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

When you feel low do you grab some chocolate?

Chocolate does seem to make us feel better – but why? Because it contains magnesium. To save you gaining a few pounds in the pursuit for happiness why not look at introducing other magnesium rich foods or supplementing with magnesium?

I have included a link to a journal article which has discovered the link between magnesium and depression. http://ow.ly/oJfz2