The Lymphatic System and the role it plays in our immunity

Wow, I can’t believe that this is my 100th blog article!!  I thoroughly enjoy writing these and sharing knowledge about health and wellbeing to those of you who read it.  Today’s article explains about the lymphatic system which involves all of the extra fluids within our body which are not in the blood (cardiovascular system).  This system in the body has three primary functions, which is:

1.  Draining excess fluid from the spaces in our tissues (interstitial fluid) and returning it to the blood.

lymphatic and cvs system

Our blood contains different cells which have different actions such as transporting oxygen (red blood cells), immune response (white blood cells), repairing damage (plasma) etc.  Our blood plasma can actually filter freely through the capillaries in our cardiovascular system into the spaces between our tissues forming interstitial fluid.  Some of this is reabsorbed back into the blood stream but more of the plasma filters out than in.  Therefore our lymphatic system comes into play otherwise we would be in trouble as roughly 3 litres of blood plasma is filtered out of capillaries every day (and we only have roughly 5 and a half litres of blood).  A lot of the plasma proteins are too large to return to the blood without the help of our lymphatic system, which contains a series of capillaries and ducts (which only allow fluid to transport one way) returning the interstitial fluid back into our blood stream.

The same methods of returning blood from our veins back to the heart works on maintaining the flow of the lymph within our lymphatic system.  There are two ‘pump’ mechanisms which are our skeletal muscles and our breathing.  By being active regularly you are supporting a healthy cardiovascular system and supporting your lymphatic system.  When we exercise our muscle contractions force lymph (and blood in our veins) upwards to complete their circuit of the body.  Both our veins and our lymphatic system contain valves which prevent the fluid from going backwards.

Our breathing (respirations) also benefits the flow of lymph and venous blood.  The pressure changes that occur when we inhale and exhale moving the fluids to where they need to be.  Another great reason to incorporate regular activity into your lifestyle, meditation and deep breathing can benefit your physical health, as well as lower stress levels and help you to relax.

2.  Transporting dietary fats (lipids) such as our fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K which we access from our digestive system.

lymphatic system

When we eat healthy food which is rich in vitamins and minerals it is the responsibility of our digestive system to break them down so that our body can access the nutrients – giving our body the tools to stay healthy.  In our small intestine there are specialised lymphatic capillaries which are called lacteals which carry the dietary fats into the lymphatic system so that they can enter our blood stream and circulate to where they are needed.  Lymph within the system is usually a clear, pale yellow liquid, but in lacteals it is referred to as chyle as is appears creamy white (due to the dietary fats).  Fat/Lipid-soluble vitamins are essential to our health and wellbeing, but excess fatty foods in our diet and high levels of processed and refined foods can contribute to cardiovascular and lymphatic health issues.  What I am saying is that we need fat to be healthy but it should be the right fats.  I inform most people that I see that vegetable based oils (although high in mono and polyunsaturated fats are high in omega 6 with is pro-inflammatory, I recommend swapping these for olive oil and coconut oil, I also recommend butter but stress that portion size is essential.  The portion size for fat is typically the size of a dice – so lathering butter on hot toast can greatly exceed the portion size of fats which are important to our health and wellbeing.

3.  Supporting our immunity

lymphatic system quote

 

The lymphatic system aids the immune system in removing and destroying waste, debris, dead blood cells, pathogens, toxins, and cancer cells.  In a previous article I discussed how red bone marrow creates immune cells – this is part of the lymphatic system.  This system works closely with our immune system and there are numerous lymphatic organs within the body which help to create the immune cells which mount an active defence within our body. The red bone marrow creates B cells and pre-T cells (not fully activated these pre-T cells migrate to the thymus where they become immunocompetent).  These cells are lymphocytes which are part of our adaptive immunity.

Lymphoid stem cells produce T lymphocytes and B lymphocytes.  T lymphocytes. T lymphocytes, also commonly known as T cells, are cells involved in fighting specific pathogens in the body. T cells may act as helpers of other immune cells or attack pathogens directly. After an infection, memory T cells persist in the body to provide a faster reaction to subsequent infection by pathogens expressing the same antigen.

b and t cells

B lymphocytes. B lymphocytes, also commonly known as B cells, are also cells involved in fighting specific pathogens in the body. Once B cells have been activated by contact with a pathogen, they form plasma cells that produce antibodies. Antibodies then neutralize the pathogens until other immune cells can destroy them. After an infection, memory B cells persist in the body to quickly produce antibodies to subsequent infection by pathogens expressing the same antigen.

T- and B-cells are highly specialised defender cells – different groups of cells are tailored to different germs. When your body is infected with a particular germ, only the T- and B-cells that recognise it will respond. These selected cells then quickly multiply, creating an army of identical cells to fight the infection. Special types of T- and B-cells ‘remember’ the invader, making you immune to a second attack.

We have roughly 600 lymph nodes throughout the body, B cells hang out here and mount an attack on any invaders.  Natural killer cells, also known as NK cells, are lymphocytes that are able to respond to a wide range of pathogens and cancerous cells. NK cells travel within the blood and are found in the lymph nodes, spleen, and red bone marrow where they fight most types of infection.  As well as nodes there are nodules (you will recognise the tonsils and include the thymus and spleen), these also work to protect the body from pathogens.  A healthy lymphatic system also helps purify the blood through the largest mass of lymph tissue in the body, the spleen. The spleen fights infection and destroys worn-out red blood cells in the body. By cleansing your lymphatic system, your spleen will be better able to handle the retired red blood cells.

Self massage

                   Self massage

Damage to the lymphatic system disturbs the flow. When lymphatic tissues or lymph nodes have been damaged, destroyed or removed, lymph cannot drain normally from the affected area. When this happens excess lymph accumulates and results in the swelling that is characteristic of lymphedema.  The treatment of lymphedema is based on the natural structures and the flow of lymph. The affected drainage area determines the area which can be self-massaged. Although lymph does not normally cross from one area to another self massage stimulates the flow from one area to another. It also encourages the formation of new lymph drainage pathways.

The compression garments, aids, and/or bandages that are worn help control swelling by providing pressure that is needed to encourage the flow of lymph into the capillaries.

active

Exercise is important in the treatment of lymphedema because the movements of the muscles stimulate the flow of the lymph into the capillaries. Wearing a compression garment during exercise also provides resistance to further stimulate this flow.

Whether you’re suffering from aches and pains, swelling, inflammation, fatty deposits or bloating, cleansing the lymphatic system once or twice a year often can be the difference between great health and poor health.

A study by Elisabeth Dancey, M.D., author of The Cellulite Solution (St. Martin’s Press, 1997), found that women with cellulite showed lymphatic system deficiencies. Another study found that 80 percent of overweight women have sluggish lymphatic systems and that getting this system flowing smoothly is the key to easy weight loss and improved feelings of well-being.

If the lymph system is inefficient, you may see fatty deposits or cellulite or experience aches and pains. Conversely, if you improve the cleansing ability of the lymph system, it will be able to “sweep” away the toxins that are linked to pain, cellulite, fatty deposits and some autoimmune disorders.

broccoli

Foods can either help or hinder the flow of lymph in the body. To cleanse the lymphatic system, avoid “chemical foods” that contain artificial preservatives – most prepared, packaged and fast foods. The more processed a food is, the more likely it is to clog your lymphatic system.

Drink plenty of water. Without adequate water, lymph fluid cannot flow properly. If you drink inadequate amounts of water daily, your lymphatic system will slow down.

Love your food

            Love your food

The enzymes and acids in raw fruit are powerful lymph cleansers, particularly when eaten on an empty stomach. Add more raw fruits, vegetables, salads and fresh juices to your diet and your lymph will have the tools it needs to do some serious deep cleansing.
Eat plenty of green vegetables to provide chlorophyll (the green color in plants) and loads of vitamins and minerals to assist in lymph cleansing.

Marigolds, seem as sunshine herbs are great for boosting both mind and body

Marigolds, seem as sunshine herbs are great for boosting both mind and body

Numerous herbs possess lymphagogue action (the capacity to stimulate the activity of your lymphatic system and organs), including burdock (Arctium lappa), calendula (Calendula officinalis), cleavers (Galium aparine), red clover (Trifolium pratense), and poke root (Phytolacca americana).  Other beneficial herbs for your immune system (since both systems work hand in hand) include blue flag (Iris versicolor), echinacea (Echinacea purpurea) and mullein (Verbascum thapsus).

cleavers (2)

Cleavers – Known primarily as a blood and urinary tract cleanser, cleavers also enhances the function of the lymphatic system and decreases congestion and inflammation in the tissues. I find that cleavers works best in tea form. **Avoid using cleavers if you are diabetic. For cleavers tea, use 2 to 3 teaspoons of the dried herb (stems and small leaves) per cup of water. Steep for 3 – 5 minutes, strain – drink 1 cup three times daily.

If you would like support with your health and wellbeing or would like to find out more please do not hesitate to contact me: http://www.herbsforhealthandwellbeing.co.uk/how-to-contact-a-herbalist-in-grimsby.html

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The Musculo-skeletal system

Sometimes we take our body for granted and don’t even realise how much is actually going on and what it all does for us.  This is why I am continuing my series about the different organs and body systems that we have.  Today’s article is about the musculo-skeletal system.

musculoskeletal system

We all know that without our muscles and bones we couldn’t be able to move but did you know that certain muscles within the body help the bones to stay together? These are known as the tendons and ligaments.  Also it is because of joints that we can move – there are three different types of joints within the body:

  1. Synovial (or freely movable) – these are the main joints within the body and enable us to move in many different directions with a wide range of movement.  The obvious ones are our shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees and ankles.  These can be further classified based on the structure of the joint.  Synovial fluid is a thick sticky substance which is secreted by the synovial membrane into joint cavities to provide nutrients for the joint structures, remove cell debris and microbes, lubricate the joint (if your joints crack them you may need to address this issue) and to keep the joint stable.  There are also pads called bursa which also help to cushion the joints.
  2. Cartilaginous (or slightly movable) – these are joints which have a pad of fibrocartilage between the bone which cushions and protects the joint.  The spine is a great example of this.
  3. Fibrous (or fixed) – these joints do not move and have fibrous tissue between them – an example is the sutures of the skull which make labour easier and which fuse as part of a babies development to protect the brain.

types of joints

Our bones not only support us and allow us to move about but the structure of them helps to protect our important organs (this is why we have a skull and a rib cage reducing the risk of injury to these essential organs).  Bones also act as mineral storage serving as a reservoir for calcium and phosphorus, essential minerals for various cellular activities throughout the body.  Our blood cells are also made within the marrow of certain bones within the body, finally bones act as another energy store where lipids, such as fats can be stored in adipose cells of the yellow marrow.

types of muscles

Muscles may seem as just for movement but they also play other important functions such as supporting the cardiovascular system by helping your blood to return back to your heart, storing energy in the form of glycogen (a form of sugar) and playing an active part in your metabolism.  Because muscles assist in pumping blood back to the heart they also have a role to play in supporting the distribution of our immune cells (white blood cells) throughout the body to help to combat any infections (another reason why exercise improves immunity).  All muscle movement is controlled by nerves which are supplied by the spinal cord, muscles move by working together as a team, groups of muscle cells work together to produce movement such as the biceps to bend your arm and your triceps to straighten your arm.  Just as there are three types of joints within the body, there are also three types of muscles:

  1. Cardiac muscle is only in the heart and is responsible for pumping blood throughout the body. Cardiac muscle tissue cannot be controlled consciously, so it is an involuntary muscle. While hormones and signals from the brain adjust the rate of contraction, cardiac muscle stimulates itself to contract. Because of its self-stimulation, cardiac muscle is considered to be the natural pacemaker, autorhythmic or intrinsically controlled.  The cells of cardiac muscle tissue are striated, striations indicate that a muscle cell is very strong, unlike visceral muscles.
  2. Smooth (or visceral/involuntary) this muscle is found inside of organs such as the stomach, intestines, and blood vessels. The weakest of all muscle tissues, visceral muscle makes organs contract to move substances through the organ. When we eat food it is passed down our food pipe (oesophagus), through our stomach and into are intestines using these smooth muscles.  This group of muscles are controlled by the unconscious part of the brain (our Autonomic Nervous System ANS) and are known as involuntary muscles because they cannot be directly controlled by the conscious mind. The term “smooth muscle” is often used to describe visceral muscle because it has a very smooth, uniform appearance when viewed under a microscope. This smooth appearance starkly contrasts with the banded appearance of cardiac and skeletal muscles.  When you experience griping pains or stomach ache is can be due to the smooth muscle contracting which is why herbalists such as myself use anti-spasmodic herbs to relax and soothe this muscle group when supporting digestive issues.
  3. Skeletal (or voluntary) – this is composed of bundles of fibres, muscle fibres are long structures which lay parallel and appear striped under a microscope (you can see this when you cut through cooked meat too).  Our skeletal muscle contracts to produce the movement we mastered as a toddler, they also produce heat to keep us warm as well as make continual small contractions which help to maintain our posture.  There are roughly 700 different skeletal muscles within the body which make up roughly half our body weight.

The health and wellbeing of our musculoskeletal system can be affected by many factors including: toxins release from an infection, auto-immune conditions (Rheumatoid arthritis for example), changes in our circulation (if we have poor circulation then the bones and joints are the last parts of the body to get the necessary nutrients and get rid of metabolic waste, our hormones also affect this body system e.g. menopause, thyroid issues, adrenal issues, our diet and lifestyle have a huge influence on the health of this body system and if we are not active enough and do not eat balanced nutritional food then our muscles and bones can miss out.

Herbs-for-Musculoskeletal-System

“An adequately functioning musculoskeletal system is a key factor for functional capacity, independence, and good quality of life. Impaired functional capacity and degenerative diseases of the musculoskeletal organs are one of the most prevalent and increasing sources of morbidity and suffering. Physical activity positively influences most structural components of the musculoskeletal system that are related to functional capabilities and the risk of degenerative diseases. Physical activity also has the potential to postpone or prevent prevalent musculoskeletal disorders, such as mechanical low back pain, neck and shoulder pain, and osteoporosis and related fractures. Exercise can contribute to the rehabilitation of musculoskeletal disorders and recovery from orthopedic surgery. A substantial part of the age-related decline in functional capabilities is not due to aging per se but to decreased and insufficient physical activity. Physical activity has great potential to favorably influence both the normal and pathological structures, functions, and processes. Musculoskeletal benefits of physical activity can be attained by people of all ages and with various diseases. This potential is substantial because many benefits are gained by activity which is moderate in amount and intensity. Scientific evidence is sufficient to recommend regular lifelong physical activity as part of a healthy lifestyle for everyone in order to enhance musculoskeletal health and functions for individual and population levels.” Vuori, I “Exercise and physical health: musculoskeletal health and functional capabilities.”  Res Q Exerc Sport. 1995 Dec;66(4):276-85.

Bone health should be addressed as a continuum across the life span. For example, physical activity, or lack of physical activity, early in life may be a determinant of bone health later in life. A second factor is things that influence the rate of loss with aging.  If you have young children please get them as active as you can during their tender years to ensure health and wellbeing when they are older.  Exercise may seem daunting but the key is to find something that ignites a spark of passion in you which is moderately active so if it is dancing around, gardening, housework even! It is still classed as activity by raising the heart beat and getting you moving.  Being stationary and not moving is the biggest contributing factor to illness – it may be great to snuggle on the sofa but every night?  If you have an office job and then chilling on the sofa every evening where is the activity required to keep you feeling energetic, enjoying life, having the vitality to do what you want and getting out of staring at a box (albeit a thin one) each night.  Turn off the telly and have some fun 🙂

Getting outside is another important factor – our western diet is quite high in calcium which is required for bone health but we still have high levels of osteoporosis which is where our bones go fragile.  Getting outside gives us access to natural amounts of Vitamin D which helps the body absorb the calcium.  Also magnesium is essential to our bone health and is a mineral that a lot of people are deficient off – treat yourself to an epsom salts bath to top up your magnesium levels (it is absorbed through the skin) or get a decent supplement.  If you have digestive issues then you may not be able to assimilate the nutrients that you are eating, I will happily help you address these issues to help improve your quality of life.

In terms of joint health, osteoarthritis is a common issue due to the wear and tear on our weight bearing joints over our lifetime. It can be difficult to address whether physical activity is a benefit or a risk, swimming is an excellent activity here as it supports the joints, yoga and the other stretching therapies are also really beneficial.  Running would impact the knees which are common sites of osteoarthritis, but there are alternatives the key is to find something which gets you moving and which you enjoy – photography may not seem like a sport, but if you like taking landscape photographs and choose to climb a tree or a hill for the view are you not being active?

Musculoskeletal conditions are currently the most common cause of chronic disability. Globally, the number of people suffering from musculoskeletal conditions has increased by 25 percent over the past decade. This is expected to continue increasing with the ageing of our populations. Affordable measures to prevent and treat musculoskeletal conditions are available.

The primary musculoskeletal conditions include:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Inflammatory arthritis (principally, rheumatoid arthritis)
  • Back pain
  • Musculoskeletal injuries (such as occupational and sports injuries and road traffic accidents)
  • Crystal arthritis (such as gout)
  • Osteoporosis and fragility fractures

Musculoskeletal conditions make up 2 percent of the global disease burden. Osteoarthritis accounts for the largest portion – 52 percent of the total burden of musculoskeletal conditions in developing countries, and 61 percent of the total burden of musculoskeletal conditions in industrialized countries. Osteoarthritis is increasing as the world’s elderly population grows, and is the sixth leading cause of years lost to disability.

Musculoskeletal-System

If you would like support with any of the issues raised here I am more than happy to help.  My contact details can be found here: http://www.herbsforhealthandwellbeing.co.uk/how-to-contact-a-herbalist-in-grimsby.html

The spleen – our largest lymphatic organ

The spleen is another relatively misunderstood organ.  It is roughly the size of a clenched fist and sits behind our stomach on the left hand side of our abdomen behind our 11th rib.  As a foetus in our mother’s womb it helped to create new blood cells for us – something that it can start doing again in certain health issues.  It has several functions, it stores platelets – these are required to seal up a wound if we cut ourselves, the platelets stick together and enable the healing to take place, if we do accidently cut ourselves then the spleen releases the platelets that it stores in response to the situation.  The spleen also contains white blood cells called lymphocytes and works as part of our immune system filtering blood and destroying any bacteria or other pathogens which could make us ill.  These lymphocytes are found in what is known as the white pulp within the organ.  Some of the lymphocytes travel around the body to help to fight infection but the remainder stay within the white pulp and respond to any infectious agents as they are presented.

As well as white pulp within the spleen there are masses of red pulp, this is made up of high levels of arteries, veins and capillaries and also acts via a filtering process.  The role is to remove any damaged red blood cells (which transport oxygen to every cell in our body).  Red blood cells usually live for 120 days around which time they become less efficient at transporting the gases required for respiration.  It is when they are old, past their best or damaged that the spleen filters them out and breaks them down so that they can be recycled into new red blood cells.  When we actually look at our body it is highly efficient, capable of recycling, sustainability and minimum waste.  For those of you who are into permaculture and biomimicry there is a lot to be learned from looking at ourselves.

So to sum up the spleen filters and breaks down damaged red blood cells, as a lymphatic organ it helps to detect and overcome possible infections, it stores platelets in case of an emergency and as a foetus it actually produced red blood cells which in certain circumstances it can resume doing again.  Quite impressive really!

The Traditional Chinese Medicinal (TCM) view of this organ is similar but there are differences which cannot be accounted for when looking at the organ in health, its structure and its functions.  This doesn’t detract from the efficacy of TCM, it is something I highly regard – the model of complementary medicine is effective and I utilise an eclectic blend of their philosophy, diagnostic techniques and herbs.  Whereas western medicine doesn’t view the spleen as an essential organ for life – it can be removed and although people who have it removed are prone to more infections, courses of vaccinations are generally given to substitute the spleens role in our health and wellbeing.  In TCM the spleen is essential to health and vitality taking a role in enabling us to assimilate the nutrients digested from the stomach and promoting and maintaining our physical strength.  All aspects of vitality depend on the entire body receiving proper nutrition from the healthy functioning of this essential organ in TCM.

There are several health issues which are due to issues with the spleen:

An enlarged spleen (known as splenomegaly) can be caused by numerous health issues, commonly these are viral mononucleosis (“mono”), liver disease and blood cancers (lymphoma and leukemia) although this isn’t every condition that can result in an enlarged spleen.  One of the issues raised by this condition related to the fact that the spleen stores platelets.  An enlarged spleen has a greater capacity to store more platelets.  Thrombocytopenia (low platelet count) can be secondary to (caused by) an enlarged spleen resulting in abnormally few platelets circulating in the bloodstream where they belong.

Ruptured spleen: The spleen is vulnerable to injury, and a ruptured spleen can cause serious life-threatening internal bleeding and is a life-threatening emergency.  A common cause of a ruptured spleen are car crashes or road traffic accidents – the impact of the collision causes the driver to slam into his or her steering wheel which can cause trauma to the spleen due to where it is positioned in the body.  Although the spleen is protected by the rib cage it is a soft and therefore tender organ.   An injured spleen may rupture immediately after an injury, or in some cases, days or weeks after an injury so I recommend that if you have experienced any forceful trauma which affects the upper left side of your abdomen to seek medical help as they have diagnostics such as CT scans which can determine if any injury such as a rupture has occurred..

Sickle cell disease and thalassemia are inherited forms of anemia (low red blood cells), in both cases abnormal red blood cells block the flow of blood through vessels and can lead to organ damage, including damage to the spleen. People with these blood conditions are treated by the medical profession with immunisations to prevent illnesses that their spleen helped fight.  In sickle cell disease the blood cells have the shape of a sickle instead of being round, in thalassemia they are smaller than the usual red blood cells.  If both parents have the genes that pass on these blood traits then the baby has the same health issues, if only one parent has them then they have a trait and care should be taken when choosing to have a baby as copulating with someone else with the same trait will mean that the baby has the full blown health issues.

About 10% of people have a small extra spleen. This causes no problems and is considered normal.

Several herbal remedies have historically been used in treating spleen problems, especially spleen enlargement. Some of the helpful herbs for the spleen include dandelion, cleavers, barberry and iris.  Dandelion is indicated to support the spleen in conditions such as anaemia and diabetes, it stimulates the portal circulation (which includes the spleen).  Cleavers is a common garden weed and is a fantastic lymphatic alterative and detoxifier.  Barberry is a tonic to the spleen and pancreas and can help to lower blood pressure.  Iris, also known as blue flag, is a herbal remedy that may be helpful in treating your spleen problems. The rhizome of the plant contains numerous medicinal ingredients including triterpenoids that have a beneficial effect.  Blue flag iris acts as an anti-inflammatory, blood and lymph purifier and a powerful alterative for passive sluggish conditions involving the liver, gallbladder, lymphatics, veins and glandular systems.

New Jersey tea has been used historically for disorders of the spleen and agrimony is a very popular ‘spleen tonic’ in TCM and has been found to be protective for the liver and spleen during chemotherapy.  If you crave sweet foods, as part of the symptom picture it could suggest that your spleen isn’t working effectively.  The following nutrients are beneficial for this organ: Vitamin A, B12, C and D, iron and zinc.

The powerful pancreas – the seat of our insulin production

Hi folks,

Today I wanted to introduce you all to the pancreas.  It is another organ which is under appreciated yet it is implicated in the massive pandemic we are experiencing globally with the rise of type 2 diabetes.  When we eat food it passed though our food pipe (oesophagus) and enters the stomach where is it broken down by hydrochloric acid into smaller bits (we call this chyme).  Digestion continues in the small and large intestines but as you learnt last week the ability to digest fats is determined by the liver and gallbladder.

pancreas

The pancreas is another essential organ for us to be able to access the nutrients in our food.  It is also a hormone gland and creates several hormones which are essential to how we metabolise food.  Insulin is now well known as a hormone because of its role in diabetes and blood sugar levels.  It also produces several enzymes which are essential to the digestion of our food.  Enzymes help to speed up the biochemical processes – your wash powder utilises enzymes to clean your clothes in the washing machine.  They work like a lock and key attaching to particles, altering them (depending on the function of the enzyme) and then releasing them and going on to the next one.  If our pancreas isn’t producing enough digestive enzymes the time it takes to digest our food slows and we may feel sluggish.

enzymes

Every day the pancreas produces roughly a litre and a half of pancreatic juice – this is a clear colourless liquid which contains water, salt, sodium bicarbonate and numerous digestive enzymes.  Yes we have bicarbonate of soda in our cooking cupboards (great for baking cakes), its use in the digestive system in as an alkaline buffer to prevent internal damage from the stomach acid in the chyme (food after it has been processed in the stomach).  The bicarb also creates the proper pH so that the digestive enzymes can work more effectively in the intestines.

Did you know that you pancreas produces this in the body?

Did you know that you pancreas produces this in the body?

It is only a small portion of the pancreas which acts as a hormonal gland, as well as insulin,the hormone glucagon (another hormone which has a role to play in sugar metabolism by keeling blood sugars high enough for us to function), somatostatin (a hormone which regulates several other hormone within the body – in the case of the pancreas it works to keep the levels of glucagon and insulin in check.  The somatostatin acts like a feedback loop in the pancreas; remember that almost all biologic processes have a built-in “off switch” like this. ) and pancreatic polypeptide (which also influences our digestive function preventing pancreatic enzymes from being secreted into the gut after a protein meal, fasting and exercise.).  Finally, a few epsilon cells contain the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates our hunger and very often causes us to eat like a bear in a stream of salmon.

insulin

It is the collaboration of all our digestive organs that enables us to access the nutrients in our food.  We may eat a healthy diet and even take supplements but our ability to access there nutrients can be affected in several different ways – the first is not having the right tools to aid digestion.  This includes bile to digest fats, having enough enzymes to complete the process of digestion and the secretion of the right levels of hormones.  If there is inflammation within the digestive tract our ability to absorb the nutrients is reduced. Not having enough ‘friendly’ bacteria in our large intestine prevents several nutrients from being digested (those which cannot be accessed in the small intestine). We rely on bacteria in our large intestine to continue to break down our food so that we can then absorb several nutrients which are essential to our health.  Fibre is essential for our digestion and so is the pH of our digestive system otherwise it will not function effectively.

digestive health

When you look at each of our organs and realise their importance – the sum of each of these individual ‘parts’ far outweighs the whole!  Each of us are unique, the key to good health and wellbeing is to understand your body and listen to it.  Every part of us are made of cells – every one of them communicate, breath, eat and poop – just on a smaller scale. Just like at work when someone is slacking, the extra workload can be taken up… but not for log periods as that’s when things go wrong.  It is true that we should treat our bodies like a temple as every cell is working tirelessly to make us who we are.

body as a temple

Anyway… enough digressing, I will get back to what I wanted to share with you all. Some people have what is called type 1 diabetes, this is where their body, their pancreas doesn’t produce insulin and they are insulin dependant.  This generally occurs early on in life.  But the rise in type 2 diabetes – a disorder where our bodies are becoming resistant to the insulin that is produced generally occurs later on in life due to our actions and decisions in life when it comes down to our diet and lifestyle.  This is a condition which is dependant on the pancreas (as well as numerous other organs, tissues and cells within the body.  It is seen as a lifestyle disorder and therefore by looking after ourselves and caring for our body we can improve and even reverse this.  If you experience type 2 diabetes why not consider seeing a herbalist?  We can support you with your self care by advising on healthy dietary and lifestyle changes as well as support your health with herbal medicine.  Obesity is the major risk factor in decreasing insulin’s effectiveness, and the rise of obesity is the major reason we’ve recently seen diabetes levels skyrocket. There are many problems associated with diabetes, including frequent urination, fatigue, impotence, nerve dysfunction, accelerated arterial aging and even the development of vision problems that can cause blindness.

diabetes

Pancreatitis is a condition where the pancreas is inflamed, usually caused by toxins, like alcohol, a virus or a blocked duct, draining from the pancreas. The good news is that the problem is averted by avoiding the toxin that may have irritated this sensitive organ or the gallstones that block the duct—overusing caffeine and alcohol are possible culprits. The toughest part about this condition is severe pain. Pancreatitis is caused by a malfunction of the digestive process in which the digestive juices spill back into the pancreas and then into the abdominal cavity and dissolve tissue. That tissue is located right above a big set of nerve cells called the celiac plexus, so it’s an unbearable kind of back throbbing—some of the worst pain people can experience.

Look at your diet and see if you eat the following foods on a regular basis:

  • Fish, eggs, and poultry.
  • D-fortified cereals and dairy.
  • Onions (which contain special cancer-clubbing flavonoids, they are tasty, gourmet-style crunch to food, are a great addition to most sauces and also fill you up with potent nutrients thought to help thwart pancreatic cancer)
  • Foods high in flavonoids include: kale, Swiss chard, endive, raw spinach, chives and white beans. Asparagus, apples, buckwheat and tea. Fennel, blueberries, cranberries and carob flour

Be aware that if you have milk in your tea then you are rendering a lot of the flavonoids inert as the tannins in tea bind with the protein in milk.

black tea

Do you smoke? Take heart in the fact that the smokers in the study were particularly benefited by high flavonol intake, with kaempferol providing the most protection. That said, smoking still raises your risk of poor pancreatic health and it is always best to look at quitting.

When you exercise the pancreas releases the glucagon hormone, when you have burnt off the stores glucose (sugar) in your muscles and liver this hormone forces you to convert your fat reserves into glucose to be able to continue fueling the exercise that you are doing – so it helps you to break down fat when you have an active lifestyle.

You are aware that the pancreas produces insulin but are you aware of the role that this hormone has on the body?  Insulin helps the body store and use glucose, it is responsible for delivering that glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream into muscle, fat, liver and most other cells so that your body can use it for fuel.  Problems happen when either the pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin or various parts of the body block insulin and prevent it from delivering glucose to those cells.

If when you go to the toilet and your poo floats (called steatorrhea) then your body is having a problem digestive fat  and may be putting strain on your pancreas.

The following can be harmful to the pancreas, the foods should only be eaten in moderation and the lifestyle issues and emotions should be assessed and resolved:

  • Animal fats, especially cow’s milk and red meat are harmful to the health of the pancreas. Also refined products, sausages and fried.
  • Foods with added chemicals (such as preservatives, colorings, additives, etc.), and refined products (sugar, flour, etc.) block many vital body functions, and damage the functions of the pancreas.
  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Anger, frustration and disappointment are emotions that influence the malfunction of the pancreas.

Helpful herbal remedies in strengthening and stimulating your pancreatic function include gentian, goldenseal, echinacea and cedar berries. Dandelion and olive leaf may also help treat your pancreatitis or improve your pancreatic health. Licorice root has been used to support all glandular functions, including the functions of your pancreas.  Turmeric is an excellent anti-inflammatory herbal medicine which can be easily added to your diet and will benefit the pancreas.

turmeric

Dandelion root may be a helpful adjunct therapy in the treatment of your pancreatic problems and may support the health and function of your pancreas. Dandelion root may help stimulate bile production and helps cleanse your blood and liver, which in turn decreases the burden on your pancreas. Other organs that may benefit from the use of this herbal medicine include your kidneys, spleen and stomach. Why not dig up the roots, when they are dried and roasted they may an excellent substitute to coffee with no caffeine and all of the health benefits?

dandelion root

Our Gallbladder – do you know what it does?

The gallbladder is a pear shaped organ that is tucked away in your abdomen next to your liver and is around 7-10cm long.  The prefix gall translated means bile which is what this small organ stores after bile is produced from specialist cells within the liver.  Although a small organ it has a huge role to play when it comes to us digesting our food.  Without bile we could not digest fats.  Before you say that it would be a good thing if we couldn’t digest fats, you have to realise that they are essential to our health and wellbeing.

Different organs within our body have different prefered sources of energy.  Our heart prefers fatty acids and poorly accesses carbohydrates as fuel, our kidneys use a blend of fats and carbohydrates,  our liver wouldn’t function without fats and when we eat fat in our diet the liver gets first pick of the fats to enable its important functions within the body and although the brain cannot access energy from fats the metabolic activities of the liver are essential for providing fuel to brain, muscles and other peripheral organs which rely on carbs (glucose).  Also any of you who love to exercise or who are active, our body has stores of glucose within the liver and muscles but when these have been used up (whether this is running, canoeing or whatever your passion) then our fat deposits are then accessed to get the energy required.

The gallbladder acts as a storage vessel for bile produced by the liver. Bile is produced by hepatocytes cells in the liver and passes through the bile ducts to the cystic duct. From the cystic duct, bile is pushed into the gallbladder by peristalsis (muscle contractions that occur in orderly waves). Bile is then slowly concentrated by absorption of water through the walls of the gallbladder. The gallbladder stores this concentrated bile until it is needed to digest the next meal.

Foods rich in proteins or fats are more difficult for the body to digest when compared to carbohydrate-rich foods. The walls of our stomach contain sensory receptors that monitor the chemical makeup of the food which we eat. When these cells detect fats, they respond by producing the hormone cholecystokinin (CCK). CCK enters the bloodstream and travels to the gallbladder where it stimulates the smooth muscle tissue in the walls of the gallbladder.  The contraction of smooth muscle forces bile out of the gallbladder and into further ducts within the digestive system where it breaks the fats into smaller masses for easier digestion.

Gallstones occur when bile, which is normally fluid, forms stones. Gallstones commonly contain lumps of fatty (cholesterol-like) material that has solidified and hardened. Sometimes bile pigments or calcium deposits form gallstones. Sometimes just a few small stones are formed; sometimes a great many. Occasionally, just one large stone is formed.  This condition is excruciatingly painful and symptoms include: extreme tenderness in the upper right abdomen, dyspepsia, flatulence, vomiting, sweating, thirst and constipation.  Prolonged obstruction of the bile ducts can cause jaundice (where the skin turns yellow).  Pain should be evaluated by a competent authority such as a GP or hospital as large stones may require surgery.

About one in three women, and one in six men, form gallstones at some stage in their life. Gallstones become more common with increasing age. The risk of forming gallstones increases with pregnancy, obesity, rapid weight loss, having a close relative with gallstones, diabetes and if you take certain medicines such as the contraceptive pill. Being vegetarian and drinking a moderate amount of alcohol may reduce the risk of forming gallstones.

Herbal medicine is used therapeutically in this condition to increase the flow of bile, disperse wind and reduce the painful spasms experienced.  Herbal medicine can also be used to prevent infection and gallstone formation.

Diet is the number one reason for a poorly functioning gallbladder. Don’t let anyone tell you that diet has no relationship to the gallbladder. Ample research tells us that our diet not only affects every cell in our body but obviously those of digestion. Even before the insulin link to the gallbladder was discovered just a few years ago  many physicians recognized the importance of diet on metabolism:

1) Bad fats – these include the obvious partially hydrogenated “trans” fats but also those refined polyunsaturated vegetable oils that so many think are good to eat – corn, soy, canola, safflower, sunflower, peanut, cottonseed, and grapeseed.  Deep fried foods are especially terrible for your gallbladder. Stick with the good fats please – coconut, eggs, extra virgin oil, fish and flax, butter and heavy cream (moderation) and raw nuts and seeds.

2) Refined carbohydrates – these, along with the bad fats, are where the oxidation (free radical damage) and the inflammation comes from, and it can take its toll on the gallbladder because its effect on cholesterol.  Refined carbohydrates include white pasta, white rice, supernoodles (which are deep fried and therefore 20% fat!!!), white breads etc.  Carbohydrates break down to sugar and therefore sugars should be included in this category – high fructose corn syrup – it’s one of the worst!

3) Smoking – Unhealthy for your entire body and really takes its toll on the gallbladder too.

4) Excess caffeine – yeah too much caffeine can stress out the gallbladder. How much is too much? That depends on the individual. For some it may be three cups of espresso and for another it may be one ounce of chocolate per day. If you’re having gallbladder problems stop all caffeine until it’s better.  People can experience caffeine withdrawals including painful headaches.  If you feel that you need to cut out caffeine do so gradually by eliminating one cup/source each week so that your body becomes accustomed to the accessible levels.

5) Alcohol – again this is individualized but obviously too much alcohol is not healthy for your liver, gallbladder, or the rest of your body, what is more is that alcohol is high in sugar and can increase weight gain as well as impacting on the health of your liver.

6) Apartame (Nutrasweet) and other sweeteners (all of which are neurotoxic and possibly cancer causing) – this one is huge and there seems to be a clinical correlation between people who intake a high amount of diet products and have their gallbladder removed.

7) NSAIDS – and other anti-inflammatories can take their toll on the liver and gallbladder. Other meds can too but NSAIDS more often, especially for chronic users.

8) Birth control pills (BCP), hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and yes even the intrauterine device (IUD) – hormonal regulation and metabolism is a major factor when it comes to the liver and even the gallbladder – that’s why the females who are still fertile are part of the medical risk factor. Oestrogen dominance has a huge impact on the health of the gallbladder. Considering that oestrogen and the mineral copper closely parallel one another, many women have copper toxicity problems due to estrogen dominance and then gallbladder problems because some of those bile salts are copper salts – that’s where the bile gets its green color from – copper! You don’t have to be on The Pill or taking hormones to have a gallbladder problem related to your hormones – it can be from inefficient hormonal detoxification. Guys too – you can have testosterone and oestrogen problems.

If you’re having gallbladder problems and it’s not an emergency situation, (let’s all use common sense here), then the first thing to do is to change your diet and lifestyle and assess your risk factors.

Lemons and beets are great foods for your liver and gallbladder – they help to keep bile healthy and non-viscous. So eating these foods regularly can be beneficial.

During an uncomfortable, “attack” you can try sipping some lemon juice. Take one-half of a fresh squeezed lemon and mix it with about 6oz of water and sip it (don’t gulp it down) over the next 30 minutes. If it works, keep doing it until you’ve received full relief. Ginger works well too for some people, but more for nausea. Try to use real ginger root not those rolled in a lot of sugar. You can add it to a smoothie or juiced drink.

You can also try a cold pack over the area of your gallbladder – the upper right quadrant of your abdomen. Place the cold pack about half way over your ribs and half over the abdomen. Don’t put ice directly on your skin or you may burn – but wrap in a paper towel or put over your clothing. Leave the ice on long enough to get a “numb” feeling and depending on the relief you get from it. If any area of your skin in the upper right quadrant of your abdomen feels warm to the touch, that is exactly where you should try to cool it down.

Obviously with the recommendations here if you keep having to do the same things over and over (ice or lemon juice) then you’re not figuring out the problem and just getting by with temporary relief. If the pain gets worse and worse – either that same day or with each subsequent attack – you should seek medical attention.

If you would like herbal support for your gallbladder health do not hesitate to contact me: http://www.herbsforhealthandwellbeing.co.uk where you can have a full consultation, receive an individualised prescription tailored to your needs and personalised dietary and lifestyle advice.

Rheumatoid Arthritis – dietary and lifestyle advice

A lovely lady contacted me by phone yesterday with questions about rheumatoid arthritis (RA).  I would love to help and support the person that she was calling about but it is such a complex ‘pathology’ that advising certain herbs would be irresponsible.  As with most chronic health issues I always advise that they are best to come and see me for a consultation.  The herbal consultations that I give usually last an hour and are an investigational process where all aspects of health and wellbeing are looked at.  The different body systems, past history of health, family history, diet, lifestyle, emotions, even physical signs are assessed such as blood pressure, pulse and tongue diagnosis.  When someone is coming with specific issues a physical examination of the area in question can also be done.  Getting a whole-istic view of the person and their health issues enables me to know which herbs would be beneficial for them and also gives me the information I need to tailor personalised dietary and lifestyle advice for them as well.

hippocrates

So because of yesterdays enquiry I said that I would blog about rheumatoid arthritis.  Do you know what it is?  There are hundreds of different forms of arthritis – osteo- and rheumatoid being the most common and well-known.  It is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the musculoskeletal system mainly affecting the joints.  But unlike osteoarthritis which affects the weight-bearing joints (in part due to wear and tear) rheumatoid arthritis mainly affects the hands, wrists and feet (but can affect the knees, spine and other joints in the body).  Women are more likely to get RA than males and white people are more affected than other ethnicities.  The majority of cases occur between the ages of 25-59 and it has been seen that the contraceptive pill may offer some protection against the development of the disease.  At present modern medicine cannot give an explanation as to why people get RA and others don’t.  There are two main theories as to the cause.  It is proposed that RA is caused by an infection which has triggered the rheumatic response and the second theory is that it is due to the immune system not working properly and attacking its own constituents because it cannot recognise self anymore.

People are diagnosed with RA when they present with the following criteria: arthritis of three or more joints, arthritis of the hand joints, symmetrical swelling of the same joint areas, serum rheumatoid factor (determined by a blood test) and radiographic features of RA.  There are hereditary patterns with this disease too.  

RA signs and symptoms

The onset is usually gradual, people can feel fatigued, have a low-grade fever, have joint stiffness and weakness and vague joint pain at the start, it can develop into painful swollen joints after several weeks.  Several joints are usually affected in a symmetrical fashion.  The affected joints are usually warm, tender and swollen, and the skin can take on a ruddy purplish hue.  The severe joint pain is accompanied by severe inflammation in the small joints but can progressively affect all joints in the body and result in the erosion of the bone and cartilage and the development of nodules around the joints which can be debilitating.  Unfortunately doctors look at prescribing aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories followed by anti-inflammatories, immunosuppressives, and corticosteroids as the disorder progresses – a symptomatic approach which doesn’t look at the cause.  Also a lot of these drugs can cause side effects such as digestive upsets, headaches and dizziness and ironically aspirin and NSAIDs can increase the ‘leakiness’ of the intestinal lining and accelerate the faulty immune response responsible for this disease.  Long term use of corticosteroids is not advised in sufferers of RA due to the side effects that they case.  In the most severe cases of RA joint surgery and replacement are considered.

ra

RA can be a complication of many other autoimmune diseases such as psoriasis and can be aggravated by a ‘leaky gut’ – where the digestive system is inflamed and semi-digested food particles enter the bloodstream.  Physical or emotional stress as well as poor nutrition may be involved in the onset of the disease.

rheumatoid arthritis

Other common symptoms which accompany the joint pains and inflammation include: weight loss, feeling ‘out of sorts’, anaemia, osteoporosis (fragile bones), depression, muscle wasting, peripheral water retention, nodules, carpal tunnel syndrome, swollen lymph nodes, infections etc.  The progression of RA is variable and depends on the individual so it isn’t possible to predict who will develop severe symptoms.  In general 25% remain fit and can function effectively, 40% have moderate impairment, 25% are quite badly disabled and 10% become wheelchair patients.

If there is anything that I have missed out about rheumatoid arthritis and its pathology (how it affects the body) please do not hesitate to contact me and I will be happy to explain.

Herbal treatment varied in accordance to the individual needs.  The joy of herbal medicine is that it is tailored to suit the persons needs and can be altered to suit the changing requirements.  When seeing a patient with RA the prescription may have to be changed several times before progress is made.

Dietary Advice

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In general Ra is not found in societies that eat a diet more in tune with our ancestors.  The western diet is linked to the rate of incidence of RA.  Eating a diet rich in wholefoods, vegetables and fibre and low in sugar, meat, refined carbohydrates and saturated fats help with the prevention and possibly the treatment of RA.  There is strong scientific support for the roles that food allergies and dietary fats play in the inflammatory process.

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A diet high in seafood is beneficial for most rheumatic diseases.  Therefore if you cannot add a lot of seafood to your diet please look at supplementing with fish oils or take 1 tablespoon of flaxseed oil daily.  Eat 2-3 servings of baked, broiled or pickles fish weekly.  Herring, mackerel, sardines and salmon are natural sources of omega 3 fatty acids which counteracts the effects of inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids.

Hippocrates quote

Hippocrates quote

It may be worthwhile becoming a vegetarian if you have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.  A study in Norway discovered that vegetarian foods normalised the dietary fatty acids and reduced inflammation in rheumatic disorders.  During this study the patients were allowed only garlic, herbal teas, vegetable soups and juices/smoothies for the first week or two and then meat free and gluten-free food was introduced and alternated each day.

Limit your consumption of beef, eggs, refined carbohydrates and sugars and animal fat.  These foods contain omega 6 fatty acids (pro-inflammatory).

Avoid lemons and lemon juice as it can contribute to the excretion of calcium from muscles and bones.

Supplement high doses of Vitamin C to support the body in preventing/reducing the damage to the synovial membranes of the joints.

If you experience anaemia and/or muscle wasting as part of your RA you may not be getting the right nutrition in your diet.

Add turmeric and celery to your diet regularly.

A low salt, low-fat, high oily fish diet also benefits RA.  Where possible aim to cut out all gluten and dairy products.

Lifestyle Advice

holistic-healing-approach

Physical therapy can benefit people who have RA – look at introducing exercise/activity into your lifestyle on a regular basis.  Perform 3-10 repetitions of range of motion exercises daily such as flexing the knee back and forth as far as it will go in both direction.  Use swimming as your primary form of aerobic exercise – it is easier on the joints than land-based exercise.

Heat and cold can both have a relieving effect on the painful joints – alternate with hot and cold compresses to support the reduction in inflammation.  In the morning take a hot shower or bath to help relieve morning stiffness.

Massage can be beneficial, especially in the early stages of RA – go to a professional, or if you cannot afford this research how to massage the joints in the affected areas and self-massage on a regular basis.

I have chosen not to give herbal remedies which benefit RA in this article because of the health implications that there are.  Botanicals which may benefit RA may aggravate other health issues such as increasing blood pressure, speeding up/slowing down the metabolism of pharmaceuticals and affecting the hormones within the body.  I implore anyone who experiences this disorder to contact myself for a consultation where we can work together to aim at improving your quality of life using herbal medicine and dietary and lifestyle changes.

The amazing, under-appreciated organ….. The Liver

The liver is an amazing organ within the body.  It is something we abuse with excessive alcohol, medication drugs, those of you who are naughty and take illegal drugs, poor diets, too much caffeine and processed foods.

billarysystem

The liver is the largest organ in the body, second only in size to the skin, supplying the body with 25% of its total blood flow.  It is the heaviest gland of the body averaging out at about 14kg – this is roughly the weight of a staffordshire bull terrier or 7 1/2 2 litre bottles of pop.  It alters in its size and shape dependant on the amount of blood present.  Without a liver our life is reduced to about six hours and death results from multiple factors such as an accumulation of toxic metabolites in the blood stream, this is less time than if we didn’t have water or food!!  It converts glucose which is a sugar that we get from most carbohydrates in our diet into glucogen a process aided by insulin.  Today there is currently a diabetes epidemic which is due to people eating high carb high sugar foods and overloading the liver and the pancreas.  The liver can store around half the bodies sugar reserves and up to about 10% the weight of the liver, so when we need to access our energy the liver releases the glucogen to be used as fuel for the muscles.

liver anatomy

Anatomically it sits just below the diaphragm and is situated on the right hand side of the body.  The liver can be felt under the rib cage in slim people or when the liver has enlarged due to health issues such as fatty liver disease..  It is suspended in the cavity from the diaphragm by ligaments.  The liver tissue is made up of liver cells (hepatocytes), small canals (bile canaliculi) and blood capillaries (hepatic sinusoids).  Histologically, the liver can be described as having 2 vascular trees (portal and hepatic) within it, the branches close but not touching each other.

liver

The Liver Cells (Hepatocytes):

hepatocytes

These liver cells perform numerous metabolic, secretary and endocrine functions so they have an impact on how we burn our energy (therefore how easily/hard we gain/lose weight), they also deal with all of the hormones in our body as well as making hormones itself.  They are specialized cells with 5 to 12 sides and they make up 80% of the volume of the liver.  They contain more rough and smooth endoplasmic reticular, mitochondria and lysosomes are more abundant than most other cells within the body – this means that there are more power houses for producing energy within the liver than anywhere else.  Alcohol or drug abuse increases the number of enzymes within the hepatocytes this is know as induction and is a process to help keep up with the excessive amount of poison that people chuck into their bodies.

Hepatocytes are arranged into complex plates called hepatic laminae which are one cell thick and are highly branched.  Hepatocytes are lined by vascular spaces called hepatic sinusoids with grooves in their membrane for the canaliculi to secrete bile into.

When stressed, the cortex of the adrenal gland releases cortisone and hydrocortisone (the stress hormones) which stimulates gluconeogenisis by the liver, a sympathetic response, inducing the liver to breakdown glycogen (sugars) by hepatocytes and produces a surge of glucose into the blood which is ultimately the fight or flight response.

love your liver

Conjucation is the process where hepatocytes create compounds which can be excreted via the bilary system, so the liver also plays an important process when it comes to digesting food and accessing certain nutrients.  Unborn babies don’t have conjucating enzymes in their livers and so their unconjucated bilirubin diffuses through the placenta and is taken up by the mother for excretion.  Premature babies are frequently jaundiced (have yellow coloured skin) because the conjucating enzymes develop a few days prior the birth, late in the third trimester and therefore they do not have this ability.

Canals in the liver (Bile canaliculi):

bile caniculi

These are small canals in branched structures lining the grooves of the hepatocytes that assist digestion with the absorption of food and the excretory process.  The secretion of bile salts only occurs within the liver – these have a detergent action emulsifying fats so that we can access their nutrition.

Blood capillaries within the liver (Hepatic sinusoids):

hepatic sinusoids

These are highly permeable capillaries in branched structures between the hepatocytes.  They receive two blood supplies, via the hepatic artery they receive oxygenated blood (red blood) and via the hepatic portal vein they receive nutrient rich deoxygenated blood (blue blood) from the gastrointestinal organs and the spleen.

Kupffer cells are located within the hepatic sinusoids, they are part of the immune system and are fixed white blood cells which destroy old blood cells, bacteria and other particles in the venous blood draining from the gastrointestinal tract.  Old haemoglobin (red blood cells) are recycled by cells within the liver, the central iron particle is stored for reuse within the liver and the haem (the red transporter of the iron molecule) is converted into bilirubin – a large amount of bilirubin in the blood stream causes jaundice.

Functions of the Liver:

love your liver 1

The liver does so much for us and yet we do take it for granted.  Liver disease and abuse can cause life threatening problems which can greatly shorten our life expectancy.  Here is a list of what the liver does for us on a daily basis for our entire lives.

  • carbohydrate metabolism, the assimilation of sugars within the body – glucose levels
  • regeneration – creating new liver cells if we really abused our liver
  • lipid metabolism – the assimilation of fats within the body
  • protein metabolism – making, storing and breaking down proteins (meat, fish, eggs, pulses etc)
  • processing drugs and hormones – endocrine function either reacts with or destroys most hormones – detoxification
  • excretion of bilirubin
  • sodium metabolism – the assimilation of salt from our diet
  • in fetus’ and new born babies the liver produces red blood cells (erythropoiesis)
  • synthesis of bile salts
  • storage of: glycogen, Vitamins A, B12, D, E and K, iron, copper
  • kupffer cells kill/recycle aged cells and pathogens (any germs) this is known as phargocytosis
  • activation of Vitamin D
  • processing all of the blood within the body
  • regulation of blood clotting

As you can see the liver is essential to our health and wellbeing.  I sell herbal capsules on my website: http://www.herbsforhealthandwellbeing.co.uk where you can purchase Milk Thistle and give you liver some tender loving care.

milk thistle

References:

Homer Andrews, W.H. (1979) Liver. Edward Arnold Publishers Limited

Kumar, P. Clark, M. (2009) Clinical Medicine 7th Edition. Elsevier Limited

Tortora, G. Dickenson, B. (2009) Principles of Anatomy and Physiology 12th Edition. John Wiley & Sons Ltd