The cardiovascular system consists of the heart, blood vessels and approximately 4 – 5 liters of blood. The heart, our hardest-working organ, produces electrical impulses which cause the heart muscle to contract and relax, generating a heartbeat. Blood vessels are intricate pathways that allow blood to flow swiftly and efficiently to all areas of the body. Blood transports necessary nutrients and oxygen to the cells and carries metabolic waste away in exchange. The cardiovascular system has three major functions:
- Transportation of blood to all body tissues to deliver essential nutrients, oxygen and hormones, and to remove waste and carbon dioxide. Pulmonary circulation transports deoxygenated blood away from the heart to the lungs. Systemic circulation carries well- oxygenated blood to the tissues, removes waste and returns oxygen depleted blood to the heart.
- Protection of the body through white blood cells, red blood cells and antibodies.
- Regulation of homeostasis processes such as maintenance of body temperature, acid-base (pH) balance, and fluid balance.
The three major types of blood vessels are:
- Arteries are highly elastic vessels that carry blood to and from the heart under force or blood pressure. Smaller, more muscular arteries contract and expand to regulate blood flow and pressure.
- Capillaries are the smallest and most plentiful blood vessels that carry blood close to the cells of the tissues where exchanges of nutrients, oxygen and wastes take place.
- Veins are the return vessels and, as such, are subjected to much lower blood pressure levels.
Blood is made up of red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and liquid plasma, which perform the following functions:
- Red blood cells, known as erythrocytes, are the most common type of blood cell and make up approximately 45% of blood volume. Red blood cells are produced inside red bone marrow at the rate of 2.4 million per second. Red blood cells are the primary oxygen transporters and circulate for approximately 120 days before being removed by macrophages, scavenger cells that rid the body of worn out cells and debris.
- White blood cells, or leukocytes, play an important role in immune function. White blood cells neutralize bacteria, release histamines, fight viral infections, and produce antibodies .
- Platelets, or thrombocytes, are responsible for clotting of the blood and scab formation.
- Plasma is the liquid portion of the blood that makes up 55% of blood volume. Plasma, which is about 90% water, functions as a transportation medium for glucose, oxygen, carbon dioxide, electrolytes, nutrients, and cellular waste products.
Cardiovascular or heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Statistics show that approximately 70 million Americans have some form of cardiovascular disease. Heart disease causes the death of more than one million people each year. So what can go wrong with the cardiovascular system? Some of the more serious illnesses include:
- Arteriosclerosis is a condition in which the walls of arteries become thickened and hard, interfering with the circulation of blood.
- Atherosclerosis is a condition in which fatty material accumulates on the interior walls of arteries, making them narrower. Studies show that smoking, diabetes, a high-fat, low-fiber diet, and a sedentary lifestyle all contribute to atherosclerosis.
- Coronary heart disease arises when atherosclerosis occurs in the coronary (heart) arteries. When the blood flow in these arteries is restricted, the heart muscles do not receive the proper amount of blood and oxygen. Chest pain or pressure, called angina, may occur. If the blood flow is blocked, cardiac muscle cells begin to die and a heart attack may result.
- Heart failure is a chronic, progressive condition in which the heart muscle is unable to pump enough blood through the heart to meet the body’s needs for blood and oxygen.
- Hypertension is a chronic medical condition in which the blood pressure in the arteries is elevated. As a result, the heart has to work harder than normal to circulate blood through the blood vessels. Persistent hypertension presents a major risk factor for stroke, heart attacks, heart failure and chronic kidney disease.
- Electrolyte imbalances can bring about heart spasms, poor heart rhythm and sudden onset heart attacks.
The heart is one of the few organs of the body that never rests. In less than one minute, your fist sized heart can pump blood to every cell in your body. In one day, 100,000 heartbeats transport blood though 60,000 miles of branching blood vessels. The average human heart , beating at 72 beats per minute, will beat approximately 2.5 billion times during an average 66 year lifespan. Any steps that you take to stay healthy can reduce your risk of heart failure. To keep your cardiovascular system in optimal health:
Exercise the heart muscle. Physical activity helps increase heart strength, increases oxygen in the blood, reduces blood pressure, lowers bad LDL cholesterol and raises HDL cholesterol. Make daily exercise a habit to maintain a healthy heart. Thirty minutes of daily heart-pumping aerobic exercise can help prevent heart disease and stroke.
Eat a heart healthy diet. A healthy diet helps prevent obesity, high blood pressure and high blood sugar which all affect heart heath. Opt for a low fat, low cholesterol, low sodium, high fiber diet. Be sure to include lots of fruits and vegetables and foods containing antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. Avoid unhealthy foods such as trans fats, simple carbs and processed foods.
Get a good night’s sleep. Strive for an optimal 7 – 8 hours nightly of restorative sleep. Sleep is crucial for good health. Short sleepers who get less than 6 hours each night are at higher risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Maintain healthy blood pressure numbers. Excessive blood pressure damages the blood vessel walls leading to plaque buildup. Exercise, a nutritious diet and sleep all help to maintain healthy blood pressure levels.
Hydrate. The cardiovascular system, the nervous system and the endocrine system work together to keep body fluid levels balanced. Dehydration raises blood pressure, as more force is required to pump blood through body.
Manage your cholesterol levels. Cholesterol levels don’t skyrocket overnight. Unless caused by a predisposition or family history, high cholesterol levels are a result of poor lifestyle habits, lack of exercise, poor diet and chronic stress.
Reduce stress. Chronic emotional stress is a major risk factor for heart problems. Too much constant stress can cause inflammation, arterial plaque buildup, stroke or heart attack.
Laughter really is good medicine. A good laugh can cause the blood vessel walls to relax increasing blood flow for up to 45 minutes afterwards.
Stop smoking. Smoking contributes to plaque buildup in the arteries. Studies show that male smokers have an 86% higher risk for heart failure compared to those who never smoked. For women smokers, the risk is 109% higher.
Watch your weight. The obesity factor increases risk for heart failure by 75% for men and 106% for women.
Taking care of your heart is very important for overall health. The key to preventing heart disease is managing your risk factors. The more healthy lifestyle habits you adopt, the lower your risk of developing heart disease.
Supplements to support cardiovascular health:
Cardiogenics by Metagenics features a synergistic blend of L-taurine, minerals, raw heart concentrate, and hawthorn berry specifically formulated to provide nutritional support for cardiovascular health.
CoQ10 120mg by Pure Encapsulations enhances energy levels in every cell in the body, providing increased energy and exercise tolerance, and optimal nutritional support for the cardiovascular system.
VesselMax by Ortho Molecular is formulated with a blend of nutrients that support the integrity and health of veins to promote efficient vessel function.
Healthy Heart by Priority One contains a unique formula of herbs and nutrients known to support cardiovascular health.
Vessel Care by Metagenics is a comprehensive formula that helps maintain healthy homocysteine levels and support overall cardiovascular health.