Ever feel sore, swollen lumps on the sides of your neck at the beginning of a cold? Those are lymph nodes. Because we tend to ignore it when we’re not ill, many of us don’t really know what the lymph system does—or why it is so crucial to human functioning and even survival.
Imagine an underground one-way superhighway of vessels that carry a special, clearish liquid—lymph—throughout your body. This network generates special cells that attack pathogens and help balance the fluid levels in your organs. Lymph carries infectious agents and other unwanted substances to the waste processing plants of the body, the intestines and the kidneys, while recirculating blood plasma back to the blood.
Here’s a more detailed view of how the extensive lymph network works in cooperation with other major body systems.
Your heart depends on lymph fluid for its operation. Lymph, however, flows only in one direction—from the lymph nodes to the heart. Unlike blood, which flows continually around the body with the help of a powerful pump—your heart—the lymph system doesn’t have a mechanism for moving its vital fluid along. Instead, quiet, slow lymph progression is stimulated by your breathing and the movement of your muscles and joints.
Your immune system is monitored by the lymph system. Lymph delivers vital nutrients and fluid to cells and carries away wastes—debris, dead blood cells, toxins, and even cancer cells. Any pathogens among the waste are detected and filtered out of the lymph, then transported to the lymph nodes for processing by lymphocytes. These specialized white blood cells work in conjunction with the spleen to keep your immune system in tip-top function.
Your digestive system and other organs need fatty acids, and these are delivered by the lymph system. The lymph network that surrounds the intestines works to filter out undesirable pathogens and absorb fats and fat-soluble vitamins from the digestive organs. Through lymph, these nutrients are then transported to the cells that need them.
If the lymph system’s regular flow is impaired, blockages in the lymph nodes and vessels result, producing swelling from the accumulation of unregulated fluid. However, taking some easy preventive actions can improve your lymph system’s function and keep it from becoming sluggish.
- Deep breathing
It may sound overly simple, but breathing deeply is a very effective way of helping stimulate the flow of lymphatic fluid.
When muscles and joints move, lymph moves, too. Exercise helps to keep the lymphatic flow energized. Inactivity, on the other hand, can slow lymph flow.
Plenty of good quality, pure water will maintain the body’s fluids at an appropriate volume and keep the body running smoothly.
- Herbal supplementation
Astragalus, echinacea, goldenseal, and reishi mushroom extract support your lymph and immune systems in their fight against infections.
Your lymph network has been busily working with all those other body systems every day. It’s a constant job for the lymph. Fortunately, it doesn’t take major action on your part to give this hardworking vital system an extra boost. Check the list above again. If you’re not doing everything you can to assist your lymph system, add those missing, simple items to your routine.
So important, yet so often forgotten—that describes lymph as well as another mysterious body function, the enteric system. Be on the lookout for an introduction to the ENS in my next article.