We have approximately 500-600 lymph nodes distributed throughout our body; they are located just about everywhere. Although, they tend to occur in large clusters located in five major regions: The underarms, groin, neck, chest, and abdomen. In fact, our highest concentrations of lymph nodes are found in the armpit (axillary) and groin (inguinal) regions. These areas are special because it is where your extremities meet your core and major organs. There are typically 15–30 lymph nodes located in each of our armpits. Some of these nodes are deep within our tissue, but the largest cluster is superficial, occurring close to the surface of our skin.
What are lymph nodes?
Lymph nodes are 'kidney bean shaped' glands. Their natural size ranges between that of an olive to the size of a pin-head. Each lymph node is like a hub, intersecting many lymphatic ducts. Whereby lymphatic fluid can come and go from the node in any direction.
Lymph nodes, as you might guess, are a part of our lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is a major part of our immune system. Lymph nodes have been described as 'command centers' for immunological defenses. Dr. Derya Unutmaz, M.D. put it like this "Their purpose in life [Dendritic cells, sentinels of the immune system] is to capture the enemy, bring it to the lymph node — the command center — and present it to the general, the T cell, to activate a battle plan." Lymph nodes are also garrisons for a variety immunological cells, most notably T and B cells. Your lymphatic system, of course, doesn't work alone to accomplish total immune defenses. However, it plays a very important role, and without it, your immune system would not function.
Foreign particle filters
The main elimination channels of our body--the liver, kidneys, bowel, skin, lungs (the excretory system)--are very efficient at eliminating waste products from our bodies. However, the lymphatic system plays a special role in eliminating waste products that occur in between our cells. This includes large particles such as proteins, dead cells, viruses, bacteria, inorganic compounds, water, cholesterol, fats and other foreign bodies trapped in our interstitial fluid (fluid between our cells). In fact interstitial fluid is lymph fluid. It is only called lymph fluid once it passes (diffuses) into the lymphatic network, by way of the ducts called lymph capillaries. Lymph nodes are always at work filtering lymph fluid. Approximately two to three liters of lymph is filtered through our lymphatic system per day!
The underarm lymphatic network
As you might guess, the underarm lymphatic networks perform lymph filtering of nearby tissues, including the hands, arms and chest region. In fact, the lymph nodes in the armpit are often the first place that cancer cells spread to outside the breast, in the case of breast cancer. About one in three women with breast cancer have cancer cells in the lymph nodes in their armpit when their breast cancer is diagnosed. If you look at the above illustration, you will see the interconnections of the lymph nodes and capillaries in the chest region. To keep this area of your body healthy, proper lymph function must occur. Otherwise, normal immune function and waste elimination will not work fully and properly in this region.
To say the least, lymphatic function is a vital for life. The problems associated with lymphatic dysfunction are numerous and greatly varied. Lethargy, obesity, immune dysfunction, depression, loss of mental concentration are to name a few. The trouble with such wide and varied symptoms is that it becomes difficult to diagnose the root cause as lymphatic dysfunction.
Damage to lymph nodes and lymph capillaries can occur due to general trauma, local burns, systemic or local irradiation, systemic or local toxicity, systemic or local infections, lymph node infestation of parasites, physical compression, invasion or compression by tumors (cancer) to lymph nodes, etc. Interestingly, parasite infestation is one of leading causes, worldwide, of lymphatic damage. However, these occurrences are far fewer in the northern hemisphere than in the southern hemisphere.
The lymphatic system is a passive circulatory system. It does not have an active pump system, as is the case with our blood and heart. Nor does it's circulation occur from a peristaltic pump action, as is the case with our intestines. It is the movement of our body parts that pump our lymphatic system. Lymphatic dysfunction can simply occur from lack of exercise. This is why patients in hospitals who are bedridden will have 'lymphatic pumps' performed in some regiment. The act of which, by hospital staff, is simply flexing the calf muscles, back and forth, by hand, to resemble the act of walking. There are many degrees between optimal lymphatic flow and total blockage. In general though, any kind of inflammation in the lymphatic system, as in the examples of damage above, will result in various levels of lymphatic obstruction and dysfunction thereof.
Underarm chemical toxicity
Coming to light, slowly but surely, is the matter of underarm chemical toxicity. Chemicals applied to our skin are effectively ingested. In the case of underarm deodorants and antiperspirants the application of such chemicals are absorbed as a daily routine--perhaps twice daily, or more for those who do so. While the use of conventional personal care chemicals are presumed to be safe, there is present and growing evidence which has revealed this not to be true.
The lymphatic system is designed to identify and eliminate toxins from in between our cells. The complete elimination of these toxins is accomplished in concert with our other circulatory systems and elimination organs--the colon, liver, kidneys, skin, etc. The trouble is that when these elimination systems become inundated, under chronic toxic stresses, of one form or another, the system becomes further inundated. The result of which is toxins building up at a rate beyond our normal processing capacity--you may have heard of the bucket analogy, whereby the bucket eventually overflows. This is the point at which disease conditions set in.
The role of the superficial lymph node network of the underarms--the densest cluster of lymph nodes in the body--serves a critical role in a very important region; our chest, which houses some of our most vital organs. Chemicals applied to this area, the underarms, should be scrutinized to say the least.