Diet plays a critical role in all of our body’s systems, as well as our day-to-day functions. Our bodies require essential nutrients in order to function properly; some nutrients cannot be created by the body and therefore must be consumed through diet. If such nutrients are not adequately consumed, there can be a significantly negative impact on an individual’s overall quality of life.
One vital system, the lymphatic, illustrates the importance of such essential nutrients.
The lymphatic system works in parallel with the circulatory system by returning lymph fluid to the circulatory system for the elimination of toxic waste products through the liver, kidneys, skin, lungs and colon. The lymphatic system is comprised of organs, lymph fluid, lymph vessels, and lymph ducts; the system’s main functions are: fluid balance, immune function, and the absorption, transport, and metabolism of fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins from the diet.
The lymphatic system’s role in the absorption, storage, and transport of fatty acids has become a focus in research as a result of increasing rates of obesity in the United States. An excessive intake of carbohydrates, fats, and occasionally proteins, can be broken down, metabolized, and stored as fat, if the dietary intake is greater than the energy expended for normal physiological functions. When these dietary fats are broken down and absorbed by enterocytes through the intestines, they are then transported in the blood as large, macromolecular lipoproteins, called chylomicrons. They then flow through the lymphatic system, where they can be distributed to the rest of the body. Used as energy by the muscles, or stored as fat in adipose tissue, lipoproteins, such as VLDL (very-low density lipoproteins) and LDL (low-density lipoproteins) are associated with increased risk of heart disease.
The concentration of lipids in the circulating lymph has been found to vary depending upon a person’s eating habits. Lymph flow tends to spike 1-2 hours after feeding. Research suggests this may be the mechanism by which the body compensates for the sudden rise of digested dietary fat, and may help drive fat through lymphatic vessels, where it can be distributed to the rest of the body. Studies have shown that when lymphatic function is compromised, fat metabolism and transport may be impacted. It is possible that a lifetime of high fat dietary consumption that continuously stresses the lymph flow will adversely affect fat transport and metabolism, but this is now only a hypothesis.
Additionally, the lymphatic system plays an important role in the body’s immune response. The lymphatic system is responsible for transporting antigens to lymphoid tissue, in response to disease and infection. Moreover, the lymphatic system responds to inflammatory stimuli, where dendritic cells are able to transfer signals to lymphatic vessels and lymph nodes. Many diseases associated with obesity, such as metabolic syndrome, are marked by chronic inflammation, and such inflammatory conditions have been shown to alter lymphatic system pathways and functions.
More research is needed to determine how changes in lymphatic systems functions due to diet and obesity will affect health in the long term. What is known is that the lymphatic system plays an integral part in metabolism and the immune response, and aids in the removal of toxins. With various environmental factors, such as pollution, pesticide use, and sewage systems, as well as genetic factors that may be beyond our control, it is important to consume foods that will help our body’s immune and lymphatic systems function properly. By eating a well balanced, antioxidant rich diet, we can limit the stress put on our bodily systems, allowing it to function at peak levels. Below is a list of foods that will help ensure that the lymphatic system will function optimally:
- Field Mushrooms
To learn more, contact us to speak with our Registered Dietitian Jacqueline Stein.