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Healthy Living

Dr Feelgood: Can a massage cleanse you?

Under the microscope: Manual lymphatic drainage £60 an hour

In theory: Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) is a massage that stimulates the lymphatic system, the thing that's responsible for transporting nutrients around the body and eliminating waste and excess fluid. Using light, rhythmical strokes, therapists clear areas of congestion to reduce puffiness and boost the immune system. Best used as an aid to other detox methods, MLD is a favourite among French women, who swear by its cellulite-busting effect.

In practice: Before the massage, therapist Genny (www.nealsyardremedies.com) took me through a long list of questions to diagnose my needs (apparently rather extensive in Dr F's case). If you are used to a firm pummelling from a masseuse, the feather-light touch used in MLD may initially seem rather underwhelming. Not long into the treatment, however, skin starts to tingle in an odd but invigorating way, leaving one slightly light-headed.

Observations: Immediately after, Dr F felt both energised and incredibly thirsty – a reassuring sign that a treatment has had a physical effect. The next day there was a slight but definite improvement in skin tone, particularly on arms and legs, and Dr F's stomach was definitely flatter, suggesting that MLD really can help if you are prone to water retention.

Analysis: As a rule, a single massage of any kind is unlikely to make any huge difference, so it was surprising to see and feel some immediate changes, even if they were short-lived. It's hard to believe such a subtle technique can have a noticeable effect, but it does.

Prescription: If you are not going to make any other lifestyle changes (eating healthily, drinking more water, blah blah) MLD alone is unlikely to do you much visible good. However, if you are already embracing a virtuous regime, this is an invigorating boost for body and mind.

Further experiments: If you are after a cheap, at-home method to tackle cellulite, you could do worse than dedicate a few minutes in the shower every day to attacking the dimples with The Body Shop's cellulite massager (£8, www.thebodyshop.co.uk).