The human lymphatic system is one of the most important mechanisms in our bodies and it performs several critical functions. Without it, we would not be able to survive and as such it has evolved to be a crucial component of human longevity on the planet. In fact, most of the animal kingdom’s members all have lymphatic systems and they have developed to perform functions such as removing interstitial fluid from organs and muscles around the body, transporting and absorbing fatty acids as part of the digestion, working with the immune system to transport white blood cells to the bones and more recently it has been discovered that the lymphatic system also transports antigens around the body during an immune response.
As such, the lymphatic system is considered a part of and highly related to the cardiovascular system, the respiratory system, the digestive system and the immune system.
What makes up the lymphatic system?
The lymphatic system is made up of lymphatic vessels (tubes that carry fluid, they look like blood vessels), lymph fluid (a clear liquid that flows one way towards the heart and also lymph nodes, which create the lymph fluid.
What is the function of the lymphatic system?
The best way to understand what function it does is to compare it to a filtering or cleaning system.
The body, over the course of everyday use, will accumulate many substances which are produced as side effects of various other functions in the body. The digestive system, the cardiovascular system, the respiratory system and the circulatory system all create a variety of byproducts that need to be taken to the waste processing plant of the human body – the intestines and the kidneys.
The lymph nodes throughout the body create lymph fluid so that these byproducts can be taken through channels to where they can be processed for waste.
Lymph fluid is also needed for vital heart functioning, so it flows uni-directionally from the lymph nodes to the heart along the lymphatic vessels.
Fatty acid transport and the metabolism
The lymp system is also a key component of the body’s digestion and metabolism. Lymph vessels which are sometimes called lacteals can be found in the gastrointestinal tract, mostly in the small intestine. The small intestine normally passes on minerals and vitamins to the blood so that it can go through the liver for processing, but in the case of all fats, the lymphatic system takes them out of the small intestine and transports them around the body for other purposes.
It is interesting to note in this respect, that dietary fat in this sense is directly used for one main purpose and this system is instrumental in transporting it around the body. Whether fat is being used for quick energy the body needs right now or stored as body fat for energy to be used later, the lymphatic system is heavily involved in the scaffolding that makes up this function.
What kind of pathologies exist which can affect our lymphatic system?
Lymphedema, which is swelling due to a building up of lymph fluid, infections, mononucleosis and cancer (the most common being Hodgkin’s lymphoma) are all sicknesses of the lymphatic system which may or may not be treatable.
Description: The lymphatic system is one of the most crucial systems within the body. Read on to find out how it functions.
The lymph system (also known as the lymphatic system) is a network comprising of lymph vessels, lymph ducts, lymph nodes and organs. It is a vital part of the body’s circulatory system and responsible for the production and transportation of lymph to the bloodstream. The lymph system also includes the spleen, adenoids, tonsils and thymus.
The Lymph system can be divided into two parts; the lymphoid tissue and the conducting system.
The lymphoid tissue is made up of white blood cells and lymphocytes which are primary agents in the body’s immune system. Parts of the lymphoid tissue may be densely filled with lymphocytes. These regions are referred to as lymphoid follicles. Other parts of the lymph tissue may be made up of structurally organized lymph nodes.
The conducting system is responsible for the transportation of lymph fluid. It is made up lymph vessels, lymph capillaries and the left and right thoracic ducts.
As a network, the lymph system performs a number of functions
- It handles the absorption and transportation of fatty acids from the digestive system. This is transported as chyle and fats.
- The lymph system transports APCs (antigen presenting cells) to the lymph nodes.
- The lymph system handles the removal of interstitial fluid from tissues.
- Lymph vessels in the lymph system are responsible for the absorption of fat within the gastrointestinal tract.
- The lymph system is responsible for the transportation of white blood cells from the lymph nodes into the bones and back.
- The lymph system serves as the first line of defense for the body. It plays a crucial role in the body’s immune system, filtering the lymph fluid for bad foreign matter. The lymph network protects the body by signaling the release of lymphatics to fight infections upon the detection of microorganisms.
Lymph is a thin coagulable clear-to-white fluid that consists of Proteins, fat and white blood cells.
Lymph nodes are small bean shapedstructure that cannot be felt easily or seen. They occur in clusters in different parts of the body such as the chest, abdomen, neck, groin and armpit. Lymph nodes play an important function. They are responsible for the production of the immune cells used by the body to fight infection. The amount of white blood cells produced by the lymph nodes is increased during bacterial infections. The lymph fluid is also filtered by the lymph nodes, removing foreign materials such as cancer cells or bacteria.
Diseases of the Lymph System
The lymph system monitor’s the body’s fluid level and protects it from infection. Like most organs and networks in the body, the lymph system is prone to diseases. Some of these include
- Lymphangiomatosis: Lymphagiomatosis is a disease that affects lymphatic vessels causing the formation of multiple lesions or cyst.
- Lymphedema: This is the swelling (usually in the limbs) caused by an accumulation of lymph fluid in the affected region. This is usually because a part of the lymph system has been damaged or malfunctioned in some way. Lymphedema may also affect other areas of the body some of which include the face, abdomen and neck.
- Lymphangiosarcoma and lymphangioma: Both are tumors which can affect the lymph system. However, lymphangioma is a benign tumor while Lymphangiosarcoma is a malignant tumor.
- Elephantiasis: Elephantiasis is a thickening of the skin and hypertrophy of different body parts as a result of infected lymphatic vessels. Elephantiasis is caused by a parasite and commonly affects the genital and limbs.
- Lymphoma: Lymphoma is a term used to describe different types of cancer that originate from the lymph nodes or lymph tissues within the lymph system. Lymphoma can be divided into two different categories non-Hodgkin and Hodgkin lymphoma.
Learn about painful lymph nodes.
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