a unit, the ‘lymph/immune system.’ The ancient physicians did not have the capacity to understand these mechanisms as we do today, but their more intuitive approach allowed them, nervertheless, to name, describe, and treat this system. They understood that the local parts of the organism needed to be fed and cleansed, so they imagined an organ system that was responsible for nourishing the tissues with the materials received from the digestive tract and carrying away waste. Both in Chinese and Greek/Arabic medicine this organ system is called the ‘spleen.’ This organ is the largest in the lymphatic or lymph/immune system, so their intuitive conception was appropriate. For all practical purposes, the old physicians were able to treat the simpler diseases of the lymph/ immune system. This would include swollen lymphatics (called ‘scrofula’ in Greek medicine) and poor tissue feeding and cleansing (called spleen deficiency in China or ‘spleeniness’ in Western folk medicine). The inhabitants of northern regions, from Europe to China to Japan to North America possessed tonics to help them cope with the stresses of winter – calendula, astragalus, shitake, comptonia, sumach, ledum, to name a few. Today we would call these ‘immune tonics.’ They also knew how to treat allergies and diminish immune overactivity. We can even say that the old physicians were prepared for the ravages of the immune system which have appeared in modern times, because the protease inhibitors used to control AIDS are derived from a Chinese herbal remedy, bittermellon (Charantia momordica). But we cannot boast that they were the masters of some of the complex blood and immune diseases that stump doctors today as they did in the past. In order to understand the lymph/immune system and its treatment we are going to break it up into parts: the great internal ocean, the lymphatic system, and the immune system. We will also examine the separate parts of the lymphatic system, such as the spleen, thymus, and thoracic outlet, as well as the different types and functions of immune cells, and the cascades which power up an immune response when there is an invasion from without. The pathological and treatment concepts of the old physicians will also be related to the modern perspective of the system.
The Great Internal Ocean Life began in the ocean. The single cell organism consists of a membrane enclosing a portion of this ancient water, within which various ‘organelles’ undertake the processes of life. Single cells aggregate together to form multicellular organisms. The water surrounding the cells in these organisms also reflects this primal ocean. These internal waters are called the ‘interstitial fluids.’ Through these waters move the oxygen, food, replacement parts, and water needed to nourish and support the single cell. After consuming the necessities of life, the cell dumps its waste products into the internalized ocean to be carried away for elimination. These clean and dirty contents are all mixed together in the waters around the cell. However, the trash is always being sorted out so that waste products will not overwhelm the system. Oxygen, food, and replacement parts are brought in by the blood capillaries, which discharge their cargo across the capillary lining into the interstitial fluids, where they become available to cells. Meanwhile, cellular garbage is carried out through the veins. Some of this material is too big, so it is carried away by the lymphatic ducts. A constant sloshing around of the interstitial fluids is needed in order for this feeding and waste- removal to take place. The interstitial fluids do not have their own pump, so rely on the in-and-out movements of the diaphragm to squeeze the waters slowly through the body cavities. This moves the fluids much more slowly that the blood moves in the cardiovascular system. For instance, it would take a particle about two and half days to move throughout the body and back to its original spot in the fluids while it would only take twenty minutes in the blood. The diaphragmatic pump is assisted by the movements a person undertakes during daily life. The more sedentary the lifestyle, the less the internal water gets jostled around. Paraplegics and quadraplegics have trouble with this mechanism. The traditional exercises used to move the lymph and interstitial fluids are horseback riding and trampoline-jumping.