In the lesson, we will explore the lymphatic system and how it functions. You will learn about the parts of your body that make up your lymphatic system and what nutrients are absorbed there.

Lymphatic System

When talking about the lymphatic system, it helps to think of it as your body’s drainage system. It is a network running throughout your body, consisting of fluid called lymph, tubes, or vessels that transport the lymph, and other organs that contain lymphatic tissue. Lymph is a transparent fluid that contains water, cells, proteins, and other substances. It is made up of whatever needs to be drained or moved from one place to another. Lymphatic vessels are structures of the lymphatic system that only carry fluid away from the tissues. The smallest lymphatic vessels are called lymph capillaries.

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Organs that contain lymphatic tissue are lymph nodes, tonsils, spleen, and the thymus. Lymph nodes are oval-shaped organs, which carry lymph fluid, nutrients, and waste material between your body tissues and bloodstream. Most lymph nodes are found in the neck, armpit, and groin areas of your body.

Tonsils, which are located on both sides of the back of your throat, consist of groups of lymphoid tissue that trap bacteria and viruses entering through the throat and produce antibodies. The spleen, the largest lymphatic organ in your body, purifies your blood and helps your immune system to recognize and attack foreign objects and disease. The thymus, a lymphoid gland comprised of two identically sized lobes, located behind your sternum and in front of your heart, helps your body make a type of white blood cell, which helps protect you from infections.

Functions of the Lymphatic System

The lymphatic system has three main functions. The first function: it returns excess tissue fluid from your tissues to the blood. The second function of the lymphatic system is the absorption of fats and fat-soluble vitamins from the digestive system, followed by transport of these fats to your blood circulation. The third function, and the most well-known function of the lymphatic system, is defense against disease.

The lymphatic system is part of your immune system, which is your defense against infection. This is a very important function of the lymphatic system. Lymph nodes and other lymphatic organs filter the lymph to remove attacking microorganisms.

Nutrient Absorption

Most fats and fatty acids are actually absorbed in the lymphatic system first before being transported into the blood. The lining of your small intestine consists of villi, tiny, finger-shaped structures that project out. In the middle of each villi are tiny lymph vessels called lymph capillaries, or lacteals. Fats are absorbed through the wall of the villi and enter the lacteal, where they form part of a fluid called chyle, a milky mixture consisting of lymph, fats, and free fatty acids. Lymphatic vessels then transport the fats into the bloodstream.

Lesson Summary

In summary, the lymphatic system is a network running throughout your body, consisting of fluid called lymph, tubes, or vessels that transport the lymph, and other organs that contain lymphatic tissue. The lymphatic system has three main functions. The first function: it returns excess tissue fluid from your tissues to your blood; the second function is the absorption of fats and fat-soluble vitamins from the digestive system and followed by transport of these fats to your blood circulation; and the third function, and probably the most well-known function of the lymphatic system, is defense against attacking microorganisms and disease.

Most fats and fatty acids are actually absorbed into the lymphatic system first before being transported into the blood. Fats are absorbed through the wall of the villi and enter the lacteal, tiny lymph vessels called lymph capillaries, where they form part of a fluid called chyle, a milky fluid consisting of lymph, fats, and free fatty acids. Lymphatic vessels then transport these fats into the bloodstream.

Learning Outcomes

When the lesson ends and you have studied sufficiently, gauge your capacity to achieve these objectives:

  • Describe the structure and main organs of the lymphatic system
  • Enumerate the three main functions of the lymphatic system
  • Understand how nutrients are absorbed by the lymphatic system