This talk was presented in Madison, WI on Feb. 16th., 2015 for the Madison Herbal Institute.
Basic Function of the Lymphatic System
The lymphatic system is a part of the circulatory system. It is home to our immune system, is an accessory to our waste removal systems and eliminatory organs, and a part of the nutritive process.
The lymphatic system is made up of: Lymphatic vessels, nodes, tissues, and fluid. A few brief lymph jobs and the role that the parts of the system play in our health are as follows:
- The lymph fluid is home to the immune system is a warrior. It is a system with smarts and strategy that learns and grows with each difficultly that it overcomes. When functioning optimally, it is a system that transmutes negative energy for elimination. The lymph fluid holds this energy.
- The spleen, a large lymph node, acts as a blood reservoir, circulates waste down to be removed, and nutrients up into the body to help build and nourish cells. It is also responsible for the destruction of old red blood cells, and assisting their passage to the liver for further conjugation and processing for elimination.
- The lymphatic system is responsible for around 90% of nutrient absorption through the villa in the small intestine. The system also returns fluid, and fats to the liver to be prepared for blood circulation to round out the digestive and nutritive process.
- The nodes support detoxifying and eliminatory organs by filtering toxins from lymph fluid before returning said
fluids to interface with the blood.
- The nodes produce some white blood cells.
- Lymphoid tissues have several important organs. One such organ is the thymus gland. It produces T cells. As we reach puberty the thymus grows. At puberty, when sex hormones begin production, it begins to atrophy and is replaced by fat. This atrophic process is called involution.
- The tonsils-which trap and collect bacteria and viruses as we inhale, protecting the rest of our body.
General Symptoms of Lymphatic and Spleen Deficiency
- Symptoms of Lymphatic Deficiency: recuperates slowly when ill, eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis, asthma or hay
fever, digests fat poorly
- Signs of spleen deficiency: edema, anemia, dampness in the stomach and swollen lymph nodes. There is decreased immune function, loss of appetite and decreased digestive function, to name a few.
How To Move the Lymph?
Lymphatic fluid is essential to our health, and the health of our other body fluids, known as humors- the blood, bile (black and yellow), and phlegm. Hippocrates first wrote about the humors as a diagnostic tool around 400 B.C. The lymph was not consciously known of then, and so wasn’t taken into account as a humor, or valued body fluid.
Of course, blood was thought of very differently then. It was believed that blood was made fresh everyday, and was then used up to be reproduced the next. If someone didn’t use up their daily supply, that old blood was deemed “bad” to varying degrees and in multiple ways.
As if turns out, very little of what we have as fluids are replenished or made fresh daily. 95% of bile is recycled, with only 5% being made fresh at a time. Much of the nearly 6000 ml of digestive fluids and enzymes we produce daily are reabsorbed, and blood stays with us, baring injury or menstrual cycles, with elements of it coming to the end of a life cycle and remade.
That brings us back to lymph. The lymphatic system was finally fully illustrated and identified in humans by a Danish physician by the name of Thomas Bartholin in 1652. This discovery came a year after a French scientist named Jean Pecquet found the lymphatic system in animals.
Lymphatic fluid is a part of the circulatory system, and is essentially plasma that has leaked from porous capillaries. Lymph vessels absorb this viscous fluid, circulate it, scan it for pathogens, clean it, and dump it back into blood circulation.
Lymph vessels are lined with smooth muscle that have the capacity to give lymphatic fluid unilateral flow. And while lymph doesn’t have the same pumping mechanism that systemic blood circulation has in the heart, movement of lymph still benefits from the heart, the pressure involved in moving blood, and the pressure exerted by fluid leaking from capillaries. In fact, keeping fluid intake to recommended levels helps lymph circulation, and keeps immune system function high. The old saying push fluids when ill is for a good reason. Fluid intake supports lymphatic function and circulation, thereby supporting the immune system in doing the best job it can.
Of course, there are other ways to benefit lymphatic circulation. Massage and lymphatic massage, which has proven to be beneficial to many. But we also need to move our bodies to keep lymph flowing and healthy. Just as our respiratory system, heart and circulatory system benefit from exercise, so does our lymphatic system. A few minutes a couple times a day of stretching, laying in a bath, swimming, and walking are some on the easiest and least expensive ways to move the fluid. They are also things we should be doing in general to improve our whole body health.
And what about herbs? There are a lot of awesome plants that support lymph health. What follows are some of those great plants, and example strategies for lymphatic swelling, both acute and chronic.
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