Digestive fats from our food are meanwhile absorbed in the small intestine and then drawn into the lymphatic system for transport to the bloodstream via the cysterna chyli. This milky mixture of digestive fats and lymph is known as chyle.
The now enriched and purified lymph travels up your torso through the thoracic duct along the left side of your esophagus. It merges here with the lymph from your left trunk and arm, and finally returns to the bloodstream at its junction with the left subclavian vein, located above your heart and under your collarbone. A much smaller volume of filtered lymph fluid from nodes and trunks along the right side of your head, neck and arm is fed back into the bloodstream by the right lymphatic duct, on the right-hand side of your collarbone.
Amazingly, the lymphatic system has no central pump but depends on muscle contraction and manual manipulation to move fluid. Deep breathing is another essential way we can enhance movement of lymph through our bodies. And importantly, the organs of elimination (skin, kidney, liver, bladder, small and large intestines) need to be doing their jobs well so that the lymph does not get overwhelmed with waste products.
If the lymph system gets blocked or overrun (due to illness, surgery, toxic overload or lack of activity), lymph fluid backs up. This can cause swelling, joint pain, nausea and fatigue. Stagnant lymph may be stored within nodes for a long period of time but eventually becomes too toxic for the body to handle well.
Negative effects of chronic lymph blockages
Think again of a river: a healthy river runs clean and clear. A brackish river chugs along, thick with soot and silt that gets snagged, pocketing pollution in small pools along the way. Eventually, the sluggish river can become a breeding ground for bacteria and disease. The same is true for your lymph.
Because lymph cleanses nearly every cell in your body, symptoms of chronic lymph blockage are diverse but can include worsened allergies and food sensitivities, frequent cold and flu infections, joint pain, headaches and migraines, menstrual cramps, arthritis, fibrocystic breasts, breast tenderness, sinusitis, loss of appetite and GI issues, muscle cramping, tissue swelling, fatigue, mental fuzziness, mood irregularities, depression, parasites, skin breakouts, acne, and cellulite. In general, you may feel tired and toxic, with a heaviness in your abdomen. In Chinese medicine, practitioners call this “excessive damp” that undermines your whole health.
Stagnant lymph can also interfere with the system’s ability to cleanse more potentially hazardous concerns, such as bacteria and cancerous or diseased cells from organ tissue. Viral infections, bacteria, and cancerous or mutagenic cells move through the lymph fluid, where they are targeted and destroyed in the lymph nodes — when the system is adequate to the task.
Lymph nodes counteract infection by filtering the lymph fluid, engulfing and removing any bacteria and foreign substances identified. Once a particular pathogen is detected, lymph nodes help customize antibodies to neutralize it. In a nutshell, immature lymphocytes mature in the bone marrow and thymus and are sent off to work in the lymph nodes and lymph tissue. There they wait until an offending substance happens along in the lymph fluid. Then, with the help of other defensive cells called APC’s (antigen-presenting cells), they target the invaders and create specific antibodies to get rid of them.
Swelling in certain node sites generally indicates an infection in the part of the body drained by those nodes. It’s a good sign when you develop swollen glands; it means your lymph system is doing its job.
The function of the spleen and immunity
The largest organ in your lymph system, your spleen is actually like a big lymph node, except that it filters your blood rather than your lymph fluid. The spleen houses a concentrated amount of immune cells and is designed to bring lymphocytes into contact with the blood, making it a major player in your ability to ward off blood-borne diseases and antigens. The spleen also removes worn-out red and white blood cells, platelets, and any other hazardous blood-borne debris.