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

Making herbal infusions or tisanes

Welcome fellow bloggers.  I have decided to write a series of blogs which explore the various different ways in which you can use herbs to support your health and wellbeing.  This week’s post will introduce you to infusions or tisanes.  This is very similar to making a cup of tea.  We are all aware of how we make our cuppa 🙂 tea leaves are brewed to make an infusion but we are lucky that they are conveniently bagged to ensure minimal mess and effort.

When using herbal remedies it is common to think that they are completely safe.  This isn’t always the case.  Please ensure that you know the herbs that you are using.  Please read up on them to check for any safety concerns which may be specific for you.  This is especially true if you are taking medication from your GP/hospital.  I love dandelion and would recommend it for most people but if a person is suffering from gallstones then it isn’t advisable for them to use the herb in medicinal doses.

Dandelion in full bloom. A great digestive herb to be avoided if you suffer from gallstones.

Dandelion in full bloom. A great digestive herb to be avoided if you suffer from gallstones.

Safety is the key, you need to be able to correctly identify the herb that you are using and be aware of its effects and actions prior to using it.  As a herbalist I have to stress the importance of safety – consult a qualified herbal practitioner such as myself if you are unsure about anything.  We may not have deadly animals in the UK but we do have a vast array of poisonous or toxic plants.

The usual standard dose for making herbal infusions is 25 grams of the dried herb to half a litre of water.  This is great if you are brewing on e up for more than one person or you do not mind drinking the infusion cold.  I prefer to drink my herbal tisanes hot so I use one teaspoon of dried herb per cup.  If you are using fresh herbs (always wash them first) you will also have to triple to quantity of the herbs to take into account the extra water content within the herbs.

Infusions are usually made using the leaf or the flower of a plant, many flowers are aromatic and you do not want to lose these aromatic constituents (volatile oils such as monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes give many herbs their aromatic smell such as rosemary, lavender, lemon balm, sage etc.) they are light enough to evaporate so it is recommended to use water that has recently boiled instead of pouring boiling water that has just boiled straight over them.  The volatile oils are what you smell when you add herbs to cooking as the heat of the food has enabled them to evaporate.  Essential oils are also made up by distilling the volatile oils out of the plant material.  Volatile oils are able to pass the blood/brain barrier and can have a positive impact on our limbic system which is the seat of our emotions.  They are also antiseptic and usually anti-inflammatory in nature therefore we do not want them all to escape from our herbal brew.

You can use a cafeteria to make a herbal infusion.

You can use a cafeteria to make a herbal infusion.

Add the herbs of your choice to the cafeteria. I have chosen rose, fennel and peppermint.

Whichever way you choose to make herbal infusions please don’t throw your used herbs in the bin, they can be placed in your  composter (as can normal teabags).

There are two ways that I prefer to make a herbal tea.  I purchased a tea strainer (I have one in the shape of a house made out of metal and several shaped like musical notes made out of plastic).  If I am just making one cup I like to use the tea strainer.  I place the loose herb inside the tea strainer and then use is like a spoon as it hooks onto the side of my cup/mug.  If I fancy a couple of cups of herbal tea then I use a cafeteria to brew up my tisane as it isn’t very messy at all and is very quick to prepare.

Let the kettle cool slightly once it has boiled before adding the hot water to you herbs

Let the kettle cool slightly once it has boiled before adding the hot water to you herbs

As a herbalist I am fully aware of the benefits of drinking herbal infusions.  For instance whilst I was at university I was drinking a lot of….. (you thought I was going to say alcohol but I was already a mother when I went to university and had my daughter to look after lol)… coffee!  You see I was going to say coffee.  This was due to the demands that commuting to a different city, looking after my daughter, studying and attaining all of the academic deadlines did to me… I relied on coffee to get me going and keep me going – but this was detrimental to the health of my adrenals (if you have dark circles under your eyes you might be in  a similar situation too – you can always book a consultation with me to support your health).

Allow the herbs to infuse in the water for 5-10 minutes.

Allow the herbs to infuse in the water for 5-10 minutes.

I was drinking over eight cups of coffee a day which is excessive.  The recommended daily amount is two to three.  I blended up herbs to support me in cleansing my system.  If you too drink lots of coffee or you have drunk lots of coffee you will be well aware of the caffeine withdrawals that we experience – physical symptoms include a pounding headache!!  I blended up herbs and drank a cafeteria full each day and managed to cut back without experiencing the caffeine withdrawals.  Two to three cups of herbal infusion are the usual dose I recommend to my patients if they are having herbal teas to support their health and wellbeing.  It is a dose which is tried and tested.

You can then pour yourself and your friends a delicious herbal infusion

You can then pour yourself and your friends a delicious herbal infusion

Infusions can be stored for up to 24 hours, if you haven’t drank them in this time they can be watered down to feed your plants (indoor or outdoor). You can add the infusion to the bath or use it as a hair rinse after shampooing.  You can use them as a gargle/mouth wash if you are experiencing gum disease/gingivitis.  They can be made into a compress for external wounds, bumps, scrapes or bruises.  They can even be splashed onto the skin as a lotion.  But they should be discarded from internal consumption after a day.

Here is the tea strainer which I use when making one cup.  They are available to buy for only £1

Here is the tea strainer which I use when making one cup. They are available to buy for only £1

The only time that this doesn’t apply is when I make tinctures – I make alcohol preparations of herbs.  I will discuss how you can make these in a future blog.  When I strain the herbs to get the tincture out some of the alcohol is trapped in the herb so I make a herbal infusion of the herbs which I have used to make a tincture – this extracts the alcohol and also the rest of the active constituents in the plant material giving me a tincture-tea.  There is usually an ounce of alcohol left which then helps to preserve the infusion.  I then drink the tincture-tea when required to support my own health and wellbeing.

Gingko biloba leaf which was used to make a tincture and is now infusing to make a tincture-tea

Gingko biloba leaf which was used to make a tincture and is now infusing to make a tincture-tea

There are several herbs which you can use safely to make nourishing herbal infusions to support your health and wellbeing:

Marigold (Calendula officinalis) is safe enough to use in pregnancy and breastfeeding.  It is anti-inflammatory and an excellent wound healer helping to stop bleeding.  An infusion would help support digestive issues, be used as a gargle for gum disease, or as a compress for burns, cuts and other wounds including leg ulcers, varicose veins and haemorrhoids.  As a lymphatic this herb can support you if you have tonsillitis.  The plant is easy to grow in our climate and you can pick it up from most garden centres and even supermarkets.  You would use the flowers to make an infusion.

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is also safe to be used in pregnancy and breastfeeding.  It is gentle enough to give to children who have an upset stomach and yet strong enough to calm down feelings of restlessness and anxiety.  It can help with nervous diarrhoea, reduce wind and bloating and support women with painful or absent periods.

Chamomile flowers make a delicious and soothing herbal infusion

Chamomile flowers make a delicious and soothing herbal infusion

Chickweed (Stellaria media) is a nuisance weed for many but its effects supporting eczema is amazing.  It cools and soothes and can help with psoriasis too.  It can be made into an infusion to support people who have rheumatic disorders.

Cleavers (Galium aperine) has no known side effects and is an excellent spring tonic supporting lymphatic disorders and skin problems including psoriasis.

This names just a few herbs which are safe enough for most people.  There are people who can experience sensitivity to members of the asteraceae family.  They would have to stop using herbs such as chamomile as it is a member of the asteraceae family.  I look forward to introducing another method of using herbs next week.