You and Your Heart

Cardiovascular disease is the primary cause of death in the United States and is responsible for approximately 50% of deaths from diseases every year. More than one million people die annually of circulatory system-related conditions. Some of the more common cardiovascular disorders include arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), (plaque, such as cholesterol build-up on the walls of blood vessels), rheumatic heart disease, systemic hypertension and stroke.
What exactly is the cardiovascular system? It is actually a network of structures, including the heart and blood vessels (arteries, veins and capillaries). They work together to ensure that blood is conveyed properly throughout the body.
Functions of the cardiovascular system include (1) transporting nutrients to cells, (2) removing waste products through the intestines and other excretory organs, and (3) pumping oxygenated blood from the heart via the arteries and returning deoxygenated blood via the veins. The cardiovascular system works in tandem with the respiratory and nervous systems. It works with the respiratory system by taking the oxygen inhaled into the lungs to the rest of the body, and delivering carbon dioxide from the body to the lungs for expulsion. Impulses from the the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems help regulate the heartbeat. This is governed by proper electrolyte transmission. Calcium, potassium and sodium are examples of principal electrolytes. Electrolytes help facilitate electrical and ionic activity from nerves to muscles. For instance, calcium is essential for the contraction of cardiac (heart) muscle and potassium is necessary for the relaxation of heart muscle. Sodium is vital for maintaining fluid balance in body If electrolytes are depleted by the purging of body fluids (as in vomiting, diarrhea, diuretics) and are not replaced, it can cause a loss of electrolytes, especially potassium ions. Repeated electrolyte imbalances can contribute to an eventual weakening of and damage to the heart muscle.
The heart is a cone-shaped organ, about the size of a clenched fist. It pumps blood thoughout the body averages 70 beats per minute in an average adult. This is accomplished via nerve impulses and contractions of muscles. The heart is loosely enclosed in a fibrous, protective, bag-like enclosure called the pericardium. The heart is comprised of 4 chambers. The top portion houses the atrium, of which there are right and left valves. The bottom portion of the heart contains the chamber known as the ventricle, of which there are also right and left valves.
The heart is an amazing mechanism which helps the body maximize oxygen utilization. When unoxygenated blood is delivered to the lungs by way of the pulmonary arteries, it is circulated and mixed with oxygen breathed in from the outside air. This oxygenated blood returns to the relaxed left atrium of the heart, in a phase known as diastole. It passes into the left ventricle which then sends the fresh blood forth throughout the body via the arteries in a process known as systemic circulation, because it travels throughout the entire system. The coronary arteries are the blood vessels which supply blood to the heart. The contraction of the heart which drives blood forth into the arteries is known as systole. The oxygenated blood is very nourishing and helps keep all the body's cells and tissues healthy. The circulatory feedback loop begins again when deoxygenated blood is received from the body and respiratory system, and then oxygenated blood is delivered throughout the body in a never-ending cycle. Blood pressure is the pressure on the blood vessel walls caused by the volume and viscosity of the blood circulating throughout them, as well as the strength of the heart contraction. When this is measured by a health professional it is divided into two areas: systolic and diastolic. The average blood pressure in a healthy young adult is approximately 120 mm during systole and 80 mm in diastole. As a person ages, the systolic pressure usually increases before an increase in diastolic pressure is noticed.
Total health depends on the delivery of clean, oxygenated blood to the cells. Many factors can interfere with the oxygenation of blood. They include airborne toxins and pollutants, as well as poisons generated from within the body itself in the intestinal tract. Specific nutrients, especially those with antioxidant properties, can help the body remove these toxins.
In addition, when plaque (fats and waste products) collect on the walls of the blood vessels, the passageways through which blood flows may narrow. This diminishes the amount of oxygen which is supplied to the heart, and causes chest pain in a condition known as angina. This can be a preliminary warning to a heart attack. If the coronary arteries become clogged with fats or blood clots, the heart muscle can be damaged by heart attack or myocardial infarction. The October 1988 edition of The New York Times published an article on heart disease. The article states, "When plaques build up inside the coronary arteries, the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart can be impeded, causing chest pain and leaving the patient vulnerable to complete blockage by a blood clot and thus a life threatening heart attack." Besides artery disease, high blood pressure which is not addressed can eventually cause a stroke, a condition where part of the blood vessel can hemorrhage and put pressure on a portion of the brain. The signals which tell the body to speak or move can be interrupted, often resulting in paralysis. A stroke can also be caused when the arteries of the brain become blocked.

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