Have you ever had a clogged pipe backing up to you? If yes, you know how dreadful the whole scene is! And if not, it is something similar to one of your scariest dream coming to life. Yes, we are talking about a clogged lymphatic system!
A clogged Drainage System!
Well, pipes are supposed to connect and convey fluid from one point to another. And if they do get clogged up somewhere, it can cause a lot of trouble, specially around the areas which are not within an easy reach!
The fluid won’t get to where its supposed to reach. And the building up fluid might damage the plumbing system altogether. In fact, if all that fluid gets backed up somewhere; the pipes could just burst altogether!
Our Body’s Drainage and Plumbing System – The Lymphatic System
The lymphatic system is one of such systems of our body. It is the one that carries out the function of drainage and plumbing to each and every cell.
Not only does it drain, it also filters the body’s fluids through a fluid known as lymph. If it gets clogged up somewhere, there will be a price the body has to pay for that.
Ayurveda and the Lymphatic System
Rasa, fluid of life, is one of the 7 dhatus. It flows round the body, filtering and cleansing and helping to fight infections. If anything happens to impede the free flow of rasa round the body, it gets stored up, it could result in any one or more of:
- Water retention,
- Itchy and dry skin,
- Clammy hands and feet,
- Weight gain,
- Swollen breasts
- Perpetual fatigue, and lots more.
Rasa is so essential to life that any problem with it could lead to such a wide variety of effects.
Lymphatic System Organs
The Lymph Capillaries
The lymphatic system starts out as tiny structures known as the lymph capillaries at the most lowest level. These lymphatic capillaries have bulbs at their end to collect interstitial fluid from the tissue spaces.
The interstitial fluid is now known as lymph when it gets into these capillaries. They also have valves that ensure that lymph flows unidirectionally.
Lymph capillaries now join up eventually into progressively larger units, growing as more tributaries join them along the way.
The Lymph Ducts
At the highest level are the lymph ducts. The right lymphatic ducts receive all lymph fluid from the upper right side of the body, and the thoracic duct drain all lymph from all parts of the body below the abdomen and the upper left side of the body. This means that the thoracic duct drain the most lymph, i.e., greater than two-thirds of the entire lymph fluid drain into the thoracic duct.
The Lymph Nodes
All along the course of these lymph vessels are the lymph nodes, or lymph glands. These lymph nodes have the function of filtering the lymphatic fluid that pass through them, removing water and electrolytes, while retaining proteins and lipids.
These lymph nodes also serve to destroy bacteria and remove other toxic substances from the lymph that flow through them. This is why they are also called defense barriers.
Lymph nodes can usually be found at the elbow, axilla(armpit), base of the neck, groin area, etc. When painful swellings sometimes appear in these places, it is because the lymph nodes in that region have run into some sort of trouble, or they’re fighting a battle for you against microbes.
Swellings in lymph nodes are indicative of infections, such as the swelling at the base of your neck when you have a cold. If a lymph node swelling remains persistently for a long time, you should see a health consultant. Medhya Herbals is always open to you with holistic diagnosis and treatment.
Formation of the Lymph – Rasa Dhatu
When blood passes via blood capillaries in tissues, 90% of the fluid continue on in the normal cardiovascular circulation (that is, from arteries to the veins and back to the heart), while the remaining 10% pass out from the blood capillaries to the lymph capillaries. This is where it is now known as lymph.
The lymph has similar composition to the plasma, except that it has large proteins in addition. The proteins are too large to pass through the blood capillaries, so they drain out into the tissue spaces and into the lymph capillaries. Along the way, fats and more proteins are added, while water is being removed at the lymph nodes, such that it becomes more and more concentrated.
Everyday, about 2 litres of fluid are collected and filtered in the lymphatic system.
Lymphatic System Functions
The lymphatic system has functions that are very vital to life:
- It returns proteins from tissue spaces to the blood: Remember that the protein can not pass from the arterial end of blood capillaries to the venous end, and they drain into the tissue spaces instead. Well, lucky thing for us is that these proteins are picked up by the lymph capillaries, into the lymph trunks, from where they can now be put back into the blood circulation.
- Redistribution of fluid in the body: The constant flowing of the lymph helps to ensure equilibrium of fluid.
- Bacteria, toxins and other foreign substances are removed when lymph is filtered in the lymph node.
- Lymphatic system helps to maintain structural and functional integrity of tissues: If there’s an imbalance in lymph causing an accumulation of fluid, affected tissues and organs will not be able to function optimally.
- Intestinal fat is absorbed in lymph through the Mucosa-Associated Lymphoid Tissue(MALT).
- The lymphatic system also plays an important role in immunity, in the production, maturation, and transport of lymphocytes.
Common Diseases that affect the Lymph System
Lymphedema occurs when there is an obstruction to the flow of lymph, causing fluid to back up, get retained in the tissues, and making the tissues swell.
Lymphedema can also occur post-surgically if some lymph nodes were removed in the course of the surgery. The removed lymph nodes means that lymph can’t be drained from that area, leading to lymphedema.
Lymphadenopathy results from infections. When there is an infection, the lymph nodes begin to produce more lymphocytes(cells to fight the infection), and the accumulation of cells cause swelling that is usually painful.
This is the most dangerous of the diseases affecting the lymphatic system. It is a cancer. It occurs when lymphocytes begin to multiply uncontrolled. Cancerous cells from an associated organ can also metastasize and gain entrance into the lymph nodes and multiply there. For example, if there is cancer in the breast, it can get into the axillary lymph nodes.
The tonsils are a group of lymphatic organs located at the back of the throat. They are strategically positioned there to ‘taste’ the air that is being inhaled through the nose or the mouth. Infectious substances and other debris can sometimes stick to the tonsils, and they are attacked there by white blood cells. This results in a clump that is known as the tonsil stones. Tonsil stones are usually swallowed and passed out as waste, or they might be manually removed if that doesn’t happen.
This is characterized by multiple cysts or lesions formed form lymphatic vessels. It can be due to genetic mutations.
Why Does fluid in the Lymphatic System accumulate and cause swelling?
Sometimes the lymph fluid flow can get obstructed, or accumulate, and this could be due to:
- Valve insufficiency, where the valves supposed to help the lymph flow along are not efficiently working.
- Sedentary lifestyle: muscle contractions help push lymph along when we move or exercise. Staying at one point for a long time causes fluid to accumulate, such as is seen in the swollen legs when one has remained sitting at a spot for a long time.
- Recently drained lymph: if lymph has accumulated in an area, the skin around that part has been stretched to accommodate the swelling. If the fluid is drained, the skin is going to remain stretched for a while, having lost its elasticity, and it will sag. Due to this, it is unable to provide assisting pressure to the lymph vessels under it to move fluid along.
Maintaining a Healthy Lymphatic System with Ayurveda
- Exercise, and do it regularly. It helps to move the lymphatic fluid along.
- Have massages. If done right, it helps to move fluid along and to even manually drain accumulated lymph.
- Manual Lymph Drainage and Complete Decongestive Therapy can be used to cure lymphedema and post operative edema.
- Stay Hydrated. This cannot be overemphasized because, afterall, your lymphatic system is 96% water!
- Maintain a healthy digestive system. The largest cluster of lymph nodes are found in the intestines (i.e. the MALT mentioned above). If the digestive system is congested or unhealthy in anyway, it greatly affects the malt and by extension, the lymphatic system.
- Avoid tight fitting clothes, as these can obstruct lymph flow and lead to edema.
- Pranayama, and other mindfulness exercises like yoga, go a long way to minimize the impact stress can have on your lymphatic system and health as a whole.
Diet to support functioning of lymph circulation
- Drink warm, purified water. Take fruits that have high water content, like lemons, oranges, cucumbers.
- Avoid soda, alcohol, excessive sugar, processed juices to prevent lymphatic system overload.
- Eat raw red foods like cherries, beets, cranberries, vegetables, etc. They are rich in antioxidants, bioflavonoids and other enzymes that keep lymph moving freely and that help break down toxic build up.