Understanding the Lymphatic System

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17th Century Discovery

The lymphatic system was not discovered and mapped out until in the 17th century a Swedish scientist, Olaus Rudbeck, and a Danish physician, Thomas Bartholin, making similar discoveries, published reports of their findings.

Lymph — the word comes from Latin, lympha, meaning “spring water” — is a clear, inter-cellular fluid that fights infections through lymph nodes, lymph ducts and lymph vessels designed for one-way flow. Think of it as a liquid supply line that brings in to cells needed nutrients, as well as binds and removes what the body considers foreign and anti-survival.

As a part of the human circulatory system, the lymphatic system — lymphatic comes from the Latin word lymphaticus, meaning “connected to water” — makes and moves lymph, a fluid that, by definition, surrounds and bathes cells (interstitial fluid). The presence of this fluid establishes and resets the constantly changing equilibrium of flow between pro-survival nutrients inside cells and the return of spent materials back to the blood stream. On average, about 10 liters (about 2.9 US gal) of interstitial fluid – 16% of total body weight – provides body cells with nutrients and a means of waste removal per day.

The circulatory system processes an average of 20 liters (almost six gallons) of blood per day. The capillaries filter in blood cells while letting the water base (plasma) depart, leaving behind the red blood cells. This way, roughly 17 liters of filtered plasma get reabsorbed directly into the blood vessels, while three liters are left behind in the lymph system’s interstitial fluid for functional use before return to the blood.

The Lymphatic Highway

If the bloodstream is a highway, the lymph system is its parallel access road for the three liters to return to the highway.

As such, the system provides 600-700 “on-ramps” or lymph nodes that act as filters for entry.

Lymphatic system functions interrelate. Removal of interstitial fluid from tissues helps absorption and transportation of fatty acids and fats from the digestive system, while simultaneously promoting transport of white blood cells to and from the lymph nodes into the bones.

The lymph also transports cells that are messengers to the lymph nodes that an immune response is required. These cells are called antigen producing cells, or  APC’s, which means antibody generating cells. The clear liquid that surrounds an infection would be a good example of this antigen presence.

The lymphatic system is a network of tissues and organs that primarily consists of lymph vessels, lymph nodes and lymph; and includes the tonsils, adenoids, spleen, thymus gland and bone marrow.

Located on the left side of the body just above the kidney, the spleen is largest lymphatic organ. Humans can live without a spleen, but such individuals are more prone to infections.

The thymus, located in the chest just above the heart, is the preparation point for cells (lymphocytes) that will attack invaders on signal.

Tonsils are large clusters of lymphatic cells found in the pharynx. Adenoids is a lymphatic mass of tissue located behind the nasal passage. Tonsils and adenoids are often surgically removed following frequent throat infections.

Battleground Immunology

By analogy, to understand the lymphatic system better, one could liken the human body internally to a battleground of a war waged between survival and anti-survival forces.  The body’s pro-survival medical team relies on the lymphatic system to provide it with cellular-level fluid reinforcement to wall off infection from foreign entities that have breached the line of defense, and to remove those entities and their waste products as quickly as possible.

As such, this system and its component parts and fluids acts as both messenger and medical assistant in the ongoing theater of battle. Without lymph and its agility at maintaining cellular balances of flow and pressure, the interchange of life-giving nutrients and removal of waste products to and from cells along the transport circulatory system would not occur. The result would be a body that could not fight off its oppressors, or one that would implode on its own waste by-products.

Lymphatic Health Maintenance

Understanding the lymph system is one thing, maintaining its health is another. Here are a few steps you can do to protect your lymphatic system’s health:

  1. Reduce consumption of animal protein and saturated fat from your diet.
  2. Drink warm lemon water in the morning to revitalize a sluggish lymph system.
  3. Exercise regularly. A rebounder, which is a mini-trampoline, is a unit that may act as an artificial pump of the lymphatic system when you jump on it regularly.
  4. Get professional massages to drain the lymphatic system manually.

Have you enjoyed this blog post and the rest of the series on understanding the different human body systems? Please post your comments and questions and let us know what you think about the blogs. We’re interested in what you have to say. The next system will be covered in the next blog next week, so do come back.

© 2014 by Ronald Joseph Kule and Sunshine Vitamin Products. All Rights Reserved.

DISCLAIMER: As always, the information provided here, and the links to information, are intended to inform our readers on an educational level. We are not doctors and we do not diagnose conditions of wellness or illness. We recommend that you consult with a licensed, knowledgeable physician regarding your health.