The lymphatic system, Liver & Detoxification pathways
January is the month of the detox. No matter where you look, after you’ve taken the last bite from your last minced pie, you don’t have to look far to find a new fad.
But the body is in fact incredibly nifty. It can detox all by itself. So, lets take a look at one of the ways in which it manages to look after itself and how, perhaps the best thing to do this January is simply support it in doing so.
The lymphatic system is a network of tissues and organs which help the body eliminate toxins, waste, and other unwanted compounds.
Its like the sewer system for the body. Like the blood system, the lymphatic system is made up of many vessels that branch all around the body.
It is subset of both the circulatory and immune system. Without it, neither of them would function. It has a few general functions:
The system returns fluid from tissues to the blood. Plasma, carried around by blood vessels, leaks out and delivers nutrients to cells and tissues throughout the body. Most of this plasma then drains back into the blood vessels, but a small amount is left behind along with waste products (from the work carried out by the cells), fat, pathogens or toxins and damaged cells. This is what forms the substance lymph.
Lymph flows around the body and is filtered through lymph nodes which contain lymphocytes. These are white blood cells that fight infection. The lymph nodes filter the fluid and alert the rest of the immune system to any pathogens they have found. For that reason, the lymphatic system is a key element in immunity.
It also absorbs and transports fats – lacteals are specialised lymphatic capillaries of the small intestine which absorb digested fats.
Lymphatic flow is low, as in veins. Vessels contract rhythmically and the flow is controlled by one-way valves. Body movement along with the pulsing of arteries help to move lymph along.
The lymphatic system consists of:
Spleen – which acts as a blood filter,
Thymus – stores immature lymphocytes and prepares them to become active T cells,
Tonsils – first line of immune defence, sampling bacteria from the nose and mouth,
Peyer’s Patches – found in the small intestine,
Appendix (in humans only, dogs do not have an appendix) – stores good bacteria.
The tonsils, Peyer’s patches and appendix (in humans) form what is known as MALT, or mucosa associated lymphatic tissue. In short, MALT are positioned to destroy bacteria that breach the mucosal membrane from outside, and develop memory lymphocytes for long term immunity.
But there is also skin associated lymphatic tissue, or SALT. The skin does in fact have its own immune system consisting of T and dendritic cells. All of these elements of the lymphatic system need to be running well to support both the circulatory and immune system. If they aren’t, lymphatic dysfunction can result. This often results in swelling because it can’t collect fluid and return it to the bloodstream, poor fat utilisation and low immune function. Blockages from scar tissue can too prevent the flow of lymph around the system.
Perhaps the biggest burden to the lymphatic system is the load it must manage. As we have mentioned, one of the functions of the system is to remove waste products. The higher the exposure to toxins, the more the body needs to process and subsequently eliminate.
Detoxification is carried out by a range of mechanisms and this comes in particularly handy if one pathway is overwhelmed, another can pick up the slack.
This brings us to one of the other pathways in which ours and our dog’s bodies detox.
The liver neutralises a range of toxic chemicals, both those produced internally (waste from used hormones or neurotransmitters for example) and those from the environment, like air pollution, pesticides and food additives. It does this by filtering the blood to remove large toxins, synthesising, and secreting bile and lastly enzymatically disassembling unwanted chemicals found in the body.
This enzymatical detoxification occurs in three phases.
Phase I directly neutralises chemicals and changes them into new metabolites. These are then processed by phase II enzymes. This is known as the conjugation phase, which in short, liver enzymes attach small chemicals to the toxin. There are many ways in which this is done, it all depends on the type of chemical the liver is trying to manage. Phase I results in high levels of reactive oxygen species so antioxidant levels are key in modulating potential damage.
Phase II is nutrient demanding and sufficient levels of key vitamins and minerals like vitamin A, C, E, B1, B2, B3 and iron are essential. There has also been data to suggest that foods like dandelion can support the enzymatic detoxification pathway.
Phase III is the elimination phase.
For optimal excretion of toxins through the digestive system, gut health is vitally important. Maintaining the mucosal barrier is key for gut health along with supporting motility. Prevention of absorption through trapping of potential toxins is also an effective way of mitigating toxin exposure and this is a key feature of many clay products. The kidneys will also filter and process toxins from circulation, excreting them as urine.
The skin also forms as an elimination pathway. Whilst dogs do not sweat, the skin has a high rate of cell turnover, taking toxins with them each time. Not only that but ensuring a healthy skin barrier goes some way to prevent toxin penetration in the first place.
As we know, the skin provides the first line of defence for the immune system. It has two main methods of protecting. It has a microbiome all of its own, which can eliminate potential pathogens and by its physical structure, it prevents the outside getting in! Ensuring this physical structure means providing the body with the nutrients it needs to build it. This includes protein, fat and a range of vitamins and minerals like Vitamin A, E, C, zinc, copper and selenium.
The skin, especially the epidermis, is organised into layers with a distinctive lipid composition. Linoleic acid (LA) is the most abundant fatty acid present in the epidermis. The presence of LA directly correlates with barrier function of the skin and flaxseed is a source of LA. B vitamins are also needed to efficiently produce new cells, and the skin structure requires healthy new cells at a high rate.
What is particularly interesting is that often, dysfunctions in any one of the body’s detoxification pathways can manifest as skin issues like itching, hives, rashes and so on. One of the more common symptoms of liver disease is itchy skin due to bile salt deposits under the skin.
As we have mentioned, the body can produce its own waste products from used hormones or neurotransmitters, but it is also exposed from external toxins too.
There can be issues in any of the phases of detoxification, or the lymphatic system can stagnate. One of the most common reasons is simply over-exposure. The body cannot work quick enough to process the toxins.
It is thought that in the 25 years between 1970 and 1995, the volume of synthetic organic chemicals produced tripled from about 50 million tonnes to approximately 150 million tons, and this number has grown year on year since. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK268889/
Without anywhere to go, toxins remain and can start wreaking havoc.
Supporting Detoxification Pathways
The lymphatic system is a major player in supporting both the circulatory and immune system. So, their function is synonymous with its optimisation.
The most important thing to do to support detoxification is to avoid exposure in the first place, so consider how much you and your dog are exposed to:
* Heavy smoke
* Medications like steroids, antibiotics, and painkillers,
* Heavy metals
* Cleaning products
* Air fresheners
* Eating foods cooked at high temperatures
This list is not exhaustive, but it is a place to start.
The lymphatic system flow is associated with respiratory and muscular pump, so movement is vital. Whether you and your dog are walking or running, you need to move. Be mindful of the health of your dog, if he struggles with his mobility, then take it slow. Also, move in line with his development, do not overdo it with your 12-week-old puppy!
There are key nutrients that are vital in supporting detoxification pathways and these include:
* Vitamins, A, B2, B3, folate, C and E
* Minerals including iron, calcium, copper, zinc, magnesium and selenium
* Milk thistle
* Artichoke to stimulate bile flow
There are of course genetic alterations which means you or your dog may be an over-detoxifier or under-detoxifier. This can happen in any of the phases causing an imbalance. So even if you seem to be doing everything right, the body can have other ideas. Here, speaking with a qualified practitioner is essential.
The body is incredibly complex and is more than capable of detoxifying, all by itself. It’s essential to limit exposure where possible and provide the nutrients for the body to do exactly what it needs to do.
Written by Lisa Hannaby - Bsc. Psych. Hons, MSc Human Nutrition