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 lymph 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.
The lymphatic system is one of the most crucial systems within the body. Read on to find out how it functions.
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