You are constantly being invaded by environmental threats. The immune system does a great job of stopping them, but the immune system doesn’t clean up after itself. Additionally, you regularly have body cells dying that need to be removed. If it wasn’t for the lymphatic system, things would get pretty messy!
In your body’s tissues, there are tiny circulatory system structures called capillaries. Capillaries are like leaky garden hoses. They allow fluid to leak out of the bloodstream into the space surrounding the cells. This fluid contains nutrients and oxygen that feed the cells in your body. The capillaries are supposed to reabsorb the fluid after it is used, but they only manage to get about 85 percent of it back into the bloodstream. Capillaries also tend to leave behind things like cellular waste and bacteria. The immune system creates white blood cells and immune proteins to destroy these invaders. The mixture of all of these things is what makes the white fluid known as lymph. Lymph fluid is the combination of waste, leftover fluid from the bloodstream, and immune cells and proteins. There is actually a lot of lymph in your body. The amount of lymph in your body is around 1/6 the amount of blood.
Just like blood is carried through blood vessels, lymph is transported by lymphatic vessels. Lymph vessels are like sponges because they can soak up fluid from surrounding tissue. All lymphatic vessels carry lymph fluid toward the heart. After the lymph has been filtered and cleared of cellular garbage, lymphatic ducts connect lymphatic vessels to veins and empty the lymph back into the bloodstream. Unlike blood vessels, lymph vessels do not have a heart pumping the fluid along. So you may be wondering, how does the fluid flow? Lymph vessels have valves, which are like one-way doors that only let fluid travel one direction. Every time you move, your muscles squish some of your tissues, pushing lymph fluid down the vessels. On their way to the heart, many lymph vessels often connect to form one or two larger vessels, just like how the branches of a tree connect to eventually form the trunk.
Lymph nodes are small organs that filter lymph fluid as it travels through the lymphatic system. They are found at the branching points where many lymph vessels join together to make one or two larger vessels. Lymph nodes are also the home to lymphocytes, which are immune system cells that attack invaders. Lymphocytes are also known as white blood cells. Lymph nodes filter the lymph using antibodies, sticky substances produced by white blood cells. Antibodies in the lymph node cling to microscopic invaders and other garbage, filtering them out of the lymph as it passes through the lymph node. However, the lymph nodes can only filter so much at a time. When a person doesn’t feel well, sometimes their lymph nodes will get swollen because of all the lymph fluid, dead lymphocytes, and dead invaders that the lymph system has to filter. The green circles in the diagram represent lymph nodes.
Lymph nodes are just one member of a group of structures called the lymphoid organs. These organs include the tonsils, spleen, and thymus. In the spleen and thymus, lymphocytes grow and prepare for their work as immune system cells. The tonsils are unique in their role in the lymphatic system. These structures, located in the throat, have deep cavities that actually let environmental threats into the body so that the lymphocytes can become familiar with them and practice killing them. Additionally, there is lymph tissue surrounding the tonsils where many lymphocytes can grow.
Eight Essential Oils for Lymph Nodes
The lymphatic system isn’t as well-known as the circulatory system or the nervous system, but its function is incredibly important. Without it, your body wouldn’t be able to clean out all of the waste it produces every day. Next time you get not feeling well (which is hopefully not for a long time!), you’ll be able to appreciate all the good work being done by your lymphatic system.