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

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 heart

This week I am starting an new series of articles – when I wrote about the liver the response I had was very positive so I have decided to discuss each aspect of our body and how it relates to us as a whole.  This week I am discussing the heart as part of the cardiovascular system.  We are all aware of the need to have a healthy heart and how obesity, drinking and smoking can affect it.  We are also aware of its role as a ‘pump’ to circulate blood around our body.  This is quite a mechanised view of the heart and one when you look logically which has its flaws – the heart alone isn’t strong enough to pump blood throughout all of the fine capillaries of the body – yes there are other muscles in place within the cardiovascular system – arteries are lined with thick muscles, veins not so much but their circulation is greatly improved with activity.

The heart is a muscular organ which is roughly 10cm long and the size of your fist.  It lies behind the ribs more to the left than central – the tip of the heart can be detected in the 5th intercostal space.  There are three layers of tissue which make up the heart., these include the: pericardium, myocardium and endocardium.  The pericardium is the outer tissues and can be seen as two sacs enclosing the heart protecting it.  the Myocardium (my- meaning muscle) contains the specialised cardiac muscles and the endocardium is the lining of the chambers and valves within the heart.  The valves within the heart make the sound of our heart beat as they open and close.

Our heart is divided into four chambers, there are to atriums (left and right), two ventricles (left and right) and two atrioventricular valves (you guessed it…. left and right).  Deoxygenated blood (from the rest of the body) enters the right side of the heart to flow to the lungs to become oxygenated again.  The oxygenated blood from the lungs passes through the left side of the heart and flows to the body.  Every cell in our body requires oxygen in order to work effectively and every cell in our body respires so carbon dioxide is taken from cells to the lungs to be excreted from the body.

The heart has an intrinsic and independent system where the cardiac muscles are automatically stimulated without external stimulation but it can be stimulated or depressed by nerve impulses or by circulating hormones.

On a deeper level our emotions have a huge impact on our heart and blood flow – when we are embarrassed or angry we blush, shock or anxiety can cause us to go pale as blood rushed to the core of our body.  A lot of secondary high blood pressure is related to stress and our emotions.  Our heart is the heart of our humanity enabling our mind, body and soul to exist as one.  Science has explored it when we transplant organs – the body rejects the organs so doctors suppress the immune system (which recognises self) and when the transplants are successful there are numerous cases personality traits and memories of the organ donor emerge in the transplantee.

Our heart is an organ of warmth – of who we are. “I feel”, “I am”, We understand who we are because we feel it in our heart.  The heart is the basis of our inner stability.  Our skeletal muscles can be moved voluntarily and are striped in appearance, smooth muscle which is involuntarily moved (reflex actions controlled by the Autonomic Nervous System).  The heart has unique muscles called cardiac muscles which are striped – an indication that it can be affected by our mind and emotions.  There are buddhist monks who can slow and even stop their heart beat and in anxiety the palpitations which can be experienced can be affected by our thoughts improving the situation or making it seem worse.

Factors which can affect our heart rate include our gender, our ANS activity, our age, hormones, activity/exercise, temperature and our emotions (to name the main ones).  Our blood pressure is an indicator of how our heart is functioning.  The systolic reading is the strength our heart is working and is taken using a sphygmomanometer.  When our left ventricle contracts it pushes blood into the aorta (the main artery of the body) – the systolic reading is this pressure.  The diastolic reading occurs when the heart is resting following the ejection of blood.  The difference between these two readings is seen as the pulse pressure.  Blood pressure varies by numerous factors including the time of day, posture, gender, age, emotions, medications etc.  The pulse that we feel is a wave of elongation and distention of an artery wall due to the contraction of the heart.

Taking exercise, eating a healthy diet, encouraging children to be heart healthy and being aware of dangers such as smoking, drinking, high blood pressure, and stress are all important for your long term heart health, whether you currently have heart disease or not.

1. Eating healthily
A healthy diet helps to reduce your risk of developing heart disease, or if you’ve already got heart problems it will help to protect your heart.

2. Being active
People of all ages who are physically active are less likely to get cardiovascular disease as those that are inactive.

3. Getting the right support
Having friends and family around you who are supportive of your goals is very important. We are lucky living in the UK to have a choice of health care providers that we want to support our health and wellbeing including the MHS, herbalists (such as myself), homeopaths, chiropodists, aromatherapists, acupuncturists etc.

When I look at supporting someones heart health I spend at least an hour with them to look at all aspects of their life and their health, there are numerous herbs which can have a beneficial effect on the heart, there are herbs to reduce cholesterol levels, reduce stress and even improve circulation.  Herbs are just part of my support though as I also give personalised dietary and lifestyle advice which is tailored to the needs of the individual.

If you have any questions about supporting your health please contact me I am happy to help – http://www.herbsforhealthandwellbeing.co.uk/contactus

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

Magnesium – the fourth most abundant nutrient in the body!!

Did you know the importance of magnesium regarding our health and wellbeing? Magnesium is used in over 300 enzyme systems that regulate diverse biochemical reactions in the body, including protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, and blood pressure regulation, energy levels and much more!!

A Dr. Norman Shealy said “Every known illness is associated with a magnesium deficiency… magnesium is the most critical mineral required for electrical stability of every cell in the body. Magnesium deficiency may be responsible for more diseases than any other nutrient.”

Here are the Recommended daily allowances for Magnesium:

Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Magnesium
Age Male Female Pregnancy Lactation
Birth to 6 months 30 mg 30 mg    
7–12 months 75 mg 75 mg    
1–3 years 80 mg 80 mg    
4–8 years 130 mg 130 mg    
9–13 years 240 mg 240 mg    
14–18 years 410 mg 360 mg 400 mg 360 mg
19–30 years 400 mg 310 mg 350 mg 310 mg
31–50 years 420 mg 320 mg 360 mg 320 mg
51+ years 420 mg 320 mg    

A lot of people are not getting enough magnesium, a nutrient which is required daily. Magnesium deficiency is hard to diagnose as it isn’t usually tested for in blood tests. This is because only 1% of the body’s magnesium is stored in the blood.  Most of the magnesium in the body is stored in bones or in cells making it difficult to determine what the levels really are.  Estimates regarding magnesium deficiency seen to relate to half of the population!!

Dr. Sidney Baker is quoted saying: “Magnesium deficiency can affect virtually every organ system of the body. With regard to skeletal muscle, one may experience twitches, cramps, muscle tension, muscle soreness, including back aches, neck pain, tension headaches and jaw joint (or TMJ) dysfunction. Also, one may experience chest tightness or a peculiar sensation that he can’t take a deep breath. Sometimes a person may sigh a lot.”

“Symptoms involving impaired contraction of smooth muscles include constipation; urinary spasms; menstrual cramps; difficulty swallowing or a lump in the throat especially provoked by eating sugar; photophobia, especially difficulty adjusting to oncoming bright headlights in the absence of eye disease; and loud noise sensitivity from stapedius muscle tension in the ear.”

“Other symptoms and signs of magnesium deficiency and discuss laboratory testing for this common condition. Continuing with the symptoms of magnesium deficiency, the central nervous system is markedly affected. Symptoms include insomnia, anxiety, hyperactivity and restlessness with constant movement, panic attacks, agoraphobia, and premenstrual irritability. Magnesium deficiency symptoms involving the peripheral nervous system include numbness, tingling, and other abnormal sensations, such as zips, zaps and vibratory sensations.”

“Symptoms or signs of the cardiovascular system include palpitations, heart arrhythmias, and angina due to spasms of the coronary arteries, high blood pressure and mitral valve prolapse. Be aware that not all of the symptoms need to be present to presume magnesium deficiency; but, many of them often occur together. For example, people with mitral valve prolapse frequently have palpitations, anxiety, panic attacks and premenstrual symptoms. People with magnesium deficiency often seem to be “uptight.” Other general symptoms include a salt craving, both carbohydrate craving and carbohydrate intolerance, especially of chocolate, and breast tenderness.”

Here are more signs and symptoms of magnesium deficiency:

  • Physical and mental fatigue
  • Persistent under-eye twitch
  • Tension in the upper back, shoulders and neck
  • Headaches
  • Pre-menstrual fluid retention and/or breast tenderness
  • Low energy
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Confusion
  • Nervousness
  • Anxiousness
  • Irritability
  • Seizures (and tantrums)
  • Poor digestion
  • PMS and hormonal imbalances
  • Inability to sleep
  • Muscle tension, spasm and cramps
  • Calcification of organs
  • Weakening of the bones
  • Abnormal heart rhythm
  • Extreme thirst
  • Extreme hunger
  • Frequent urination
  • Sores or bruises that heal slowly
  • Dry, itchy skin
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Blurry vision that changes from day to day
  • Unusual tiredness or drowsiness
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
  • Frequent or recurring skin, gum, bladder or vaginal yeast infections

The causes of a lack of magnesium can include dietary choices, availability of foods high in magnesium, as well as illness, use of certain pharmaceuticals, and genetic factors.

Here is a list of specific orthodox medications that are known to increase excretion of magnesium and/or increase the body’s magnesium requirements:

  • Certain antibiotics such as Garamycin, tobramycin (Nebcin), carbenicillin, ticaricillin, amphotericin B and antibiotics of the tetracycline class
  • The anti-fungal drug Pentamidine, used to prevent and treat pneumonia
  • Oestrogen, found in birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy
  • Corticosteroids such as hydrocortisone
  • Diuretics such as Edercrin, Lasix, mannitol, and thiazides (with names commonly ending in -zide)
  • Certain heart failure medications including digitalis, digoxin (Lanoxin), Qunidex, and Cordarone
  • Medications used to treat irregular heartbeat, such as Cordarone (amiodarone), bretylium, quinidine (Cardioquin) and sotalol (Betapace)
  • The anti-cancer drug Platinol, and other immunosuppressant drugs such as Neoral and Sandimmune
  • Antineoplastics, used in chemotherapy, and radiation
  • Asthma medications such as epinephrine, isoproterenol and aminophylline
  • The antipsychotic and antischizophrenic drugs Pimozide (Orap), Mellaril and Stelazine4

Getting adequate levels of this nutrient can help to improve digestive problems, regulate blood sugar levels, support and maintain a healthy heart, nurture healthy bones, detoxify the body and decrease the risk of cancer!  Magnesium also helps to reduce inflammation in the body.  Magnesium is also great for reducing pre-menstrual tension, reducing breast tenderness and painful/heavy periods.  It is also essential for the health of our thyroid which controls our metabolism.

Healthy sources of magnesium include:

  • Avocados
  • Almonds
  • Green vegetables
  • Raw broccoli
  • Black beans
  • Peas
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Cashews
  • Squash
  • Sesame seeds
  • Okra
  • Spinach
  • Bananas
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Carrots
  • Cherries
  • Coconut milk
  • Cottage cheese
  • Molasses
  • Papaya
  • Radishes
  • Seaweed
  • Tahini
  • Wheatgerm

Trotula of Salerno recipes

Trotula of Salerno was a female physician, alleged to have been the first female professor of medicine, teaching in the southern Italian port of Salerno, which was at that time the most important center of medical learning in Europe.  She is regarded as the world’s first gynecologist.

Her works on women’s health, collectively called The Trotula, served as the primary manuscripts on women’s health in Europe for more than 400 years, and set the course for the practice of women’s medicine for centuries.

Here are some recipes from her work which are still applicable today 🙂

Marigold ointment

500ml of infused marigold oil (Calendula officinalis)

40g cocoa butter

40g beeswax

Warm the oil gently, melt in the cocoa butter and beeswax and stir until melts, allow to cool where it will thicken into an ointment/salve.  You can store this in sterilised glass jars.

Use for wounds, infected grazes, athletes foot and burns 🙂

This next one is great for fighting off infections which are more prevalent as the weather changes:

25g coltsfoot leaves

25g fennel

10g fresh ginger root

225g honey

900ml boiling water.

Add the herbs to the water and simmer till the liquid has reduces to 300ml.  Once the liquid has cooled add the honey.  For people who have a cough, are feeling chills or are experiencing catarrh. Take 5ml three to four times a day.

Healing womb

10g ladies mantle

10g mugwort

Make a herbal infusion/tea with the herbs and take for up to 3 months to strengthen and repair the womb – do not take in pregnancy.

Infertility tea

15g marshmallow root

15g mugwort

600ml water

Decoct the root on a hob simmering for 10 minutes then add the mugwort and take off the heat to make a herbal infusion/tea.  Use 1 cup of the herbal infusion to douche twice a week having a nourishing and tonifying effect.

Improve Circulation

10g dried hawthorn flowers

10g dried lime flowers

15g lemon balm

Mix together the dried herbs and place a 5ml spoonful of the mixture in a cup of boiling water, allow to steep for 10 minutes.  Strain and drink one cup daily for 4 weeks, rest for 1 week then repeat the dose.

I hope you have found these recipes interesting – As a herbalist these are herbs which are still used today for similar conditions.  As a pioneering woman she was definitely ahead of her time and intelligent in her understanding of herbs and how they are used to support health and wellbeing.