If there’s one person who knows what humans needs to look and feel great, then it’s Elle ‘The Body’ Macpherson. Supermodel credentials aside, the 55-year-old, mother-of-two is a hugely successful entrepreuner who is ahead of the game on wellness trends. In the last few months her Instagram feed has been pretty heavy on the promotion of something called manual lymphatic drainage.
In the world of celebrities, she’s not alone; Kim Kardashian, Selena Gomez, Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner and Hailey Bieber are just some of the A-listers who are using lymphatic drainage to improve the functioning of their lymphatic system, which can help recharge their immune system, get a leaner figure, remedy gut issues and generally make you feel healthier. This Hollywood health movement has travelled and it is cropping up increasingly in the UAE.
“Interest in the UAE has most definitely increased over the last year or so,” says Louise Grosvenor, a Dubai-based massage therapist who is trained and certified in manual lymph drainage (MLD). “There seems to be a lot more discussion about the huge benefits of lymphatic drainage, I think people have become more aware of this style of massage due to social media, and with more celebrities having regular MLD sessions and praising the results.”
Why lymphatic drainage?
“The lymphatic system is part of the immune system,” explains Grosvenor. ”It purifies the body and regulates irritation, swelling and edema. It acts as a second drainage system that supports the venous system in removing toxins, waste and unwanted materials, as well as maintaining fluid balance within the body. Its primary function is to transport lymph around the body and defend the body against infection by producing white blood cells called lymphocytes.”
Grosvenor, who works for sports medicine specialists Up and Running in Jumeirah, adds: “Unlike the circulatory system, the lymphatic fluid is not pumped around the body. It is a one-way drainage system that relies on the movement of the body and contraction of the muscles to move the fluid.”
And this is where MLD comes into play. And don’t expect a knot-erasing firm hand, either.
There are many specific reasons people seek out this treatment, aside from the pursuit of wellness. Alvarez has patients who use MLD to improve the results of their cosmetic surgery, especially liposuction, as well as shorten the recovery period and prevent side effects such as fibrosis, scar tissue or fluid buildup, known as seroma. Patients with varicose veins, venous insufficiency, which causes the blood to pool, or deep vein thrombosis can also benefit from the treatment, she says.
Lymphatic massage after cancer
Alvarez also helps a number of patients who are in recovery after battling cancer.
“Lymphatic drainage is a must for cancer patients, especially those who have had lymph node dissection,” she says. “Secondary lymphedema can be one of the side effects of some types of cancer, so I perform periodic treatment in order to prevent the disease and perform MLD for those who unfortunately have already developed the lymphedema. Patients who are now cancer-free can be on medication like Tamoxifen for a few years which can cause a lot of water retention and weight gain. With MLD, these side effects can soften noticeably.”
One of Alvarez’s regular patients is 50-year-old Staci Hendershott. She started having lymphatic massage in 2017, after having an enlarged lymph node removed from the inside of her left leg.
“My lymphatic system doesn’t work well and the lymph struggles to move upwards at the top of my leg where the node was taken out, and it causes huge swelling of the leg.” explains the Abu Dhabi-based PE teacher. “I have the massages every few weeks, which helps to get the fluid moving. The treatment involves a light massage as well as some compression wrapping of my limb. The difference it makes to my swelling is huge.”
Hendershott also reports feeling revitalized, experiencing improved complexion and a general boost to her wellbeing after every session.
“I can understand why people with non-medical needs are turning to MLD,” she says. “I’ve also used a Brazilian MLD therapist that was visiting Abu Dhabi, and her other clients were predominantly those using the treatment as a weight loss aid. I think celebrities and local influencers are giving that element of the treatment more appeal.”
Alvarez agrees, saying she has noticed a boost in clients seeking it as a preventative and aesthetic treatment.
“Lymphatic drainage is a growing trend in general in the UAE,” she says. “Even healthy people are coming regularly for treatment as a detox and to boost the immune system.”
Fat loss, boosted metabolism, clearer skin, reduced facial puffiness and improved skin tone are also claimed (but not proven) to be benefits of MLD, which explains why so many celebrities have taken to it so enthusiastically. One of the leading experts in the field is massage therapist to the stars Sheila Perez. As well as Macpherson, she lists Jennifer Lopez, Sharon Stone, Sandra Bullock, Lenny Kravitz and Naomi Campbell as regular clients.
The Sheila Perez Method claims to improve metabolism, combat cellulite and help eliminate localized fat, and her Instagram page is a stream of before and after pictures of flat celebrity bellies to prove what she’s doing works.
Perez is just one of a long list of celebrity therapists offering their own brand of lymphatic drainage, with most of the more well-known MLD masseuses hailing from Brazil.
Although manual lymphatic drainage itself was pioneered by two doctors in Denmark in the 1930s as a way to treat chronic sinusitis and other immune disorders, its more recent popularity came about when the MLD treatments in everyday spas in Brazil were rebranded in the US as Brazilian Slimming Massage. Early celebrity adopters included Gywneth Paltrow followed by Victoria’s Secret models.
But massage isn’t the only way to boost lymphatic drainage. The rise of rebounding – jumping on a trampoline or a mini-trampoline – has also picked up some A-list fans and made celebrities of instructors. Lekfit founder Lauren Kleban, for example, counts American actress Busy Philipps as a devotee (Philipps does a class every day) and claims that jumping up and down on a small trampoline is the perfect, low impact, low-cost way to get the lymph fluids moving.
In Abu Dhabi, personal trainer and rebounding instructor Anya Tarasiuk teaches rebounding classes at Bodytree Studio.
“The motion of bouncing up and down causes your lymph valves to open and close, creating a pump, which effectively moves and recycles the fluid through the lymph providing an efficient system that drains away any toxins,” she explains. “I have definitely seen an increase in numbers of clients attending my rebounding class for the lymphatic drainage purpose, and they have felt the huge benefits.” says Tarasiuk. “Not only does the lymphatic system keep the whole immune system operating well, it reduces cellulite, helps clear skin disorders, fixes metabolic problems and relieves digestive issues.”
“Rebounding supports, strengthens and tightens the pelvic floor muscles and helps cure and prevent urinary incontinence,” she says. “It helps stabilize hip joints, reduces body fat, firms legs, thighs, abdomen, arms, and hips, as well as increasing agility and improving balance.”
If rebounding or massage isn’t for you, here are four more ways experts recommend to improve the function of your lymphatic system:
- Invest in a dry bristle body brush and brush the skin towards the heart. This encourages the movement of lymph and helps clear built-up toxins.
- Try some yoga inversions, such as head stands or shoulder stands, to let gravity help with the movement of the lymph.
- Add raw veggies to your diet, as they are packed with naturally occurring enzymes that break down toxic buildups.
- Take a supplement: Red Clover or Echinacea buds are both recommended to help lymph flow.
Devinder Bains is journalist of 20 years, working as a writer and editor on some of the biggest national magazines, newspapers and online publications in the UK and the Middle East. She specialises in women’s empowerment, fashion, race, culture and travel, and as a qualified personal trainer and nutrition coach, she is an expert in health and fitness. She splits her time between freelance writing and running Fit Squad DXB – Dubai’s largest personal training and wellness company.