorbs and transports the dietary fat we eat.

3. Is part of the IMMUNE SYSTEM which of course is involved in everything from colds and flus to cancer.

We have alllllll these collections of lymph nodes around our joints because we were literally designed to move. We also have a collection of lymph nodules right outside the small intestine because there are pathogens in food and the lymph is part of our immune system. We basically have lymph nodes, vessels, nodules, and lymphoid organs ALL OVER the place… and yet the lymphatic system was not fully understood in the Western world until as little as two decades ago. However, ancient systems of medicine such as TCM or Ayurveda, have always seen it as one of the first places to look for stagnation.

The US medical industry does not consider lymphatic stagnation a cause of disease, whereas other countries such as Germany employ specialized Lymphatic Drainage techniques as a treatment for fibrocystic breast disease, allergies, chronic sinusitis, arthritis, eczema, heart disease and more. It’s clear we need to catch up, and our girl Lisa Lymph agrees! In fact, she has been lobbying congress to get the CDC to even recognize lymphedema as a medical condition that requires insurance coverage. 

Here’s one of the JUICIEST details about the lymphatic system:

There are lymphatic vessels in your brain and these vessels are responsible for helping your brain detoxify itself while you sleep. As we age, these vessels begin to age and therefore they cannot remove amyloid plaque as effectively. This amyloid plaque is a major contributor to Alzheimer’s Disease and has been highlighted in the literature repeatedly… whereas the glymphatic system that actually removes the plaque doesn’t receive nearly as much attention! This is clue #1 as to how my ankle and my mom’s illness may be connected. 

The lymphatic system runs systemically. It does not operate independently, meaning it runs through our vital organs and fascia. Moving the lymph in one are will move the lymph in the brain, too – meaning we can encourage better brain detox by taking steps to care for our lymph. 



We want to make sure we’re not doing things that will actively impede our lymph’s ability to do it’s important job… but the truth of the matter is, society is set up in a way that doesn’t exactly support the way our bodies prefer to thrive. These symptoms are very common due to our sedentary lifestyles & stress. We all have this to some extent and always need to be conscious of moving our lymph!

Symptoms of sluggish lymph can include…

  • water retention
  • skin breakouts or rashes (psoriasis, eczema, etc)
  • poor skin tone
  • morning stiffness
  • fatigue & lethargy
  • general itching
  • joint pain
  • headaches
  • slow healing of cuts
  • uterine/breast/ovarian fibroids or cysts
  • breast tenderness before your period
  • swollen glands
  • foggy/poor memory
  • inability to lose weight.

And some more visible signs include:

1. Puffiness around the jaw/neck  

2. Swelling in the armpit 

3. Thighs and abdomen swelling / heaviness 

4. Tight jewelry / holding water 

How can a lymphatic massage (professional or DIY) help?

Since the lymph doesn’t have a pump the way the blood has the heart, we must move this system manually. Gently working on yourself using the correct massage movements at the right pressure (or getting a lymphatic drainage treatment from a professional) can start to moooove that stagnant lymph fluid up and out from where it’s settling and creating the symptoms above.

courtesy of Lisa Levitt Gainsley

When’s the best time to have a lymphatic drainage massage?

Personally, I think the BEST time to get a lymphatic drainage massage is after flying and/or after a particularly stressful week (since stress can be a major cause of stagnant lymph). One of the best things about Lisa is that she’s all about teaching us how to give ourselves lymphatic drainage massages. She’s on the Wellness doesn’t have to be expensive and there’s so much we can do at home if we have the education. This is really useful if you are preparing for a presentation, a shoot, if you need to be extra focused, or if you’re feeling puffy and simply want to look more rested. 

Here’s a short video where Lisa teaches us how to do a self lymphatic drainage massage:

But remember, you’re assisting your body with a natural detoxification process. Some people may feel light, fit, and fabulous after… others may feel “like they just got hit with a truck”. 

courtesy of Lisa Levitt Gainsley

In terms of habits, there are three major things we can do:

  1. Exercise, which was shown in one study to improve lymph flow by 83%
  2. HOT FOOT BATHS, which the same study found to increase lymphatic flow by 117%
  3. Lymphatic Drainage Massages (self or professional)

I have a whole story on my Instagram about how I kept getting signs about utilizing foot baths, just like I had some crazy dreams about cucumber and kidney health the week before.

I want to note one more important thing I learned from my herbalist training:

It is EXTREMELY important to support the lymphatic system at the end of an illness when you’re getting over something. You want to make sure the last of it fully moves out of the lymphatic system and doesn’t linger (or even come back). 

Towards the end of any cold, flu, etc — put some calendula flowers into your chicken or veggie soup broth. You don’t need a lot, just a few so that they extract into the base of the broth — then you can remove and discard them. You basically just want to let them steep, you don’t want to eat them. Calendula gently and beautifully moves the lymphatic system and helps your body get rid of the last of a virus or illness.


In term of foods, we have some amazing recommendations from Ayurveda:

1. RED-STAINING FOODS move the lymph

In fact, many plants that were historically used as dyes (such as berries, cherries, beets and turmeric) were commonly used as lymph-movers in traditional Eastern medicine when symptoms of stagnation would arise. The herb “Manjistha” is a deep red root used as both a dye and a medicine that is well known in Ayurveda for its great lymph-circulating properties.


Toxins (called “ama” in Ayurveda) that enter the body from external factors such as food, environment, stress, etc. are sticky and greasy by nature. Hot water can dissolve “ama” from your system just as it dissolves grease from dirty dishes – gradually & comfortably.

Sipping hot water is an ancient Ayurvedic purification technique that is excellent for improving digestion and eliminating toxins from the lymph.

Just as you boil/cook food in hot water to make it easier to assimilate and to kill the food’s impurities, according to Ayurveda, drinking hot water with your meal does the same in your body. It assists in the digestive process by further cooking food you are having trouble digesting in your gut, and dissolves “ama” to be easily eliminated.

Ayurveda recommends plain hot water for flushing the lymphatic system, softening hardened tissues, and hydrating deep tissues. It also heals and repairs the digestive system and flushes the GALT (lymph on the outside of the intestinal wall).


Ayurveda has used citrus pith for ages to improve circulation, lymph, and blood flow. Recent scientific studies have now confirmed this, citing diosmin as one of the major plant chemicals responsible for the benefits! Recent research found that diosmin from the white pith (rind) of oranges can effectively increase micro-circulation in the body by increasing lymphatic contractions.

Lymph Loving Herbs:

  • Red clover
  • Astragalus
  • Goldenseal
  • Cleavers
  • Echinacea
  • Mullein
  • Calendula
  • Devil’s claw
  • Bupleurum
  • Dandelion

Digestive Bitters are also herbs that help the lymph!

Digestive enzymes (along with hydrochloric acid, bile, and all that good stuff) are produced by your body to break down your food… but those same enzymes are ALSO utilized to clear toxic-waste buildup in both the lymph and blood!

Using a digestive bitter tincture before meals helps support not just the proper breakdown of food, but also helps decrease gut inflammation which is one of the biggest root causes of a sluggish lymphatic system (which we discuss in the episode).

Most people I know will do anything to avoid bitter tasting foods. But when the bitter compounds in plants are detected by the taste buds on the tongue, your brain is notified to signal the release of digestive juices, enzymes, and bile. I feel that this is one of the puzzle pieces and traditional practices that we’ve been missing for a long time, so I had to bring it back with my very own bitters formulation. 

In reality, it’s not even technically the herbs that are helping you break down your food — the herbs simply signal your OWN digestive juices to come on out and take care of those proteins in the food you eat. There is no better solution for digestive issues than your OWN hydrochloric acid, your OWN digestive enzymes and your OWN bile… and that’s exactly what bitters encourage when you take them before a meal.



Olivia xoxo

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  • Allie says:

    thank you soooo much for all the time and energy you put into giving us this free information 💜

  • Kate says:

    Hello! Love your information. Do you have to use fresh lavender? Or can you use an essential oil and salt for the foot detox?

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