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Leonardo DaVinci, in 1508, was the first to describe the mesenteric connective tissue that connects our intestines to the wall of our abdomen. Since, the mesentery was always described as fragmented tissue that supported the structure of the large and small intestines, and not a continuous organ. The mesentery was thought to hold the intestines in place and support circulatory channels and nerves. The mesentery was considered primarily anatomical support, until recently!
In recent years, the mesentery that lines the entire intestinal tract from top to bottom (see illustration below) was found to be a major site for lymphatic-based immunity. In a recent study from the University of Limerick in Ireland, Dr. Calvin Coffey became the first to describe the mesentery as one continuous highly functional organ. (1,2)
As an organ, the mesentery is loaded with lymphatic, anatomical, vascular, neurological and connective tissue structures that are deeply involved in immunity, circulatory-vascular, hormonal and metabolic processes. (1,2) In fact, studies show that the lymphatic vessels in the mesentery are directly linked to the aging process, not to mention the main driver of intestinal immunity – which makes up some 70% of the body’s immune system.
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Aging and the Mesenteric Lymph
Age-related breakdown of the mesenteric lymph that lines the intestines can alter the delicate balance of the intestinal epithelium (skin) and the health of the microbiome — all three of which are linked to each other. These mesenteric lymph tissues are designed to deliver good fats for energy as well as send bad fats that are too big for the bloodstream to be processed and detoxified. As they break down with age, the body’s ability to remove toxins and deliver energy can be compromised.
Studies have shown that, as a result of increased oxidative stress and oxidative damage as we age, the lymph vessels and their pumping ability being to wear down. (4) Perhaps this is one more reason to avoid highly oxidized processed foods that are preserved with cooked and/or baked oils. Check your labels for cooked oils in anything that has been baked.
Aging has also been linked to a host of reductions in lymphatic duct efficiency, such as:
- Accumulation of fat in lymph ducts (3)
- Increased number of lymph duct bulges (3)
- Lymph duct wall thickening and fibrosis (scarring) (3)
- Decline in lymph wall elasticity (3)
- Significant decrease in lymph-collecting vessels in the small intestine in those over age 65 (3)
Most Important Half-Inch in the Body
In the past, I’ve referred to the junction between the skin that lines the intestinal tract and the lymph that surrounds the intestines as “the most important half-inch in the body.” New studies are suggesting that this area may be the most critical real estate in the body for optimal health and longevity.
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While medical textbooks have described the intestinal surface area to be as large as a tennis court, new studies are suggesting it might only be as large as a studio apartment. Regardless of the size, there is a growing body of knowledge pointing to the intestinal skin as ground zero for optimal health.
There are 3 distinct aspects of the intestinal real estate that have been linked the aging process. They are:
- The health and integrity of the intestinal skin (5,6)
- The health and integrity of the small intestinal lymph (3,4)
- The health and diversity of the intestinal microbiome (7)
A primary physical focus of Ayurveda was to maintain the integrity of both the intestinal skin and the lymph that lines the digestive tract. While Ayurveda did not describe microbes directly, we now know that the good microbes naturally proliferate with optimal intestinal and lymphatic health.