One idea is that the horizontal position of the body encourages lymphatic flow by reducing the effect of gravity. In 2013, researchers published a study in Science that showed a 60 percent increase in the interstitial space (the space outside the cells) during sleep. This extra space resulted in a “striking increase” in the exchange of interstitial and cellular fluids.
If you aren’t already motivated to ensure your body gets enough sleep, just think of sleep as dedicated cellulite recovery time. Here is the most promising information we uncovered so far about optimizing sleep to promote a healthy lymphatic system and healing from cellulite.
I first learned about the importance of sleeping in darkness from Katie Singer’s excellent book, The Garden of Fertility. Katie explains how exposure to light at night can inhibit the pineal gland’s production of melatonin, resulting in a cascade of problems that throws the entire hormonal system off balance. The prescription is to sleep in total darkness, meaning after fifteen minutes you still can’t see your outstretched hand in front of you.
Furthermore, in her classic book, Lunaception, Louise Lacey explains how she and 28 of her friends successfully regulated their menstrual cycles by using specific night lighting techniques to induce ovulation. They slept in total darkness except for three nights each month when a small light was left on to mimic the full moon. You can download her book for ten dollars from Lunaception.net.
Depending on where you live, it can require effort to block enough artificial light from a room to be able to sleep in darkness. Light-blocking blinds or curtains are helpful, but they usually don’t block enough light on their own. Some people use aluminum foil or dark trash bags to block light from the edges of windows and doors. Even tiny lights on electronic devices need to be eliminated or blocked with electrical tape or LightDims.
Exposure to artificial light in the evening before bedtime, especially blue light, can also contribute to poor sleep. BluBlocker sunglasses are a popular way to limit exposure. LowBlueLights.com, a spin-off of the Lighting Innovations Institute at John Carroll University, offers a variety of products to reduce blue light exposure, from low-blue nightlights to blue light filters for iPads and iPhones.
In The Promise of Sleep, pioneering sleep researcher Dr. William Dement explains that light is the most powerful time cue for our bodies. For people who have trouble sleeping at night, he recommends fifteen minutes of exposure to full sunshine in the morning to help reset the internal clock.
Neurologist Stasha Gominak came to a similar conclusion when she discovered a large portion of her migraine patients had sleep problems that were caused by vitamin D deficiency. The primary source of vitamin D, of course, is sunshine (or eating animals who consume lots of sunshine). As Dr. Gominak explains, vitamin D appears to affect our sleep through D receptors in the brainstem, where we control the timing of sleep (view her lecture here). When her patients increased their vitamin D levels, their sleep improved, too.
Dr. Gominak uses synthetic vitamin D supplements with her patients, but a more natural option is to regularly consume foods high in vitamin D such as seafood, eggs, liver, organ meats, and high fat dairy products, including whole milk, cheese, cream, yogurt, butter, and ghee. One of the major advantages of this approach is that food sources tend to contain the nutritional co-factors, such as vitamins A and K, that the body needs to synthesize vitamin D properly and put it to use. Wild-caught seafood and grass-fed meats and dairy contain higher amounts of nutrients than conventionally farmed sources.
One way to boost your vitamin D level is to eat two or three servings per week of cold water fatty fish and shellfish. Tuna and salmon are two of the richest food sources of vitamin D, and as you’ll see over in the CI Kitchen, they also contain other nutrients that work to repair cellulite directly. My favorite source for salmon is Vital Choice because of their unbeatable quality and dedication to sustainable fishing practices. It’s more expensive than store-bought salmon, but their bulk pack options are a good value. (Use the code VCAFINT during checkout to receive ten percent off your first purchase at Vital Choice.)
A daily teaspoon of cod liver oil is another traditional way to include vitamin D in your diet. Two of the brands I alternate using are fermented cod liver oil from Green Pastures and extra virgin cod liver oil from Rosita Real Foods (use coupon code loyal10 for ten percent off). There are a lot of other types of fish oil on the market, but the reasons I stick to high quality cod liver oil are explained by my favorite doc here.
As we learned in our Cellulite 101 Series, breath and gravity are two of the primary factors that stimulate the circulation of lymph. When we lay down to sleep, the gravitational force that pulls lymph down to our feet is neutralized, leaving a level plane in which lymph can flow more freely throughout the body.
If you wake up in the morning feeling achy and tired, it is a clear sign your body isn’t fully resting during sleep. Your sleeping position could be the culprit. In her best-selling book, 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back, Esther Gokhale studied the movement habits of native peoples around the world and developed a series of exercises to relearn healthy human posture. For sleeping, she recommends a posture she calls “stretchlying” where you slowly lower onto your back in a way that elongates the spine and improves breathing pattern.
If you breath through your mouth and snore when lying on your back, my fellow cellulite investigators recommend the Buteyko method for learning how to overcome the unhealthy habit of mouth-breathing.
The healing abilities of essential oils are widely underrated in our pharmaceutical-driven healthcare system, but in Ayurveda, the ancient healthcare tradition of India, the nose is thought of as the gateway to the brain.
Pratima Raichur explains the importance of aromatherapy in her book, Absolute Beauty: Radiant Skin and Inner Harmony Through the Ancient Secrets of Ayurveda. As she points out, pure essential oils contains hundreds, even thousands, of biochemical components, many of which have yet to be isolated or even identified in the laboratory.
Essential oils recommended for cellulite have cleansing properties and are known to stimulate the lymphatic system. They include rosemary, juniper, geranium, cypress, and citrus such as lemon, grapefruit, and orange. An easy way to benefit from essential oils in the bedroom is to place a few drops in an essential oil diffuser before going to bed.
Another way to use essential oils in the bedroom is through massage, especially if you are fortunate enough to have a willing partner. Just like with the sense of smell, the sense of touch is an important component of the Ayurvedic approach to health. The health benefits of massage are not lost on Western medicine where it is frequently cited as an effective way to increase circulation and relieve stress. To increase the anti cellulite benefits of massage, use a blend of the essential oils listed above in a base of organic sesame, almond, jojoba, or coconut oil.
*Please note: Certain oils are particularly effective at treating cellulite while others should be avoided by women who are pregnant or have certain health conditions. A little research beforehand is recommended.
When we moved to an urban area, we quickly found our way to the Dohm sound machine. The official sound conditioner of the National Sleep Foundation, it uses a unique asymmetrical fan to create a soft background sound without using digital loops or recordings. With nearly five thousand five star reviews on Amazon, the calming sound of the Dohm appears to appeal to virtually everyone.
In his book The Cellulite Cure, Dr. Lionel Bissoon asserts that conventional underwear –the kind with elastic around the legs –is a major factor in the modern cellulite epidemic.
When I see panty lines peeking through clothing, I can only imagine the severity of the compression across the wearer’s lymphatic tissues. Think of those microscopic vessels as a hose. The hose is turned on, and is efficiently draining toxins from the various cells. Suddenly, someone pinches the hose. The water backs up, and before long it’s leaking through the faucet.
Dr. Bissoon insists all his patients switch to thongs (or at least lace underwear without elastic around the legs) because they don’t restrict lymphatic flow the way traditional underwear does. For bedtime, he recommends not wearing panties at all.
If you’re concerned like I was about finding a thong that is comfortable, you can’t go wrong with a Hanky Panky thong. Hanky Panky has been making lingerie here in the United States since 1977 and their thongs, widely touted as “the most comfortable thongs in the world” have inspired a cult following and front page Wall Street journal articles alike.
I discovered Hanky Panky thongs when they were featured in the annual Undie Awards and immediately ordered a pair to review for our investigation, along with some of the other finalists. Hanky Panky is the one that ended up taking over my entire underwear drawer. I like the low rise (pictured at right) but the original rise is also popular. The 5-pack is a good value on Amazon or HerRoom, but often HerRoom has select colors on sale that makes it more economical to purchase them individually.
Just because cellulite appears on the legs doesn’t mean we can neglect the rest of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is a loop that circulates approximately three liters of lymph throughout the body each day. If lymph in the upper body is congested, it will effect the lower body and vice versa.
In Dressed to Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras, medical anthropologists Sydney Ross Singer and Soma Grismaijer propose the impaired flow of lymph around the breasts is caused by restrictive bras that constrain delicate lymph vessels under the arms and chest.
As a general rule of thumb, if you peel your clothes off at the end of the day and you can still see their indentations on your skin then it is a good idea to invest in less restrictive clothing. I found my favorite lymph-friendly bras using HerRoom’s robust Bra Finder to search through “comfort” and “wireless” bras in my size. Some of my favorites are Warner’s Elements of Bliss and anything from the Coobie line.