What does your lymphatic system actually do?
Back to the vascular system: if you put all the blood vessels and veins in your body together, you would get a length of about 100,000 km. Impressive isn’t it? All these veins and vessels together ensure that the right substances are transported to your tissues, cells and organs and that certain waste products are taken from your cells to be excreted.
Just like your blood vessel system, your lymphatic system is a system of larger and smaller vessels and vessels throughout our body, in which there is a colorless fluid, the lymphatic fluid. It is an enormously extensive system: did you know that it is even twice the size of your circulatory system? If you glued all your lymphatic vessels together, you would get a whopping 200,000 km!
The lymphatic fluid, the tissue fluid in the vessels, also transports substances, just like your blood vessels. However, these are not nutrients that are delivered to the cells and tissues. It is precisely about the transport and processing of waste products, damaged body cells and unfavorable invaders and pathogens, which are collected by the lymph, rendered harmless and removed. So your lymphatic system acts like a filter and is your body’s main cleansing service.
Lymph nodes and the lymphatic system: the cleaning service
Your lymphatic vessels can absorb slightly larger particles than your blood vessels. Certain larger or difficult-to-process particles such as certain proteins, bacteria and other pathogens cannot enter the bloodstream. These substances are absorbed into your lymphatic vessels and that is how the processing, cleaning and cleaning process begins.
Cleaning and rendering harmless takes place in the well-known lymph nodes, which are located in many places in your body (including neck, armpits, groin, but also around the lungs and heart). These glands are nodes where the lymphatic vessels come together and through which all the collected tissue fluid, with all those substances to be processed, passes. In these glands waste products and any pathogens are killed or rendered harmless. They are then transferred to the bloodstream, so that eventually the remaining waste products can be removed through urine and feces without causing damage.
The neutralization of bacteria and viruses is done by the white blood cells, or lymphocytes, that are in the lymph nodes. The lymphatic system thus provides an important part of the defense system in our body; it’s an essential part of your important immune system.
Immune function, cleansing and fluid balance
In addition to the immune function and the removal of waste, your lymphatic system is also of great importance for the removal of excess fluid from our body. This whole process can take place because the lymphatic fluid is propelled through the lymphatic vessels by means of a valve system similar to that of the circulatory system. The valves ensure that the lymph fluid is transported further and does not flow back.
The propulsion itself is different from the circulatory system. Your circulation is controlled by the big pump in your body: your heart. In your lymphatic vessels, the propulsion is through the contracting and relaxing movements of the muscles in our body.
The only pump of your lymphatic system is exercise!
So the only pump of your lymphatic system is to get your muscles moving. In other words, get yourself moving. Let me clarify what I mean by this. If you have a sedentary job, largely transport yourself by public transport or car and like to watch a few hours of television in the evening, then two hours of exercise a week is absolutely insufficient to keep your lymphatic system moving enough. Your lymphatic system really wants you to get moving every hour, even if it’s just a few minutes.
Sitting is also known as the new smoking. Sitting a lot, 8 hours a day (and you get there at an alarming rate) is a drain on your health and energy level and that has partly to do with the functioning of your lymphatic system that needs it so much that you keep moving!
Lymph nodes, lymphatic vessels and lymphedema
If your lymphatic system no longer works optimally, you can suffer from so-called lymphedema, an inflammation of the lymph nodes, or even lymphoma.
Lymphedema is a build-up of fluid in the lymphatic vessels, especially in the legs or arms. This often happens at an older age, which is why it is especially important for women 40+ to continue to exercise sufficiently. The older you get, the more exercise is good for you! I cannot emphasize this enough. You are more likely to suffer from fluid retention, especially in your legs and sometimes in the hands, if you sit still for a long time.
Lymphedema is also a well-known phenomenon in many women who have had breast cancer in which the lymph nodes in the armpit have been removed because of metastasis to these nodes. These women mainly suffer from painful fluid accumulation in the arm on the side where the lymph nodes have been removed.
Sometimes people develop lymphedema at a younger age. The cause of this is usually that too few or not optimally functioning lymphatic vessels have been created in the uterus.
Although there are a number of treatments available if you suffer from lymphedema, unfortunately there is no real solution available. So, as I said, it is very important: keep moving! What can you do to keep your lymphatic system as healthy as possible?
How do you keep your lymph nodes and lymphatic system healthy?
As you now know, this organ is an essential part of your immune system and helps your body get rid of unwanted invaders. How can you ensure that this cleaning service can do its job properly? Here are some tips:
- Healthy food. If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that this is always at the top of my list. This is also number one for your lymphatic system. Provide lots of healthy, fresh and unprocessed fruits and vegetables that are packed with the necessary plant substances, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. In addition, nuts (such as walnuts and almonds), seeds (such as psyllium seed), and chlorophyll-rich algae such as spirulina can support your lymphatic system and detoxification. Detoxifying herbs such as milk thistle can also contribute. This not only supports your lymphatic system but also detoxification in your liver and kidneys. You can find more about detoxification in this article.
- Drink water . Your lymphatic system has everything to do with your fluid balance. So make sure your body is hydrated by drinking enough water or herbal tea, preferably filtered, during the day.
- So move a lot! Exercise is of course healthy for many more reasons, but as mentioned before, exercise ensures that the lymph fluid can be properly propelled through your body and does not accumulate. Any movement is good, but jumping up and down is the best. To spare your joints, jumping (mini) trampoline is probably the best thing for your lymphatic system!
- Reduce Stress . Stress is the biggest destroyer of your body, including your lymphatic system. Be aware of what relaxes you. Perhaps with healthy outdoor exercise such as just taking a walk, but also through mindfulness exercises, breathing exercises, meditation or other relaxation techniques. Here you can read what you can do to reduce stress.
- Go to the sauna regularly. This is not only relaxing, but sweating helps your body to cleanse and detoxify and in this way contributes to a healthy lymphatic system.
Your body takes care of you until you are 40, after you are 40 ……..
What an infinitely intelligent organism our body is! 100,000 km of the vascular system, 200,000 km of the lymphatic system! It all works without your interference but it does need you. Until you are 40, your body takes care of you, after you are 40 it becomes a matter of smart cooperation, I always say. When I hear women complain about their health, I sometimes think: “Is your body failing you or are you failing your body?”
Raise the bar for your health and vitality. Our body strives for a much higher level of vitality and health than we often think! But it can’t do it alone, it needs you to do it. Do it together and enjoy the journey.