We can not understate the importance of our circulatory system – and not just because it transports blood. Untreated, circulatory ailments lead to chronic illness, and in the worst case, death. Understanding its functions and health symptoms are part of managing your health.
The circulatory system not only delivers a continuous supply of food and oxygen to the cells. Simultaneously, carbon dioxide and other waste materials produced by the cells must be picked up for removal from the body. The three primary components – the heart, the blood, and the blood vessels – work together to make this amazing system function at is optimum levels.
The hollow, fist-sized organ that we call our heart is an incredible pumping device. Did you know that it must beat more than 100,000 times per day to meet the body’s energy demands? It weighs ten and half ounces and pumps six quarts of blood around the body 500 times a day. The left heart and the right side of the heart both pump the same amount of blood, but to different locations of the body at different pressures.
The heart is an amazingly resilient organ. In an experiment done by Alexis Carrel, a famous experimental biologist, if given an optimum supply of nutrients and oxygen, the heart is capable of functioning perfectly for over two centuries.
The operating words are optimum supply. Lifestyles, diet, stress and other factors detract from the supply, and the most common forms of heart disease result from a breakdown in the supply of nutrients, usually from a disease in the arteries, not from a “wearing out of the heart.” Sadly, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, or 34% of all deaths.
The average adult body contains approximately 1.5 gallons of blood. Blood transports oxygen and nutrients to the body’s cells and carries away waste materials. Blood also carries hormones that control body processes and antibodies that fight invading germs. Consisting mainly of plasma (55%) and blood cells (45%), red blood cells make up 99% of all blood cells; the other one percent are white blood cells and platelets.
Blood vessels are designed to serve specific functions. Arteries transport under high pressure requiring their walls to be much more elastic than veins, because they pulsate as a result of the force with which the heart pumps new blood into them. Veins can expand or contract to accommodate variations in the blood flow. Small valves are found at regular intervals throughout the veins to force the blood to move in only one direction.
Lifestyle choices and various medical conditions can put people at a higher risk for heart disease. Heart disease is a general term that refers to any disorder or condition of the heart, including coronary heart disease, hypertension, congenital heart disease, heart valve disorders, heart infections, and heart arrhythmias.
In the early stages there are no symptoms of heart disease. The first symptom is usually chest pain (angina pectoris) or heart attack. Statistics show in the U.S., someone has a heart attack every 34 seconds. An estimated 1.26 million Americans will have a new or recurrent coronary attack, costing the U.S. $503 billion in 2010. This includes cardiovascular disease and stroke and they are both largely preventable.
Learn more in Part 2 of this series, when I cover risk factors in heart disease, Metabolic Syndrome, and Lifestyle Factors for Heart Health.
12 Primary Risk Factors For Heart Attack
1 & 2. Excess Oxidized LDL and Excess Total Cholesterol. The most important is to watch the amount of oxidized LDL or “bad” cholesterol.
3. Low HDL Levels. High-Density Lipoprotein functions through several mechanisms to protect against atherosclerosis, including removing cholesterol from the arterial wall for disposal in the liver.
4. Excess Glucose and Excess Insulin. Fasting glucose under 100 mg/dL and fasting insulin under 5 mcIU/mL. Excess insulin is associated with greater risks of heart attack, stroke, and many cancers.
5. Excess Homocysteine. Excess homocysteine can initiate atherosclerosis and help with its progression.
6. Excess C-Reactive Protein. This is a protein found in the blood that rises in response to inflammation. Chronic inflammation damages every cell in the body, and the inflammation that occurs in the vascular wall is a significant cause of atherosclerosis and subsequent heart attack and stroke.
7. Insufficient Vitamin D. Men with low vitamin D levels suffer more than twice as many heart attacks. Vitamin D may protect against heart disease by reducing chronic inflammatory reactions. Current research suggests that Vitamin D3 is the best form to take.
8. Elevated Triglycerides. Excessive carbohydrates are a big contributor. Triglycerides can accumulate on the walls of arteries and contributes to the buildup of plaque. Elevated triglycerides increase your risk of stroke and heart attack.
9. Low blood levels of EPA/DHA. These are two of the most powerful omega-3 fatty acids. Studies show a significant reduction in heart attacks in people who took fish oil-derived EPA/DHA.
10. Nitric Oxide Deficit. Nitric oxide enables arteries to expand and contract with youthful elasticity and is vital to maintaining the structural integrity of the inner arterial wall.
11. Excess Fibrinogen. Fibrinogen is a component of blood involved in the clotting process.
12. Hypertension. The risk of cardiovascular disease increases when blood pressure readings pass 115/75 mmHg (millimeters of mercury).