Our vascular health could be called our most precious asset. The health of the vast network of blood vessels, that allows our life blood to course through to every tiny corner of our bodies.
If our blood vessels are damaged sufficiently, our blood leaves us. It is as if our soul has trickled out of us, leaving a heap of tissue and bone. It is little wonder that the ancient traditions equated blood with the life force or soul of the individual.
More than tubes
Our blood vessels are more than just flexible tubes that carry our blood to various organs, so that the cells and fluid in the blood can do their work. In fact, the blood vessels play an integral part in sensing what is going on in the body and responding to this.
The blood vessels need to respond to an almost infinite number of conditions. For example, nutritional status (is there enough magnesium), microbial (are there bacteria or viruses in the blood), toxins (is mercury present) as well as the bio-mechanical environment, 1 to name but a few. The latter includes the pumping of the heart, turbulence of the blood and the structure of the fluid that the blood vessel is directly in contact with. 2 The blood vessels then need to respond. They do this in only three ways, creating inflammation, oxidative stress and adjusting the immune response. Very simply a continuous process of damage, repair, sensing and responding is happening every millisecond.
Sound familiar? The cells that make up the blood vessels, known as the endothelium, react to their environment just like any other tissue. The function of the blood vessels is what makes them so critical. All the other tissues rely on vascular health for their optimal function. I have been discovering how the endothelium facilitates the production of gasses such as Nitric Oxide and Hydrogen Sulfide which help to improve blood vessel health. The endothelium also uses cholesterol transfer from red blood cells to create a voltage drop from arteries to veins, improving blood flow. For those interested, I would refer them to the work of Stephanie Seneff and Gerald Pollock.
These days we are much less likely to die from blood loss. We have more effective ways of stemming blood loss, preventing it in the first place and even using someone else’s blood as a stop-gap. What we may be missing though, is that our vascular health is more important than ever.
Hardening of the arteries
What happens when the whole system of damage through to response is either overwhelmed or insufficient, leading to a compromise in vascular health? The dreaded “hardening of the arteries,” also known as atherosclerosis.
Think of this as us going about our usual business, repeatedly throwing insults at our body, such as junk food, sugar and alcohol, while withholding critical elements, such as good sleep, exercise and nutrients that our blood vessels need to repair. The blood vessels sense danger and desperately use what is available to repair. This results in signalling to the rest of the body to increase inflammation, oxidative stress, and immune dysregulation. Trying to fix the poorly healed damage, we get layer upon layer of tissue in the blood vessels. This leads to hardening of the arteries. Not only is blood flow compromised, but further inflammation and repair is stimulated. We then wonder why all of a sudden, the function of a critical artery in the heart is overwhelmed and a heart attack occurs. The blood vessels that supply the heart are particularly exposed to bio-mechanical forces 3 and this is often where poor vascular health first presents. Vascular disease of the heart (cardiovascular disease) remains the leading cause of death in those aged 65 years and over. If this does not happen, the general decline in blood flow and associated inflammation slows our muscles, gut, lungs, heart and brain.
For longevity and an enjoyable life, we want our vascular health.
Assessing Vascular Health
So, how do we assess vascular health?
There are now numerous direct and indirect methods to assess vascular health, each one with a slightly different emphasis. Many of these devices have not yet reached New Zealand.
The clinic uses a combination of methods to form a picture of vascular health. These include ambulatory blood pressure monitoring, Holter monitoring and event monitoring, which are done in the client’s own home.
Recently, while I was attending an A4M cardiology module, I came across a device which would provide greater clinical insight into vascular health. The clinic thus invested in a SphygmoCor. Rather than assessing the blood pressure in the arm, this assesses the blood pressure at the Aorta (large artery that leaves the heart), which is a more relevant reading that the blood pressure in the arm 4. Furthermore, the ShygmoCor assesses the arterial stiffness of the Aorta. As an added bonus the ShygmoCor can calculate a vascular age.
Aortic blood pressure and arterial stiffness is easily assessed in the clinic with immediate results. The client sits in the chair while the cuff on the arm inflates several times.
What Holds the Blood
Revisiting a past blog on the connection between life, the vagus nerve and heart rate variability (HRV), consider that the health of our blood vessels intricately entwine with whole of us, and will be reflected in HRV. Heart Rate Variability is a reflection of life. Protecting our vessels, protects not only our bodies but also life-force.
- Houston, M.C. Personalized and Precision Integrative Cardiovascular Health, (Wolters Kluwer, Philadelphia, 2020).
- Seneff, S., Davidson, R.M., Lauritzen, A., Samsel, A. & Wainwright, G. A novel hypothesis for atherosclerosis as a cholesterol sulfate deficiency syndrome. Theor Biol Med Model 12, 9 (2015).
- Zhu, H. & Friedman, M.H. Relationship between the dynamic geometry and wall thickness of a human coronary artery. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol 23, 2260-2265 (2003).
- Butlin, M. & Qasem, A. Large Artery Stiffness Assessment Using SphygmoCor Technology. Pulse (Basel) 4, 180-192 (2017).