Ever feel sore, swollen lumps the sides of your neck at the beginning of a cold? Those are lymph nodes. Because we tend to ignore it when we're not ill, many of us don't really know what the lymph system does--or why it is so crucial to human functioning and even survival.

Imagine an underground one-way superhighway of vessels that carry a special, clearish liquid--lymph--throughout your body. This network generates special cells that attack pathogens and help balance the fluid levels in your organs. Lymph carries these and other unwanted substances to the waste processing plants of the body, the intestines and the kidneys.

Here's a more detailed view of how the extensive lymph network works in cooperation with other major body systems.

Your heart depends on lymph fluid for its operation. Lymph, however, flows in one direction only--from the lymph nodes to the heart. Unlike blood, the lymph system doesn't have a mechanism for moving its vital fluid. Instead, quiet, slow lymph movement is stimulated by your breathing and the movement of your muscles and joints.

Your immune system is monitored by the lymph system. Lymph delivers vital nutrients and water to cells and carries wastes--debris, dead blood cells, toxins, and even cancer cells--away from them. Any pathogens among the waste are detected and filtered out of the lymph, then carried to the lymph nodes for processing by lymphocytes. These specialized white blood cells work in conjunction with the spleen to keep your immune system functioning.

Your digestive system needs fatty acids, and they are delivered by the lymph system. The lymph network that surrounds the intestines works to filter out undesirable pathogens and absorb fats and fat-soluble vitamins from the digestive system. Through lymph, these nutrients are then transported to the cells that need them.

If the lymph system's regular flow is impaired, blockages in the lymph nodes and vessels result, producing swelling from the accumulation of fluid. However, taking some easy preventive actions can improve your lymph system's function and keep it from becoming sluggish.

1) Deep breathing
It may sound overly simple, but breathing deeply is a very effective way of helping stimulate the flow of lymphatic fluid.

2) Exercise
When muscles and joints move, lymph moves, too. Exercise helps to keep the lymphatic flow energized. Inactivity, on the other hand, can slow lymph flow.

3) Hydration
Plenty of purified water will keep the body's fluids at an appropriate volume and running smoothly.

4) Herbal supplementation
Astragalus, echinacea, goldenseal, and reishi mushroom extract help keep your lymph and immune systems strong in their fight against infections.

Your lymph network has been busily working with all those other body systems every day. It's a constant job. Check the list above again. If you're not doing everything you can to assist your lymph system, add those missing simple items to your routine. Fortunately, it doesn't take major action on your part to give this hardworking vital system an extra boost--and the reward is worth the extra effort.

Author's Bio: 

Roberta Roberts Mittman, L.Ac., Dipl.Ac., M.S., is a nutritional and lifestyle consultant, holistic mindset mentor, and nationally board-certified acupuncturist. Using natural, drug-free techniques, Roberta opens the door to complete mind-body health. Roberta's goal is not only to relieve patients' illness and discomfort, but to help them set realistic goals for physical and mental preventative care and overall wellness. Roberta believes in empowering individuals to be their own best healers.