What is your lymphatic system?
The lymphatic system is a support system to the cardiovascular system and plays a large role in your body’s immunity.
Sounds important, right? Yep! It totally is. And yet, you probably don’t really know what it is, even if you have heard it before.
I like to think of the lymphatic system as the “tech crew” of your body… you don’t really notice them until there’s a problem. And we should all be appreciative of the tech crew, right?
Just a quick shout out to my tech friends…
How does your lymphatic system do all of that?
If you think back to your biology class on the cardiovascular system, you might recall something called capillaries. These are the tiny little blood vessels that form a network between the arteries and the veins in your body.
Well, the capillaries have a very thin cellular wall that allows the fluid to balance by being pushed out of the system to become “extracellular fluid”. This is a generic term for water, small proteins and whatever else gets pushed out by these capillaries.
The lymphatic system has a system of lymphatic vessels similar to the cardiovascular system. It pulls in the extracellular fluid (which is known as “lymph” once it enters a lymphatic vessel). The lymph is then circulated to the nearest lymph node.
- Your tonsils are actually a very well known lymph node.
- You have about 600 lymph nodes in your body.
- You create about 3 liters (roughly .8 gallons) of lymph per day.
The lymph node is a bundle of cells that act as a filter for the lymph.
Once the lymph has been filtered, it continues to travel through the lymphatic vessels which takes the lymph ultimately back to the cardiovascular system near both of your collarbones. The heart then pumps it out again with your regular blood flow.
In this way, the lymphatic system can kinda be pictured like a pit stop for the fluid in your blood. It takes a break from circulation to be filtered and processed by immune boosting lymph nodes and then it’s sent out again to circulate.
How to Tell if You Have Lymphatic Congestion
Now that you understand what your lymphatic system does, you can start to consider the results of that system not working well. Lymphatic congestion is an umbrella term for basically a slower than usual or just flat out inefficient lymphatic system.
Remember the pit stop analogy I used earlier? Well, lymphatic congestion is like if half of your pit crew decided to go to lunch during the big race. You might still get back on the track but it will take longer for pit stops to happen and the crew might forget to change a tire or check your oil properly… or whatever it is that pit crews do. (I’m kinda at the end of my rope as far as this analogy goes, but we’ll just all pretend you understand what I mean, okay?!)
The signs of lymphatic congestion are pretty easy to spot if you know what you are looking for. This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a fair overview of the most common signs.
Enlarged Lymph Nodes
In general, your lymph nodes shouldn’t be easily visible or definable. If they are, you likely have some congestion and inflammation going on within your lymphatic system.
One of the most common signs of an impaired lymphatic system is swelling. Often the swelling happens in the hands or feet.
Even if you don’t have swelling in your hands and feet, if you have poor circulation it might be a sign of lymphatic congestion! And often if you pay attention to it, your feet might swell just a bit when you compare first thing in the morning to right before bed. These two together are highly suggestive of a slow lymphatic system!
Brain Fog or Depression
This is complicated to explain briefly, but check out this article that discusses the connection between your brain and your lymphatic system.
Sinus Infections or Recurrent Colds and Flu
If you often have problems related to sinus drainage, it might be because your lymphatic system is not filtering the lymph efficiently to remove enough of the junk from your extracellular fluid.
Digestive Problems including Constipation, Food Sensitivities, Worsened Allergies or Parasites
Your digestive tract is supported with the lymphatic system which helps to deliver nutrition to cells all over your body. There’s a lot more information on this aspect of the system, but here is a great resource to help you understand it if you want to dig deeper.
Whew! I know that’s a lot of dense information. I really tried to make it as fun as possible without skipping over too much detail. But if you have read this part, you deserve to do a happy dance because this knowledge is really revolutionary in taking control of your own health!
Wait, What Can I Do About Lymphatic Congestion?
Great question! In my next post I will be sharing with you some super easy ways to support this important behind the scenes system to improve your overall health. If you want to make sure you don’t miss it, sign up for the newsletter so you get a link straight to your inbox, along with lots of other valuable information!
If you enjoyed learning about the lymphatic system and want some more in depth resources, check out these links. They will go more in depth with some of the anatomy and physiology of it all. Some of them also discuss diseases and dysfunctions of the lymphatic system.
And if you prefer a video based presentation in college lecture style, check out Khan Academy.
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