What is your lymphatic system and why is it important?
In a nutshell, there are about 600 lymph nodes in your body. The lymphatic system is one of our body’s systems that functions together with the circulatory system that consists of lymph vessels, lymph nodes, and lymphoid tissues. The most important role of the lymphatic system is to absorb and transport large molecules (including protein and cellular debris) which are too large to be collected by veins and venous capillaries. In English, the lymph fluid is then transported to lymph nodes that act as “filtering stations” in the body. In the lymph nodes, cells from the body’s natural defense system, called lymphocytes, help fight bacteria and viruses. Needless to say, the lymphatic system is also a major part of your immune system.
The Lymphatic system has three main functions:
To maintain the balance of fluid between the blood and tissues, known as fluid homeostasis.
The lymphatic system helps maintain fluid balance in your body. It returns excess fluid and proteins from the tissues that can’t be returned through the blood vessels.The fluid is found in tissue spaces and cavities, and in the tiny spaces surrounding cells, known as the interstitial spaces- these are reached by the smallest blood and lymph capillaries.
It facilitates absorption of fats and fat-soluble nutrients in the digestive system.
Most of the fats absorbed from the GI tract are taken up in a part of the gut membrane in the small intestine that is specially adapted by the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system has what is called tiny lacteals in this part of the intestine that form part of the villi.These finger-like structures that protrude outwards are produced by the tiny folds in the absorptive surface of the gut. Lacteals absorb fats and fat-soluble vitamins to form a milky white fluid called chyle. Chyle contains lymph and emulsified fats, aka free fatty acids. It delivers nutrients indirectly when it reaches the venous blood circulation. Blood capillaries take up other nutrients directly.
It forms part of the body’s immune system and helps defend against bacteria and other intruders.
The third function is to defend the body against unwanted organisms. Without it, we wouldn’t make it past the first illness we ever got. Our bodies are constantly exposed to potentially hazardous microorganisms, such as harmful bacteria, pathogens, viruses (COVID-19 being the most prevalent), and other harmful toxins. The body’s natural first line of defense involves the following:
- Physical barriers, such as the skin (largest organ we have) to keep harmful microorganisms out
- Toxic barriers, such as the acidic contents of the stomach
- The “good” bacteria in the body (pre and probiotics)
As you can see, despite these defenses, pathogens often succeed in entering the body. When this happens, the lymphatic system enables our immune system to respond appropriately. However, when the lymphatic system is not working properly, it affects immunity, the health of our skin, causes swelling and water retention, and zaps our zest for life along with many other negative responses.