The blood supports our most protected organ, the heart. The blood is were many cardiovascular health problems begin, and also where they can be solved or kept at bay.
We focus far more on the sleek lines and performance of the cars we drive than the fuel we put in them. Yet corrosion and blockages in the fuel composition can bring us to a grinding halt.
It’s the same with our blood and the vessels that transport it around the body. It is pumped through the lungs and small intestines, delivering oxygen and micro-nutrients to our tissues. Returning with carbon dioxide and metabolic waste to be eliminated through our lungs and kidneys.
Our blood also distributes hormones around our bodies, helps to regulate our acid-alkaline balance and body temperature, and destroys invading bacteria and other micro-organisms that bring disease.
Blood is a complex mix of red and white blood cells and tiny platelets carried in watery plasma. Unlike cars, it has its own repair mechanism. When we are wounded our platelets act as puncture kits, growing ‘sticky’ to seal the leak.
If our blood vessels becomes diseased through a build-up of plaque from poor diet or genetic susceptibility, the vessels become narrower. The platelets can then become counter-productive, contributing to a blood clot or clogged vessel. Smoking and lack of excercise makes this worse, setting you on a track for cardiovascular disease.
These simple lifestyle changes can help prevent heart disease:
1. No Smoking. Smoking makes you almost three times more likely to develop coronary heart disease and have a heart attack, and twice as likely to suffer a stroke. See AcuQuit
2. Cholesterol Control. Have your cholesterol measured every three to five years after the age of 20 if your levels are normal, and more regularly if they are abnormal. You are more prone to heart disease if your total cholesterol level is over 5mmol/L, your good (HDL) cholesterol is under 1.0 mmol/L, your bad (LDL) cholesterol is over 3.0mmol/L, and your triglycerides (a type of fat found in the blood) are over 1.7mmol/L.
3. Eat For Your Arteries. Blood vessels produce substances that stop platelets being activated while there is no wound present. This ability is compromised when vessels are damaged by bad cholesterol. Cut back not only on trans-fats (in processed foods such as baked goods, snacks, and fried foods) and saturated fats (animal fats), but also on refined sugars, which are converted to fat and stored when you eat too much of them.
Aim to have no more than 30g of sugar a day which is 7 or 8 teaspoons a day, and a single soft drink can have 9. There are 4g in a teaspoon. Hidden sugars also lurk in everything from tomato sauce to packet soup, so read the labels.
To boost your good cholesterol, have several portions of avocado, raw nuts and seeds.
Increase your fibre intake with veggies, fruits and wholegrain like brown rice. The soluble fibre in oats seems particularly effective in lowering total and bad cholesterol, with compounds that may possess antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and even anti-cancer properties.
4. Monitor Blood Pressure. This is the most common heart disease risk factor. You can control it by reducing salt, eating foods that provide calcium, magnesium and potassium, such as wholegrain, fruit, vegetables and dairy, which reduce blood pressure, and getting active.
5. Get Active. Being active promotes blood flow and can help prevent clots. When you don’t exercise you are more likely to get cardiovascular disease and die from it. Just 30 minutes of moderate activity a day, like brisk walking, can reduce your heart disease risk by as much as 46% (Circulation). It helps to burn fat and lower high blood pressure, release feel-good endorphins that relieve stress. High intensity interval training can provide the same benefits as continuous activity in less time for busy schedules.
If you are in a sedentary job, aim to get up for a few minutes every hour. Walk for a glass of water.
6. Time Out. Stress floods your blood with adrenaline. The cardiovascular system is strained when these levels are constantly elevated.
Find ways to manage stress – count to 10 or take deep breaths when you are angry or anxious, take regular breaks from your desk, go for leisurely walks, and lose yourself in an absorbing pastime to take your mind off your worries. Your blood vessels will benefit and your overall health is likely to improve.
It helps to know the key components of your blood, how to boost your health, and to notice when something is wrong.
Red Blood Cells
They carry oxygen around your body in haemoglobin
Help them by eating iron rich foods such as legumes, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruits, iron fortified cereals, breads and pastas.
Watch for fatigue, skin pallor, dizziness or a rapid heart beat.
Disorders linked to them: Anaemia (too few red blood cells) from iron or B12 deficiency, chronic diseases, insufficient production of red cells (HIV and hepatitis), genetic conditions (thalassaemia, sickle cell anaemia), and malaria.
White Blood Cells
They form clots to control bleeding caused by injuries.
Help them by eating foods with folic acid like lentils, legumes, dark green vegetables, avocados, nuts and citrus.
Watch for weakness, fatigue, fever, difficulty breathing, itchy skin, or swollen lymph nodes.
Disorders linked to them: Lymphoma (a white cell becomes malignant and multiplies) and other blood cancers.
They form clots to control bleeding caused by injuries.
Help them by not smoking. Smoking raises the risk of fatty deposits in blood vessels that can cause platelets to form dangerous clots.
Watch for unusual bruising or bleeding.
Disorders linked to them: Thrombocytopenia (producing too few platelets) or thrombocytosis (producing too many plateletes).
They the watery medium that delivers the red and white cells, platelets, nutrients, electrolytes and hormones to tissues.
Help it by keeping hydrated with at least 2 litres of water a day.
Watch for dehydration, dizziness or weakness.
Disorders linked to it: High blood pressure (sometimes from high salt intake), diabetes (from high sugar intake), and a build up of waste products can indicate liver or kidney conditions.