Sat | Nov 17, 2018

The lymphatic system, circulation

Published:Wednesday | September 10, 2014 | 12:00 AM
lymphatic system

WHEN SOMEONE mentions their circulation, they are usually referring to the system through which blood flows. It consists of the heart and the blood vessels - arteries, veins, and capillaries.

This blood-vessel pipeline system measures more than 60,000 miles and is your major transportation system that carries oxygen and nutrients to the various tissues while removing waste and toxins from them.

But there is also another important circulatory system at work in your body called the lymphatic system. Instead of red blood, it contains a clear fluid that surrounds all the cells of the entire body. It is formed when fluid leaks out of the walls of the smallest blood vessels called capillaries and bathes the tissues. This fluid is called lymph. It is collected, filtered and transported by the lymphatic vessels and channels from all areas of the body back to the blood-circulatory system from whence it came.

This lymphatic system is comprised of several elements - the fluid itself, called lymph, certain cells, vessels and ducts, plus other organs and special structures like lymph nodes, the spleen, thymus, tonsils and adenoids.

Functions of the lymphatic system

The lymphatic fluid, as it flows through the lymph nodes, is filtered. White blood cells in the nodes can then destroy any bacteria or viruses found in the lymph. Swollen glands often seen in the neck, groin or armpit are indicative of inflamed or blocked lymph nodes. Cancer cells that break away from a tumour often become lodged in nearby lymph nodes and cause a swelling. Because of this, doctors examine the lymph nodes in patients with infections or cancer.

The lymphatic system has an important role in fighting infections by helping the production of special white blood cells called lymphocytes and by using the nodes and spleen as filters. Thus, the lymphatic system functions as a part of the immune system. In addition, the spleen filters the blood to remove old red blood cells, bacteria and viruses and destroys them.

The flow of lymph

If the flow of lymph is impaired, the parts of the body that are affected become congested and fill up with their own waste. This otherwise healthy fluid now becomes a potential breeding ground for infection. Wherever fluid stagnates in the body, infection often follows. Many viruses, bacteria and parasites may remain trapped within the lymphatic system when proper drainage is absent. This results in physical ailments, degenerative disease and accelerated ageing.

Many people have congested lymphatics without knowing it. The lymphatic system's critical role in preventing disease and promoting healing may well be the most overlooked function of the human body.

Lymphoedema is the medical term for swelling that results from blockage of the flow of lymphatic fluid. A common example of this is the swelling of the arm that often occurs after breast surgery for breast cancer. This is because the lymph nodes in the armpit are often removed as part of the surgery and this interrupts the normal flow of lymph from the arm.

An even more exaggerated form of lymphoedema occurs in a condition called elephantiasis where the leg may become swollen with dark thick skin reminiscent of the leg of an elephant. This is due to the blockage of the lymphatic vessels draining the leg by a parasitic worm called filaria.

Improve lymphatic flow

Exercise

As the lymphatic circulation has no pump like the heart, it depends on the movement of the body and the contractions of the muscles to move the lymph. Physical exercise greatly enhances lymphatic flow. Breathing exercises are particularly important. Each time you breathe in, a negative pressure is created in the chest and lymph is sucked up from the abdomen and extremities back into the blood circulation. Regular deep breathing is, therefore, very important.

Rebounding is a special form of exercise using a small trampoline called a rebounder. The vibrations and shock waves created by this form of exercise powerfully enhance the flow of lymphatic fluid.

Massage

Massage, in general, but particularly lymphatic massage, is wonderful in preventing and treating lymphoedema. Lymphologists are specially trained in using this technique, along with special decompression bandages to facilitate drainage.

Hot and cold therapies

This may include infrared saunas or hot baths alternating with cold water soaks. The relaxation and contraction of the vessels from the fluctuating temperatures enhance lymph drainage.

Good nutrition

Good cellular nutrition, with adequate proteins and lots of vegetables and fruit, along with a good fluid intake, is essential for a healthy circulation. Again, I recommend the cellular nutrition concept and programme.

Supplementing with lots of the omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidants, especially vitamin C, in high dosages, will reduce inflammation and improve the tone and strength of the blood and lymphatic vessels. Circumin, ginger and garlic are also helpful.

Treat the cause

Remember, it is important to determine and treat the underlying problem, not just the symptom. A sluggish lymphatic system may be a symptom of a potentially serious condition. Treat the cause.

You may email Dr Vendryes at tonyvendryes@gmail.com or listen to An Ounce of Prevention on POWER106FM, on Fridays, at 8:15 p.m. Check out his website, tonyvendryes.com for his new book, 'An Ounce of Prevention - Particularly for Men and the women who care for them'.