As we venture into February's American Heart Month I'm reminded that the number one killer (of both men and women) in America is...heart disease, and it doesn't have to be this way. If we want to support our heart health, it's crucial to understand the lymphatic system's role in prevention. Blood and lymph always work together in a rhythmic "rinse cycle" of our body's fluid layer. Nutrients in, waste out. Let's explore this connection further in an effort to keep our arteries squeaky clean!
We've all heard of the cardiovascular system. The heart works to pump blood to and from our tissues to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the trillions of cells in our body. Okay, seems pretty straight forward, but what happens when our body has used everything up? It then becomes cellular debris. Where does this metabolic waste go?
While the heart and blood vessels typically take center stage when it comes to heart health, there's this silent hero working behind the scenes—our lymphatic system. Often overshadowed by its more famous counterpart, the lymphatic system is the other part of your vascular system that maybe you're not as familiar with. It plays a pivotal role in maintaining a healthy heart and circulatory system. Like, you can't live without it "pivotal".
Understanding the Lymphatic System:
The lymphatic system is a network of vessels, organs, tissue, and fluid that touches every other system in our body. It transports an, ideally colorless, fluid known as "lymph" throughout, and it's flowing just about everywhere but your hair and fingernails. Lymph is derived from the fluid that surrounds our cells. That right there should tell you how important it is! The lymphatic system's connection to our cardiovascular health is often overlooked, so let's take a look.
Fluid Balance: The lymphatic system acts as a drainage system, ensuring that excess fluid and waste products are removed from the tissues. This helps maintain optimal fluid balance in the body, preventing swelling and edema. Proper fluid balance is essential for cardiovascular health as it aids in maintaining healthy blood pressure levels.
Immune Function: The lymphatic system helps in defending the body against infection and diseases. Lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, are transported through the lymphatic vessels, patrolling for harmful invaders. A strong immune system is closely tied to cardiovascular health, as infections and inflammation can contribute to heart disease.
Nutrient Transport: Lymphatic vessels also play a role in transporting dietary fats and fat-soluble vitamins from the digestive system to the bloodstream. It transports them straight to the liver to be metabolized. This is crucial for our overall health, as these nutrients are essential for cardiovascular well-being. Proper absorption and transport of nutrients contribute to maintaining healthy cholesterol levels and supporting heart function.
Waste Removal: The lymphatic system aids in the removal of metabolic waste products and toxins from the body. Efficient waste removal is essential for preventing the buildup of harmful substances (plaque) that could negatively impact the heart and blood vessels. When plaque begins to accumulate within the arteries, its the lymphatics that do the clean up and remove the oxidized and inflammatory gunk that slows our flow.
Ways to Support the Lymphatic System for Cardiovascular Health:
Stay Hydrated: Proper hydration is key to maintaining a healthy lymphatic system. Dehydration means lower blood volume, which means...thicker blood. Bleh. We need the viscosity (fluid's resistance to flow or deformation) of our blood and lymph to be loose. Lymph is mostly made of water and drinking an adequate amount of it helps ensure this flow throughout the body, and supports its many functions.
Move More: Physical activity is not only beneficial for the heart but also for the lymphatic system. Blood and lymph rely heavily on muscle activation to get around. Move over heart, the push-pull forces of a muscle is the real engine that drives our fluid layer. The heart does the job when it absolutely has to (when we're not moving) but let's just say that...we're not designed to function this way. Our sedentary culture is wreaking havoc on our health and we have to move our way out of it. Do please notice that I didn't use the word "exercise". Movement and exercise are two very different things. To learn more, check out Katy Bowman's work here. Careful, it'll blow your mind.
Balanced Nutrition: We all know what not to eat, but I get it, food is hard. The S.A.D. diet (Standard American Diet) is the reason for so many cases of heart disease in America. It should come as no surprise that a well-balanced diet of real food, that includes essential nutrients, such as vitamins and healthy fats, supports the lymphatic system's role in nutrient transport. Focus on fresh foods that don't come out of a box or a can. If you can trace your food back to its original source that's great, but a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains is the goal. This should be a good jumping off point that'll help you determine what foods are best for you.
As we dedicate this February to American Heart Month, let's broaden our understanding of the systems that contribute to cardiovascular well-being. The lymphatic system, The Cinderella of Medicine, emerges as a key player in maintaining fluid balance, supporting the immune system, and facilitating nutrient transport. By recognizing and supporting the lymphatic system, we take a step closer to unlocking the key to a healthy heart and a vibrant life. You deserve a vibrant life. I want you to stick around as long as you can, okay?