The Lymphatic System
Think of all the substances that make their way into our bodies daily. Proteins, fats, sugars, vitamins, minerals (and more toxic, harmful elements such as chemicals) are all circulating in our tissues right now. Our incredible bodies have effective and complex ways of cleansing themselves and restoring balance despite us living in a world of toxic overwhelm. Our lymphatic and urinary systems are the astounding filtration systems of our body.
The lymphatic system is comprised of lymph fluid, lymph vessels, lymph nodes, the spleen and the thymus gland (which is also a part of both the immune system and the endocrine system- see how our body functions expertly overlap and connect?!) Your lymphatic system is effectively your body's "sewer system." Just as blood flows to each cell in the body to nourish and oxygenate it, the lymph in our body flows from each cell carrying away waste such as unused nutrients, excess vitamins, hormones, steroids, medications, dead cells, etc. Each cell needs specific materials to carry out its own function. So these materials are supplied to the cell via the blood. Once the cell has converted or used these materials, it excretes waste into the interstitial fluid around the cell. This is collected into the lymph capillaries, and the lymph fluid is responsible for carrying away any excess or waste so the cell can continue to function normally. In this way, each cell "eats" and excretes waste just as we do.
Lymph fluid flows from cells back to the venous blood supply through lymph vessels. These are similar to blood vessels but much larger. The smallest vessels, lymph capillaries, innervate every cell of the body much like their counterparts, the vascular capillaries. (However, they are not found in bone marrow, the outer layer of the skin, cartilage, or the central nervous system.) Just as with the vascular system, smaller vessels lead to larger vessels. The lymph fluid moves through these vessels to the lymph nodes and filtering organs. It is important to note that the lymphatic system has no internal pump (such as the heart) to move the lymphatic fluid. Thus the only way to move the lymph is through movement of the body. Sedentary lifestyle can lead to a sluggish and overburdened lymphatic system, which in turn can cause serious disease in the body.
When lymph fluid reaches the nodes, it is filtered, cleaned, and neutralized. The nodes themselves are fibrous which helps to filter the lymphatic fluid that flows through them. Also in lymph nodes are other pathogen fighters which help protect us such as lymphocytes, high concentrations of macrophages, antigens, and antibodies. Lymph nodes are located throughout the trunk of the body, with the main groups in the:
Neck/Throat and Chest area: these help drain and filter lymph from the head.
Arm pits (Axillary): these filter the chest and upper extremities
Abdominal (Mesentery): filters the GI tract
Groin (Inguinal): filters the pelvis and lower extremities
After being passed through the lymphatic system, lymph flows to other filtering organs such as the spleen, liver, tonsils, kidneys, appendix, etc. to be eliminated from the body.
(We will discuss more about the elimination pathways in a later blog post!)
The spleen and thymus are considered part of the lymphatic system due to their function in creating the fighter cells of the immune system which are active within the lymph nodes. We'll delve deeper into the immune system in next month's article to tie in the how the immune system and lymphatic system work together as eliminatory systems of the body.
It's plain to see that our lymphatic system has a pretty big job. It is constantly working to carry out and rid our bodies of harmful substances, pathogens, waste, and excess materials. On top of that, it is entirely dependent upon our movement to keep it flushing and moving. It's not surprising that it is quite common for the lymphatic system to get backed up and overwhelmed. When this happens, it can cause disease in the body- from subtle signs to severe stagnation, and even fatal illness. The most common (and often first) sign of a congested lymphatic system is excessive mucous production. This occurs particularly when we eat certain foods such as dairy, complex sugars, or if we ingest toxic chemicals. Colds, allergies, sinus and lung congestion, bronchitis, asthma, rashes, boils, cysts, and even tumors are all signals that our lymphatic system is overtaxed and backed up.
To keep your lymphatic system, and in turn your whole body, healthy and fluid it is important to regularly detox, drink lots of water, and MOVE MOVE MOVE!
The Urinary System
You may be wondering why we chose to pair the lymphatic system with the urinary system instead of the immune system. After all, the lymphatic system and immune system work hand in hand. However, the lymphatic system and urinary system are so similar that we just had to address them together. (Also the immune system deserves a deep-dive all on its own!)
The urinary system is another of the body's great filtering factories. It is where all of our blood gets cleaned. Our kidneys can filter 150 quarts of blood every day, meaning that the total amount of blood in your body is filtered by the kidneys 20-25 times daily. That's incredible! So your kidneys are constantly working, just as your lymphatic system, to cleanse and filter your body.
The kidneys remove waste, proteins, acids, and excess fluid from the body. They help maintain the balance of electrolytes in the body and are also responsible for producing some hormones.
Blood enters the kidneys through the renal artery and is carried through smaller blood vessels to filtering mechanisms within the kidneys called nephrons. The inside of each kidney is made up of approximately one million nephrons. It is within the nephrons that the function of the kidneys happens. With specialized parts, the nephron takes in the blood, filters it, returns necessary substances to the bloodstream, and removes waste products. The excess fluid and waste, which is now urine, travels to the inner portion of the kidneys, through the papillary ducts, into the kidney reservoirs, and finally through the ureters to the bladder.
The kidneys allow our bodies to flush out many waste products such as acids, proteins, ammonia, hydrogen ions, chemical toxins, medications, and more.
So in essence, you can see why we chose to couple the urinary system and the lymphatic system in this month's highlight. Both of these eliminatory systems work tirelessly to carry out waste from the body and keep the balance of fluids and nutrients that our body needs for homeostasis. Hopefully this introduction to these hard-working filtration systems has brought some insight into the deep-cleaning process that our bodies are undergoing every minute of every day. We'll talk more about detoxification and elimination in our blog posts next year, but for now we hope we've got you thinking of ways you can help your body with its daily dose of detox!