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All About the Spleen

Updated on March 26, 2013
The spleen is essential to many of the body's regulatory functions. It is connected to a rich supply of arteries and veins.
The spleen is essential to many of the body's regulatory functions. It is connected to a rich supply of arteries and veins.

The spleen is a crucial part of the human body. Not only is it integral in the immune system, the spleen is also the final destination in the circulatory system.

What is the spleen?

The spleen is the largest lymphatic organ in the human body. When you encounter the lymphatic system, think filtration and drainage. Lymph nodes, lymphatic tissues, and lymphatic organs all serve to filter blood and drain bacteria and excess tissue fluid.

The spleen is located on your left side and right underneath the diaphragm. It is cushioned by the stomach, kidneys, pancreas, and ribs 10 to 12. It has a concave bean shape, and at its indentation (hilium), we see the splenic artery, the splenic vein, and the lymphatic vessels which allows for the transport of blood and fluids.

Inside the Spleen

Passing through the hilium and one of the blood vessels, we will find that there is a mix of red pulp and white pulp. The capillaries that make up the spleen are very permeable, which makes fluid exchange easy.

The red pulp contains red blood cells, where these erythrocytes are filtered. In fact, the spleen is known as the erythrocyte graveyard. The capillaries in the spleen trap these old red blood cells, where they are broken up. The dead fragments are then digested by macrophages in the spleen or, is sent to the liver.

The white pulp consists of immune cells whose primary function is defense. They are primarily macrophages (phagocytotic cells) or lymphocytes (specialized killing/surveillance cells). These cells monitor the blood stream and dispose of foreign material.

Problems with the spleen

Because the spleen is highly vascular (is made up of many capillaries), it is a very fragile organ and is prone to injury and rupture. Even though the spleen is secured by surrounding organs, and protected by the ribs, abrupt abdominal trauma can cause the spleen to rupture. Some of the causes include automobile accidents and sports-related injuries.

A ruptured spleen can be fatal, and has to be removed immediately in a process called splenectomy. If a large portion of the spleen is compromised, the blood can leak into the abdomen, which causes irritation and pain. With an increasing amount of blood loss, the patient will not be able to deliver oxygen to the cells in his body. Therefore, it is crucial to perform a splenectomy once a significant amount of the spleen has been ruptured.

Although a person can live without a spleen, he will be more vulnerable to disease. Therefore, it is very important to take care of the spleen.

Caring for your Spleen

Diet is the most important factor when it comes to taking care of your spleen, as well as all the other organs of your body. Most of us are exposed to an inflammatory diet (think sugar, processed flour, and high fats). These inflammatory ingredients promote illnesses such as hypertension, obesity, and even cancer. One of the side effects of inflammation is increase in blood pressure. This forces the spleen, as well as other organs, is forced to work harder. Another thing worth mentioning about inflammatory foods is that they are basically addictive. Many studies have shown that sugar and processed flour increases one's desire for more sugar and processed flour.

Sugar also creates a highly-acidic environment. The spleen and your other organs prefer to function in a slightly-basic environment. Therefore, drinking water to neutralize the acidity is vital to keeping your spleen healthy. Controlling the amount of sugar you eat is another good tip. Try to gradually replace the source of your sugar with those you find in fruit.

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