The Circulatory System

Like other vital parts of the amazing human machine, the circulatory system was designed to last 100 years or more, given proper care. Unfortunately, owner negligence contributes heavily to early breakdown. In fact, as far as health and longevity are concerned, the deadly combination of ignorance and apathy often far outweigh the wearing-down process that is a normal part of aging. Throughout the Westernized world (including Russia and China), circulatory problems are now the number one cause of death. In the U.S. alone, approximately 30 million people suffer from some form of circulatory distress.

To encourage overall longevity, smooth running ability and continued strong and energetic pumping, NSP has compiled a few facts, figures and tips about the circulatory system. Use them in good health!

In the Beginning

Within a month of conception, the cluster of cells that will, in the course of time, become a human being begins throbbing, signaling the development of a primitive heart. Scarcely four weeks more pass before an intricate network of veins and arteries the size of a pea forms and subdivides into a tiny replica of the four chambers that will one day make up the adult heart. As the fetus grows, so does its vitally important

Although most of the functions of the heart remain dependent upon the mother throughout the entire pregnancy, in the latter stages the organ becomes strong enough to beat on its own. Even so, until birth the baby is cared for and nourished through the mother's placenta. An umbilical cord provides a supply line that furnishes food and oxygen for the baby, and also removes waste. When at last the birthing moment arrives, the baby emerges a separate individual; almost as soon as its first cries are sounded, its pulmonary and circulatory systems undergo a change that renders them self-sufficient.

How it Works

Technically speaking, the circulatory system is a masterpiece of organic activity. Composed of a network of 60,000 miles of blood vessels and a pint-sized, powerhouse pump known as the heart, it services more than 2,000 gallons of blood per day, feeding and replenishing other organs and making life possible.

In an adult, the heart is normally an 11 ounce, fist-sized organ that literally pushes blood through arteries, veins and capillaries. It does this by means of muscular contractions sparked by electrical impulses from the heart's pacemaker (sinoatrial node). All of the cells within each of the chambers magically work on cue. First, the right side sends blood to the lungs. There carbon dioxide is removed and oxygen is added, turning the blood a bright red color. Then the blood is pumped to the left side of the heart and sent via the aorta to the rest of the body.

To survive, each of the body's approximately 1 billion cells must be nourished. This is the job of the blood, with the heart and vessels acting as facilitators. After depositing the necessary nutrients with each of the cells, the blood returns to the heart, carrying with it waste products it has picked up along the way. These are eliminated through a filtering process in the lungs and kidneys.

By now the supply of oxygen within the blood is nearly exhausted, and it is time to restock its supplies and begin the journey again. Incredibly, the whole process has taken just 20 seconds.

During the course of an average life, the heart pumps tens of millions of gallons of blood. It is estimated that the amount would easily fill a 24-foot-wide cylinder to a height greater than the Empire State Building.

Perhaps more impressively, the circulatory system has the computer-like ability to direct greater and lesser amounts of blood to various areas of the body according to their immediate needs. This explains why athletes often forego eating just prior to a match. During the process of digestion, the gastric organs require more blood to complete their work. As if that weren't enough, the heart is also wired through the nervous system to respond to a large variety of physical and emotional stimuli. Witness the quickening of the heart at the touch of a loved one.    

What Can Go Wrong

Most circulatory problems are caused by a blockage in an artery, which is known as atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. No one knows for sure why this happens, but the prevailing theory states that something causes the protective inner lining of an artery wall to be injured. Once impaired, the collagen in the lining is exposed. That, in turn, attracts platelets and toxic substances from the bloodstream, which enter the artery wall. Eventually, the process leads to a buildup of debris, narrowing of the artery and finally, blockage.

Interestingly enough, although the heart has a continual flow of blood streaming in and out of its chambers, it is unable to take the nourishment it needs from this source. Rather, it must rely on its own miniature circulatory system, which branches off from the aorta or main channel. Here tiny but extremely important vessels called coronary arteries provide the means to feed the heart. Like other arteries, they are also subject to blockage. And herein lies a potential and fairly common tragedy, because when coronary arteries cease to function as they should, the heart is deprived of the oxygen and nutrients it needs. Starved, it becomes damaged and, at worst, dies.

Success Story on Atherosclerosis

There are several factors that contribute to circulatory problems, including high blood pressure (hypertension), high levels of cholesterol in the bloodstream, smoking, obesity, heredity, lack of exercise and emotional stress. Blood pressure refers to the force at which blood courses through arteries and veins as it 'journeys to the various parts of the body. It is determined by the total amount of blood in the body (which may vary from individual to individual and even time to time), the intensity at which the heart has to work, and the resistance to flow offered by the artery walls. When blood pressure is elevated above a safe level, it can speed up the process of damaging the blood vessels. It can also lead to personality changes and may affect the heart, brain and kidneys.

Cholesterol Management

Cholesterol is a type of animal fat that is either manufactured by the liver or absorbed through the diet. Although most often it is described in villainous terms, it is actually necessary in some forms for good health. Cholesterol helps the body metabolize carbohydrates and manufacture its own vitamin D. It also is a prime supplier of certain essential hormones. However, problems occur when cholesterol and other fats start lining the insides of arteries, narrowing them and making them susceptible to deposits of plaque. This hampers the flow of blood, and consequently, the supply of life-giving nutrients and oxygen.

Do you know what your cholesterol level is? When was the last time you had it checked? Or have you ever had it checked? How are you doing with your cholesterol management? And do you need to be concerned about it?

Let's look at some statistics

The average American eats 165 pounds of meat, 276 eggs, 17 pounds of butter or margarine and 18 pounds of ice cream annually. Daily, the average American consumes the equivalent of a full stick of butter in fat and cholesterol. This diet contributes to a 1-2% increase in the cholesterol accumulating in the arteries each year.

Remember, high cholesterol levels are not something you can feel. To determine if your blood cholesterol level is contributing to your risk of heart disease, have it tested by a qualified health professional through laboratory analysis. Cholesterol is manufactured in the liver and is absorbed from the diet. Since the major lipids or fats are not soluble in blood, they are carried in the bloodstream by protein carriers called lipoproteins. These lipoproteins vary in size and are termed high density lipoprotein (HDL), low- density lipoprotein (LDL) and a very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL).

All cholesterol is not responsible for heart disease. HDL and LDL mainly carry cholesterol and play opposite roles in the body. HDL's are the heaviest and have the greatest amount of protein. As they move through the body, they are able to collect cholesterol and transport it to the liver. There, the cholesterol is processed and then removed. Since it tends to clean up excess cholesterol, HDL has been called a scavenger. LDLs, on the other hand, take cholesterol from the liver to cells, where it is used for hormone synthesis. LDL is also a constituent of cell membranes, or arterial plaque deposits. High LDL levels can contribute to atherosclerosis.

A ratio of at least one LDL to three HDL is desirable for circulatory system health. Obesity and a sedentary lifestyle are chiefly responsible for a reduction of HDL levels. HDL levels can be raised through reducing dietary fats and cholesterol, increasing aerobic exercise, not smoking and maintaining ideal body weight. The American Heart Association reports that ideal cholesterol ranges are 130-190 mg / dl.

Clinical studies have identified that cholesterol levels higher than 200 mg / dl are related to rapid increases in the incidence of cardiovascular disease. It has been estimated that one-half of American males exceed the limit. People with blood cholesterol levels higher than 265 mg / dl have four times the risk of developing heart disease than those with levels below 190 mg / dl. Cholesterol management is the "Big Three" risk factor most related to nutritional factors. The FDA Consumer reported, "The consensus of medical opinion is that high blood cholesterol is related to the development of coronary artery disease, and that changes in diet could help reduce

Cutting back your intake of animal foods will cut back your intake of dietary cholesterol. Plants contain no dietary cholesterol. In addition, fat-modified diets can lower blood cholesterol by 30 percent or more. Reducing dietary fat is centered around reducing saturated fat intake. A surprising source of saturated fat may be the nondairy creamer used in coffee. A study by University of Nebraska Medical Center professors found that 22 out of 25 non-dairy creamers contained coconut oil. Coconut oil is more saturated than cream, butter, lard or beef fat. Be aware of other prepared foods containing coconut oil.

Another important consideration is increasing the ratio of polyunsaturated fats to saturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats lower cholesterol by increasing lipoprotein breakdown and removal, and lowering the synthesis of lipoproteins in the liver. Also, the essential fatty acid content, such as linoleic acid, is beneficial. It decreases platelet aggregation and serum cholesterol. Linoleic acid can't be manufactured in the body; safflower oil has a good content of linoleic acid.

Hydrogenated vegetable oils have fewer polyunsaturated fats than do meats and dairy products. They actually have more saturated fats than butter, whole milk and meat, while offering few or no vitamins.

Monounsaturated fats are also receiving more attention. Once thought to be neutral in heart health, they are now considered beneficial. Olive oil and almond oil are high in monounsaturated fats.

An important part of cholesterol management is eating a diet high in complex carbohydrates. Certain fibers in complex carbohydrates are able to carry cholesterol out of cells and tissues, including arteries, then to the liver where it is excreted. Carrots, cabbage and broccoli contain calcium pectate, a type of pectin with cholesterol- lowering effects. Eat two carrots a day-that's what one study reports if you are concerned about high cholesterol rates. Oat bran has also been shown to lower LDL and blood cholesterol levels.

In addition, the saponins in soybeans, chickpeas, peanuts and alfalfa have been shown to reduce blood cholesterol. An intake of 37 grams of fiber a day is adequate. Too much fiber may bind up trace minerals and irritate the intestinal lining.

A word about exercise: Regular exercise can lower blood pressure, can raise the HDL cholesterol levels, and can help control weight.

The American Heart Association recommends at least 20 minutes of aerobic exercise three times per week. Smoking robs the heart of oxygen. That's why heart disease rates for smokers are 70 percent higher than those for nonsmokers. Heavier smokers are in an even more precarious situation. But the good news is that smokers who quit can reduce their risk for heart disease by about one-half. Recent studies indicate that the body begins to recover from the effects of smoking soon after quitting- within months or even days! Even better, in time an ex-smoker's risk for coronary heart disease will approach that of someone who has never smoked at all.

Obesity both directly and indirectly affects a number of other factors that relate to circulatory problems. Overweight individuals tend to exercise less than those who aren't overweight, and exercise is important for circulatory health. They also tend to consume more fats, which increase the levels of fats in the bloodstream, and sugars, which encourage glucose intolerance and even diabetes. One of the many complications of diabetes is damage to blood vessels, and damaged vessels are prone to hardening and subsequent narrowing.

For some reason, certain people are genetically predisposed to circulatory problems. Some unknown factor they inherited from their parents makes their bodies less able to cope with the things that contribute to heart and blood vessel difficulties. They may be troubled by elevated levels of cholesterol or their blood pressure may rise to dangerous levels, or there may be other weaknesses. The trick is to be aware of any hereditary problems and to work towards strengthening weaknesses.

Despite the boom in fitness spas, a government survey shows that only about 8 percent of adults get adequate exercise. It seems we are a generation of couch potatoes and over a period of time, our sedentary habits can exact a heavy price. Aerobic exercise such as walking, running or cycling helps to supply increased amounts of oxygen to the circulatory system. It also strengthens heart muscle tone and improves mass. There's even evidence that it helps keep cholesterol at a healthy level. Research indicates that emotional stress can cause the body to release biochemicals that may contribute to the injury of arterial tissues. This, in turn, invites the formation of plaque.

Success Story on Atherosclerosis

Preventive Maintenance

The late, eminent heart specialist Paul Dudley White, M.D., once stated that "heart disease before 80 is "

Of all the factors that contribute to circulatory problems, all but one - heredity - can be largely controlled by the way we live and the food we eat. High blood pressure, for example, can be lowered significantly in some people by simply limiting the intake of sodium. Common table salt, or sodium, causes the blood to retain fluids. This swells the volume of blood that must be pumped throughout the body and, accordingly, adds to the workload of the heart. Salt also seems to encourage the smooth muscles in the smallest arteries to constrict, which increases the resistance to flow.

Unfortunately, salt is a staple of the modern diet, and an ingredient in most processed foods. That means that most of us probably consume way too much. What's more, when sugar is added to salt, as it very often is, the threat is compounded. Researchers have found that symptoms of high blood pressure are significantly worsened in test animals fed a diet that is high in both salt and sugar. They concluded that the synergistic effect of this common dietary duo is disquieting at the very least.

So, limit your sodium intake as much as possible. Avoid salty snacks and make a deliberate change from seemingly convenient, prepackaged and fast foods to their more natural counterparts. When you come to the frozen and canned food sections in your local grocery store, put on mental blinders and quicken your pace. Then head straight for the fresh produce . . . and linger there.

Avoid fats as much as possible, especially those that are highly saturated, like coconut oil. Better choices are avocado, almond, canola and peanut oils. The best choice is high-grade olive oil. Also, cut down on your intake of meats and other substances that contain animal fats, while you concentrate on including more fish, whole grains and beans in your diet.

Whole milk, because it contains animal fat, is a potentially heavy contributor of dietary cholesterol.  Consider delicious-tasting, dairy-free, cholesterol-free and lactose-free alternatives, like Almond Milk, Rice Milk, Coconut Milk or Soy Milk which would have the most protein.

Lately, a lot of publicity has surrounded oat bran as a cholesterol fighter. It's good, but other findings indicate that rice bran may even be better. Psyllium, too, looks promising. Doctors at the University of Minnesota recently released the findings of a study in which psyllium was used to successfully lower patients' cholesterol levels.

If you follow these tips consistently, chances are obesity, another contributor to high blood pressure, won't be much of a problem. If it is, we recommend seeking the services of a qualified health practitioner.

Finally, remember that the circulatory system like any other system in the human machine-doesn't come with a manufacturer's warranty. For that reason, owners should be advised that a certain amount of timely upkeep is necessary to keep it in tip-top condition. Failure to do so may result in costly repairs, a major overhaul or even a trade-in.

As in all matters relating to health, preventive maintenance is the key to adding both years to your life, and life to your years.