By Dr. Kaycee Reyes
A small bump on your neck or armpit? Calm down, as not all bumps are a cause for concern. So before you rush to the ER and have it examined, learn what these small bumps are, also called kulani in Tagalog, and its function in our body.
Each part of our body plays a vital role to keep it healthy, and the lymphatic system is no less important than the rest. The lymphatic system is part of two larger functions, the circulatory system and the immune system. It is comprised of lymphatic vessels that transport lymph, a fluid that comes from the body’s interstitial fluid or tissue fluid. The interstitial fluid acts like a middleman between the blood and cells, depositing nutrients and collecting waste. As 90 percent of this fluid goes back to the circulatory system called venous blood, the remaining 10 percent becomes lymph.
Lymph, aside from carrying waste, also contains white blood cells that are known to protect the body from infection and disease. As lymph passes through the lymph capillaries, it goes to the lymph nodes, where lymph is filtered of its waste before it goes back to the circulatory system. Lymph nodes can increase or decrease in size, but once destroyed, they do not regenerate. On average, lymph nodes are one centimeter in diameter; however, some reports say that the normal size is 0.5 centimeter or smaller. In the human body are around 600 to 700 lymph nodes, most are located in the neck, armpits, and groin area. Aside from the lymph capillaries, vessels, and nodes, the tonsils, adenoids, thymus, and spleen also comprise the lymphatic system.
The spleen, located above the kidney, is the largest organ in the lymphatic system. It filters red blood cells, detects possible infections, and fights it. Together with lymph nodes, they produce a type of white blood cell called lymphocytes that help fight off infections or stop them from spreading. Another type of white blood cell, called macrophages, is also located in the spleen. It destroys bacteria and other potentially harmful microorganisms. The thymus, on the other hand, is located near the heart. It produces and stores lymphocytes until it has matured and moves to the lymph nodes. This gland is largest and is only active at puberty and starts to get smaller as one ages until it is gone. Another part of the lymphatic system, the tonsils are a cluster of lymphatic cells in the throat and are usually the first to detect possible infections. All these work in harmony to clean the body of waste, ward off infection, and protect the body from harmful or damaging viruses and bacteria.
The lymphatic system is so important; and yet, a lot of people know so little about it. Without a properly functioning lymphatic system, a lot of diseases may arise, such as lymphadenitis, where the lymph nodes fill with pus, may be caused by a urinary tract infection or tonsilitis, among others; lymphedema, where the lymphatic system is not working as it should, causing swelling of the affected area; or lymphoma, or cancer of the lymphatic system. Swollen glands, on the other hand, which some are more familiar with, may be caused by a lot of things, from allergies, heart disease, eczema, lupus, high blood pressure, cellulite, arthritis, excessive sweat, even obesity! Given these, it is important to keep your lymphatic system healthy by:
- Exercise or movement – the lymph only flows upward and does not pump on its own. It relies on the body’s movement to circulate. Therefore, it is important to move your body in any way you can may it be through exercise, sports, or rebounding (moving vertically such as jumping that are believed to be more effective than horizontal movement such as walking).
- Deep breathing – that reportedly removes more toxins. Breathe for five seconds, hold for 10, and exhale for 10.
- Dry skin brushing – this improves circulation that helps the lymphatic system as well.
- Water – keep yourself hydrated to help remove as much toxins as possible.
Knowing the lymphatic system may shed light on why and what lymph nodes are for. If you have swollen nymph nodes, do not panic, and it may be a response to an ongoing infection. Observe its size and feel, and if it persists long after the infection is gone, please consult your physician. As mentioned above, taking care of your lymphatic system is easy and very doable. Start today and your body will definitely thank you tomorrow! Love your lymph!