An Introduction to the Lymphatic System

Written by Dr. Jonathan Peterson, Updated on October 9th, 2018

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The human body is a complex system of interlocking mechanisms designed to keep us healthy and functional. The lymphatic system is the system responsible for preserving the physiological integrity of the body.

Compared to other systems, like the cardiovascular system and the digestive system, the lymphatic system is often ignored until significant problems arrive, like severe infections or swollen lymph nodes. Part of the reason why the lymph system is undervalued is that most people do not truly understand how it functions.

Most of us think about health regarding appearance. Do we have beautiful skin and hair? Are we suffering from any conditions which directly impact the ability to live our everyday life?

By taking care of the lymphatic system, you can uplift all other systems of the body and enhance your long-term wellness. An impaired lymphatic system impacts outward signs of physical health. If lymphatic issues are not dealt with, this can eventually lead to a variety of mortality risks. As the lymphatic system fails, so do the other organ systems in your body, which work every moment of every day to keep your body fully functional.

What is the Lymphatic System?

The lymphatic system stretches all across the human body, which helps clear waste, toxins, and bacteria from systems and exterminates them, preserving the biological integrity of your organs. Specifically, the lymphatic system is comprised of lymph fluid, lymph nodes, and over six hundred lymph vessels, along with other organs and glands.

Other organs that participate in the lymphatic system are the thymus, adenoids, spleen, and tonsils. Lymph nodes are distributed all over the body and act as processing centers for the lymphatic system. Practically every cell in the human body interacts with the lymphatic system. Mostly, the lymphatic system plays the role of both garbage collector and exterminator for our cells, and the waste from their cleaning projects is trafficked to the lymph nodes for further processing and evacuation.

 

The Spleen: The Core of the Lymphatic System

All the lymph vessels of the lymphatic system flow back to the spleen, the biggest organ in the lymphatic system. The spleen is the primary modulator of the lymph system, controlling levels of white blood cells, red blood cells and overall blood volume in the human body. Enzymes circulate through the body, acting as spies for the lymphatic system. If these enzymes find evidence of viruses or other toxins, the spleen starts pumping white blood cells to combat the dangerous presence of these outside agitators.

 

Can I Live Without My Spleen?

The spleen is vital, but it is possible to live without the spleen, though the body is at significantly higher risk for disease, infections and other highly dangerous health issues. The spleen is sometimes damaged or destroyed as a result of significant traumas such as car wrecks. In fact, the spleen is the most sensitive organ in the human body to blunt force trauma. Some other conditions can also impact the spleen's function, including cirrhosis and infection.

Lymph Fluid and Lymph Vessels

Lymph fluid is the equivalent of blood for the lymphatic system. This fluid travels through the lymphatic system via lymph vessels. These lymph vessels act as small veins specifically designed to ship lymph fluid and the contents within it from the cells to the lymph nodes of the neck. Lymph fluid carries absorbed toxins and bacteria and sends it out of the body. The fluid not only carries out the trash, but it does contain essential nutrients which benefit the body's cells as well. Lymph fluid does not flow back to the cells, only from the cells to the primary lymph nodes.

Lymph vessels are also responsible for shipping lymph fluid into the bloodstream. Capillaries throughout the human body connect to the lymph vessels, where the lymph fluid is released into the blood where it travels to all of our cells, providing immense immune benefits. These capillaries connect to tiny structures known as collecting ducts, which then ship lymph fluid to the subclavian veins, both of which are located in the neck. These smaller veins then connect to the superior vena cava, which is responsible for transporting blood from the upper portion of the body and circulates it directly to the heart.

Think of the lymphatic system as a body-wide drainage system. If there are any issues with the lymphatic system, this directly impacts the ability of the body to filter out waste and can lead to sepsis and other diseases which are caused by a poorly circulating or malfunctioning lymphatic system.

 

What are the Specific Functions of the Lymphatic System?

So far, we've been very broad regarding the helpful things that the lymphatic system does for the body, but the system is highly multifaceted, working in tangent with the cardiovascular system and other systems to provide immense, life-preserving benefits. It's important to note that there are a lot of things that we don't know about how the human body works, but the following are just some of the essential things that the lymphatic system does for the human body:

  • Aids in apoptosis, destroying unwanted cells to recycle available components and evacuate unwanted elements.
  • Increases volume of T-cells in response to infection, to combat foreign dangers.
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Maintains healthy arteries
  • Wards off cardiovascular disease
  • Evacuates waste, along with the kidneys and liver
  • Promotes normal digestive function
  • Facilitates optimal immune function
  • Interacts with the thyroid, which modulates temperature and metabolism

The lymphatic system patrols the body looking for negative influences to our health, whether they come from within (malfunctioning/dying cells) or without (infection, disease, etc.). Most of the time, you won't even recognize the benefits of the lymph system, because the system is designed to keep your body healthy. On the other hand, you should realize and appreciate what happens when you do get sick because the lymphatic system goes into overdrive to help you get back on your feet!

What Happens When the Lymphatic System Malfunctions?

When the lymph system diminishes in efficiency or enters a state of congestion, this is incredibly dangerous. When the lymph system isn't functioning as it should, your risk of experiencing infection and disease skyrocket.

Any issue that impedes the function of the lymph system is highly dangerous. If you experience swollen lymph nodes or red lines on your skin due to infection, you should seek out medical assistance as soon as possible. These are signs that your lymphatic system is struggling to combat Infection, and that you need the help of a qualified medical professional. In the case of total congestion of the lymph system, an infection could quickly spread throughout the body, leading to a life-threatening medical situation in a matter of hours.

If caught early, these issues can be easily treated through the use of antibiotics and other drugs and medical treatments. It's important to recognize that your long-term health is at stake when your lymph system becomes overwhelmed. Take steps to inform yourself of the signs of lymphatic stress and take control of your wellness.

 

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