What is the role of the cardiovascular system?
The cardiovascular system consists of the heart, blood, and blood vessels (veins, arteries, arterioles and capillaries). The cardiovascular system is responsible for circulating blood throughout the body providing oxygenation, homeostasis, regulation, protection and waste removal. Pulmonary circulation carries blood between the heart and lungs while systemic circulation delivers oxygenated blood to the entire body.
How does the cardiovascular system work?
The heart acts as a pumping system that forces blood into the lungs (pulmonary system) and the body (systemic system) so that oxygen, waste removal and regulation all occur. The pump forces blood into the lungs and out into the rest of the system. The arteries deliver oxygenated blood to the body as the pump action of the heart forces the blood into the arterioles and capillaries that are located in our extremities. The veins then return the deoxygenated blood and blood that has picked up waste to the liver and the lungs to be filtered and reoxygenated.
What should I know about the heart?
The heart is about the size of a clenched fist, weighs about 300g and in most people lies on the left side of the chest. It is composed of four chambers: the right and left atrium, and right and left ventricles that work together as a pump to distribute blood throughout the body. The heart beats about 60-80 times per minute. This is often measured in your doctor’s office and is referred to as resting heart rate. Blood pressure is a measure of the pressure at which the heart pumps as well as the elasticity of the arteries that it is pumped into. It is essential to have good blood pressure to ensure that your body receives adequate blood supply. It is also important to know that high blood pressure can damage the vessels.
What should I know about blood pressure?
Blood pressure is measured in a doctor’s office by a sphygmomanometer
which measures both the systolic and diastolic pressure. The top number is the systolic pressure (a measurement of the blood being pumped from the heart into the blood vessels) and is the highest pressure in the vessels. The bottom number is the diastolic pressure (a measurement of blood filling the heart between heartbeats) and is the lowest pressure in your vessels. Medical “normal” blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg, yet most doctors won’t show great concern if your blood pressure is 140/85 unless kidney failure, heart disease and liver failure are a concern. It is common for the top number to fluctuate. Even going to the doctor’s office can cause an increase in the systolic pressure of about 10 mmHg. If blood pressure is too low (below 105/65), a person may experience dizziness or fainting. Doctors will also look for at least 30 mmHg between the systolic and diastolic pressure. Less than that is a suggestion that the heart is no longer a strong enough pump.
How does cholesterol impact cardiovascular health?
The common thought has been that high cholesterol is bad because it causes a build-up of plaque in the blood vessels that impacts the heart’s ability to pump effectively. However, about 50% of patients who suffered a heart attack actually had normal cholesterol levels. Further research has been done on both HDL (high density lipoprotein) and LDL (low density lipoprotein) which determined it is not the cholesterol but more likely the particle carrier and the density of the lipoprotein sub-types that determine a person’s risk of heart disease. The National Cholesterol Education Program outlines the following to determine a more accurate cardiovascular risk:
- Small, Dense Ldl: these atherogenic particles are easily oxidized and penetrate the arterial endothelium to form plaque
- Lp(A):this small, dense LDL is involved in thrombosis
- RLP (Remnant Lipoprotein): is very atherogenic, has a similar composition and density of plaque, is believed to be a building block of plaque and does not need to be oxidized like other LDL particles
- Hdl2B:positively correlates with heart health because it is an indicator of how well excess lipids are removed
By performing a Lipoprotein Particle Profile in our office, we can more accurately determine true risk.
The last fact about cholesterol to consider is that women in menopause and men in andropause will have an increase in cholesterol due to reduced hormone production while the liver continues to produce the same amount of cholesterol. This can be addressed by balancing hormones.
What are the red flags of heart disease that should encourage me to see a doctor?
- Family history of high blood pressure or high cholesterol
- High body mass index (BMI 30 or greater)
- Stressful lifestyle
- Out of breath when walking up stairs or from your car to a grocery store
- Sweaty and red-faced after activities you used to do without a problem
- Chest pain
- Changes in your heart beat
- Swelling in the legs
- Low urinary output
- Constant weakness and fatigue with normal daily activities
How can I prevent heart disease?
- Reduce stress. Change the hours you spend at work, even if you can’t change jobs. Take vacations and actually rest. Remove unwanted actives from your schedule and don’t apologize for taking care of yourself.
- Reduce weight. If you need to lose 50 pounds or more, consider small changes like portion control long before you actually modify what you eat. Start exercising gradually. Exercising long and hard right away can actually put strain on a heart that is already under strain.
- Sleep. Those who regularly sleep six or fewer hours a night are typically heavier than those who regularly sleep more than six hours. Sleep reduces our stress hormones, but it also helps us lose weight and live better. And guess what? Those that rested properly scored higher on creativity and productivity tests –something any boss can appreciate.
- Vegetables. They are higher in fiber and are packed with more vitamins and nutrients than any other food. Veggies give you the biggest bang for your buck.
- Exercise. Besides being a great way to shed a few pounds, exercise also reduces stress, oxygenates blood and removes waste. Walking just 20 minutes a day can lower stress hormones and drastically reduce negative inflammatory waste which is a main culprit of muscle pain.
If I’m at risk and showing signs of heart disease is medication my only answer?
Depending on your blood work results, angiogram, or EKG, it may be a good time to start working with botanical medicine before you need the more side-effect causing pharmaceuticals. If you are already on medication, botanicals can be supportive enough to allow you to reduce the drug amount or even go off of them completely. We will always make sure that botanicals do not negatively effect any medications you are on. Common botanical treatment options include:
- Fish oil – high dosage
- Hawthorn – appropriate dosage
- Hormone testing and balancing to affect cholesterol or blood pressure
- Adrenal or stress hormone testing as it plays a large role in heart disease
- Herbal blend for cholesterol and blood pressure – tested on many patients and shown effective in our office and on our own family members.
- Blood sugar regulation –pre-diabetic blood sugar levels often contribute to heart disease.