What is the Lymphatic System?
Between the cells throughout our body are small channels where fluid collects. This fluid is called lymph. It is colorless, odorless and absorbent and does many amazing things for the nourishment and detoxification of our body.
Nourishment. Lymph helps nourish the body by transporting essential nutrients such as salts, minerals and proteins to all parts of the body. Most of the cells in our body don't make direct contact with the blood, but rather receive their nutrients directly through the lymph that surround the cells. In this way, the lymphatic system and the circulatory system work in tandem to send nourishment from our digested food to the cells of our body.
Detoxification. Simultaneously, lymph transports waste products from the cells of our body into the blood stream, which then carries these waste products to the eliminative organs — primarily the liver, colon and kidneys. Lymph has the capacity to carry undigested food material, large molecules of protein and other waste particles that can't pass into the blood stream. This is as much a potential health problem as it is a benefit. If the lymph gets loaded up with too many big globs of waste and undigested food, it will congest and could ultimately get blocked, causing the formation of swollen lymph nodules or glands. Diets high in protein may congest the lymph system.
Movement of the Lymph. Lymph does its work outside of the cells, acting as a liaison between the cells and the blood. The lymph moves throughout the body in lymphatic vessels, whose valves allow lymph to flow only in one direction. The lymphatic vessels don't pump lymph; they rely on the contraction of surrounding muscles and, to a lesser degree, the gentle movement of nerve impulses in order to move lymph through the lymphatic system. For this reason, physical activity — exercise, yoga, stretching, rebounding, walking, etc — is essential to lymphatic health. Lymphatic massage can also be used to help move lymph through the lymph system.
What Are Lymph Nodes?
Lymph manufactures most of the body's white blood cells, which are known as lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are also manufactured in the lymph glands and nodes. Lymph dumps material into the nodes, where it is refined for later absorption throughout the body. The lymph nodes are scattered throughout the body, with clusters in the throat, under the armpit, in the groin and along the spine.
Lymph nodes are normally about the size of a small almond. However they will swell when the body is fighting an infection, due to a neat little disease-fighting trick wherein the lymphocytes store invading disease microorganisms in the node where they cause less harm. Think of that as putting the bug in jail. When your doctor checks your lymph nodes, he's looking for swollen nodes, which indicate that the body has been fighting disease or infection.
The Lymphatic System and Disease
The lymph system is one of the primary defense mechanisms that the body has to deal with waste products. Body waste products can be dead cells that need to be washed away. Other body waste products also include improperly metabolized nutrients. When overworked by these conditions the lymph glands become swollen and start to ache. We have all seen this when we have a bad cold or sore throat. The lymph nodes in your neck swell up from the debris of dead cells that the body has produced fighting off the disease.
A doctor during an examination will very often palpate the various lymph nodes in the body to get a sense of how your natural defenses are functioning at any time. We need to take this often misunderstood and underestimated defense system of the body very seriously if we are to maintain optimal health.