The lymphatic system is one of the many systems operating in the body. While we are familiar with the cardiovascular system, circulatory system or digestive system, the lymphatic system is not as well known. This article will explain what this system is, how it works, and how to keep yours healthy.
What is the Lympathic System?
The lymphatic system is made up of ducts, nodes, and organs that circulate a clear, watery fluid called 'lymph' throughout the body. The primary purpose of this fluid is to filter or flush out waste products such as toxins and pathogens. Lymph also distributes immune cells, fats and proteins and importantly, produces immune system cells called lymphocytes which protect our bodies from antigens such as viruses and bacteria. Lymph works with the circulatory system to drain fluid from cells and tissues and is the key factor in maintaining a healthy fluid balance.
Where is the Lymphatic System?
The lymphatic systems is found in each part of the body except in the central nervous system. Its main components are located in the bone marrow, lymph nodes, spleen, thymus gland and tonsils. Lymphatic tissue can also be found in the liver, heart, lungs, and skin. Lymphocytes are formed in the bone marrow, while lymph nodes, small bean shaped filtering structures, are found in the armpit, back of the head, behind the ears, groin, neck, under the jaw, and chin. The lymph fluid moves through the body via channels or 'vessels' that are fitted with one way valves, so lymph always moves in one direction.
Unlike blood, which is pumped by the heart, lymph requires gravitational pressure and internal massage to move through the body. This is the main reason why exercise is so important for keeping the lymphatic system healthy. Jumping up and down on a rebounder, or mini-trampoline, for example, is a great exercise for keeping the lymph moving throughout your body as it relies on gravitational pull to circulate. Deep breathing and dry skin brushing also work well to help the flow of lymph. You can learn self-massage techniques to stimulate lymph activity or treat yourself to a professional lymph drainage massage.
The diseases associated with lymphatic system disorders include: fluid build-up and swelling called lymphedema and various infections. Swollen lymph nodes may be caused by immune or autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, HIV, and certain cancers such as non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease or leukemia so it is important to see your doctor if your lymph nodes are swollen, hard, red and tender, or fixed in place.