It’s a Journey
There is a reason that the windshield is bigger than the rear-view mirror. The windshield shows you infinite possibilities going forward. The rear-view mirror is history.
When driving the car on vacation, history can be changed. Just turn the car around, find the spot where you went astray, and start again. But life doesn’t usually offer any do-overs. Instead you have to adjust your current path to get to the right destination from where you are.
Sometimes in life we don’t even know we need to adjust our path and our journey takes us to places we don’t intend or want. Your life is a map and you are on a journey toward the ultimate end.
There are many possible stops along the way and we don’t want to stop. From a health perspective four of those places might be cardiovascular disease, diabetes, kidney disease, and liver disease.
We can stop at those locations or we can just wave at the population signs in our rear-view mirror. Once we stop at even one we can eventually stop at all the others along the way.
While it is possible that your genes are bit whacky and your heart (or some other organ) isn’t structured correctly, it is very likely the route to all of those conditions is paved with poor food choices coupled with stress and lousy sleep.
It is really impossible to describe each condition as if it stands alone. So let’s just put the car in gear and start down the highway.
The blood stream is carrying all of the essential nutrients (including water) arriving through your mouth and oxygen arriving via your mouth/nose into your lungs. The heart is the pump pushing the blood through the vessels of the stream.
The route to everywhere is about 60,000 miles of blood stream structured a lot like the water supply in your town. Big pipes connected to smaller pipes to very small pipes. Every cell in the body must have access to blood or it will die.
That is the basics and, just as you would imagine, anything that goes wrong with the basics impacts everything else just like potholes in the road. In other words, assuring the condition of the route is the most important.
The Condition of the Route
Let’s assume, just for the sake of conversation, that the structure of all your body parts including the vessels and heart arrived at birth in good working order. This is a genetics thing.
And let’s also assume that you are lucky enough to avoid a head-on collision or some other awful accident that takes you out before your time. Then the question would be, what else would mess with the vessels and the heart?
Here are these two perfect systems, the blood stream and the heart, safely sealed away inside our body shell. The only thing that could damage them, make them less dependable, would be stuff coming in from the outside. And how does stuff get in from the outside? Through our mouths or breathed into our lungs.
The Blood Stream
A blood vessel is a flexible pipe (or at least it’s supposed to be) with a one cell thick lining called the endothelium intended to keep the blood inside the vessel. Through that otherwise impenetrable wall, nutrients and immune cells move into the tissue and carbon dioxide and waste return to the blood.
Endothelial cells release substances that control vascular relaxation and contraction as well as enzymes that control blood clotting, immune function, etc. So, what things will interfere with the blood vessel lining doing its job?
- The chemicals in cigarette smoke as well as other toxins in the air cause vessels to be swollen and inflamed, contributing to narrowing and weakening of the vessel.
- Excess blood sugar glycates (sticks to) and accumulates on cell walls, causing artery stiffening. If high blood sugar is persistent, there will be excess insulin, described by me in an earlier article as too much insulin.
- Too much insulin narrows the blood vessel walls and interferes with appropriate relaxation and contractions of vessel walls. A result is hypertension, commonly known as high blood pressure.
- There are perfectly normal instances where blood pressure is and should be higher. Persistently high blood pressure, on the other hand, creates too much continuous pressure and damages the vessel walls including those vessels in the heart, especially when they are already weak, stiff, and narrow.
- When the blood vessel walls are damaged, they are inflamed and susceptible to leaks. Blood leaks are not a good thing. Thus the immune system and clotting engage immediately. Everything available — cholesterol, fats, calcium, immune cells, etal — gather together as a team to stop the bleeding. The result is a plaque (a fix) covering the leak.
- A heart attack happens when plaque completely obstructs a coronary artery supplying blood to the heart muscle and heart muscle dies.
- Strokes (there are 3 different kinds) are a result of blood clots that either block a vessel or break loose and travel to the brain.
- The smallest veins in hands, feet, kidneys, and eyes are particularly susceptible to persistent high blood sugar/insulin damage. The nerves directly adjacent to the small veins are also damaged, creating numbness, pain, and sometimes worse. This is called neuropathy. More about this with regard to diabetes and kidney disease.
Bear in mind that the circulatory system goes through every single organ and part of the body. Thus the above description applies for feet, fingers, liver. kidneys, eyes, testicles and ovaries, brain, etc. A damaged highway will negatively affect everything.
The goal is to keep 60,000 miles of blood vessels in tip top working order. And a primary way to do that is avoid high blood sugar and too much insulin (yes, this is diet) plus smoking.
Bear in mind that the blood stream is carrying nutrients and oxygen. The oxygen supplied from the lungs is essential, we cannot do without it. So stay tuned next week for The Lungs.
Pat Smith is the author of “It’s All about the Food,” a book that guides nutritious food choices as the way to avoid illness and maintain a healthy weight. Proceeds from her book benefit the Montgomery County Food Pantry. Her website is http://www.allaboutthefood.org/ She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, 870-490-1836. Her Facebook page is www.facebook.com/patsmithbooks.