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Circulatory System

The heart is the wonderful pump that moves blood around the body via a huge and intricate network of blood vessels. The heart pumps deoxygenated blood to the lungs so that it can release waste gases when we exhale. When we inhale and pick up fresh gases it is the heart pump that moves oxygen-rich blood around our body to reach every cell. Our blood vessels form a closed system for conveying blood around the body. The arteries transport oxygenated blood away from the heart to organs and tissues. They transport the blood under pressure from the pumping activity of the heart and so they contain muscular and elastic tissue to accommodate subsequent changes of pressure and blood volume. Some arteries are large but they divide into progressively smaller tubes until they lose all muscular and elastic tissue and are called capillaries. Capillaries are minute vessels of only single cell thickness. They are in intimate contact with cell walls of our body tissues and all chemical exchanges occur at this level. Oxygen is given to the cells so that they can create energy for their work. At the same time wastes are released from these working cells into the blood. To take the deoxygenated blood back to the heart, groups of capillaries leave cells and gradually combine into larger tubes. Eventually these form veins, taking blood back to the heart to be pumped up to the lungs for the cycle to be repeated. Veins work against gravity and the larger ones have little valves in them so that blood cannot “fall back”. Failure of these valves leads to varicose veins.

Control of blood pressure & blood flow

Blood flow to the brain is maintained regardless of other activities, but blood can be diverted between other areas of the body in response to high demand. (This is one of the reasons why it is inadvisable to swim or exercise after eating a heavy meal, because your body has diverted blood away from muscles in order that the meal can be digested.) There is a cardiovascular centre found in the brain and it is part of the autonomic nervous system. It receives information from the endocrine (hormonal) system and sensory receptors that are distributed throughout the body, as well as the higher centres of the brain. Instructions from the cardiovascular centre allow blood vessels to expand or contract which has an effect on how blood can circulate around the body. It also changes the heart rate and both methods affect the blood pressure. Its connection to the higher centres of the brain means that stress and perception as well as peace and relaxation can have profound effects on blood pressure and blood flow. Other mechanisms that control blood pressure are tiny receptors in the blood vessels and heart and chemical receptors that are sensitive to oxygen levels and carbon dioxide. Several hormones also affect blood pressure and blood flow, principally hormones from the adrenal glands.

Shock

Shock is an inadequate cardiac output which results in an inadequate supply of oxygen and nutrients to the body. The signs and symptoms vary in intensity but will include the following:

  • Clammy, cool, pale skin
  • Tachycardia
  • Weak rapid pulse
  • Sweating
  • Hypotension (low blood pressure)
  • Altered mental state
  • Reduced urine formation
  • Thirst
  • Acidosis
  • Nausea

Causes of shock include pain, trauma, burns, diarrhoea and vomiting (affecting water levels and electrolytes), heart attack and infection.

The blood

Blood is actually a connective tissue and it provides us with the means of communicating between the external and internal environments. Blood is concerned with the transportation of substances, with the regulation of homeostatic mechanisms and with protective functions.

It carries:

  • O2 and CO2 
  • Nutrients and cell wastes
  • Hormones and drugs
  • Protective substances such as antibodies to areas of infection
  • Materials for blood clotting
  • Conveys heat

Characteristics & composition of blood

Blood is thicker than water and is warmer than ordinary body temperature. It forms 8 percent of the typical body weight and the volume averages 4-6 litres in an adult depending on body size and gender. Blood is composed of whole blood cells and plasma. If you have ever donated blood or received a blood transfusion you will know plasma is straw-coloured. It is itself mostly water containing dissolved substances within it which include proteins such as albumin, clotting factors, mineral salts, nutrients, hormones, enzymes, antibodies and much more.

There are several different types of blood cells. White blood cells are concerned with defence and immunity, and there many different forms that react to different types of threat. Red blood cells are concerned with exchange of gases. They are biconcave discs which are flexible, allowing them to squeeze into minute gaps in the capillaries so that gases can be exchanged. On average they live about 120 days, after which they are destroyed in the spleen and liver. Obviously the continued demand for fresh blood cells requires great nutrition. Blood cells are formed in the red bone marrow from stem cells and faults here may lead to leukaemia. Blood is red because it carries haemoglobin. This complex chemical is the only chemical that can associate with O2. Haemoglobin also transports almost a quarter of total CO2 present in the blood. Some genetic diseases such as sickle cell or thalassaemia are caused by faults with haemoglobin. Carbon monoxide, some drugs such as sulphonamides and some chemicals such as nitrates also disrupt haemoglobin and thus affect the ability of blood to pick up oxygen. Astonishingly each single red blood cell contains 280 million haemoglobin molecules! Adequate haemoglobin levels are critical for health and average 12-15g/100 ml of blood in women and 14-16.5g/100 ml in men

Blood clotting

Platelets are concerned with blood clotting and are produced in the bone marrow. They contain thousands of granules which produce chemicals necessary for blood clotting. Platelets survive 5-10 days. When a blood vessel is damaged, initially the muscle wall (in larger blood vessels) will spasm and contract in an effort to reduce blood loss. A soft plug then forms to reduce further blood loss and this is where platelets come into play, sticking to the breaks in the blood vessel wall, then changing shape and secreting proteins that create the plug. 

Now the soft plug must coagulate and this requires several enzymes and clotting factors made in the liver. Some people with liver disease such as cirrhosis of the liver are unable to produce these elements. Normal clotting requires vitamin K which also helps to make various clotting factors. It is a fat soluble vitamin that can be produced by bacteria in the colon. Absence of several of the clotting factors causes haemophilia – a genetic disease that can carry various degrees of risk. Obviously, clotting of blood would be undesirable and deadly except for emergencies such as trauma and so natural mechanisms exist to control blood clotting and ensure it only happens when and where necessary. These natural controls ensure that clots do not continue to grow beyond the area of damage, and scabs are absorbed. Cells also produce natural anti-coagulant factors such as heparin and warfarin that are used as drugs to thin the blood.

In spite of these checks, blood clots do form in the cardiovascular system. This could be because trauma, infection or narrowing of the arteries from fat deposits has occurred. Blood may flow too slowly through the system allowing clotting factors to accumulate in areas of weakness and certain drugs such as the contraceptive pill and tobacco contribute to this. Clotting in an unbroken vessel can cause a clot or thrombus to form. Parts may dislodge and circulate in the arteries, eventually sticking in a blood vessel where the clot cannot pass through. Much like a kinked hosepipe, a block in the tubes prevents oxygen and blood from moving beyond the obstruction and will cause tissue death. If the block is in the veins of the legs it causes deep vein thrombosis. If the block is in the head or neck it will cause a stroke; if the block is in the blood vessels that feed the heart it causes a heart attack, or coronary thrombosis.

Heart and circulatory disease remains the biggest killer in post-industrialised countries. Smoking plays its part but diet and stress are other key factors. There are, of course, many drugs prescribed for heart and circulatory diseases: drugs to prevent spasm, to dilate arteries, to strengthen heartbeat, to drive out excess water and salt, to block beta cell receptors, to slow down clotting processes, to help decrease cholesterol levels. But all can carry deleterious side effects, especially if they are used for long periods of time. Prevention of heart and circulatory disease is the best approach. If you are already affected then work with your health care provider to make the changes necessary in your life so that drug protocols are minimised.

Cholesterol & inflammation

Heart attacks and circulatory disorders are often described as "diseases of the knife and fork" (a key phrase often used by natural healer Dr Richard Schulze who has written extensively on heart disease – you can read his stories on his blog). It may have been our own "knife and fork" or those of our parents – but diet is, nevertheless, the cause. The simple and unfortunate fact is that most people would rather not admit the reason why heart disease remains at the top of the list for disease and fatalities. Cardiac failure no longer only affects the elderly; younger age groups are now affected as well. In Britain heart attacks are higher in men, but post-menopausal women are four times as likely to succumb to general circulatory disorders than men. This is particularly true when there is sudden onset post-menopause that is not managed well. Risk goes up after menopause due to the drop in oestrogen, which helps to keep the blood thin and free-flowing instead of dangerously thick.

Dr John Christopher was healing hundreds of people from minor heart problems and circulatory diseases in the 1930s using natural healing methods. Now angiograms and CAT scans are able to prove the value of this kind of work to other medical professionals, showing that through diet, herbs and changes in lifestyle, unhealthy plaque formation in the arteries can be greatly reduced, thus making heart attacks and coronary bypass surgery less likely.

Cholesterol is a vital part of cell membrane structure. It is also needed for bile formation, hormone production and vitamin D synthesis. It is transported from the intestine to the liver, and then transported between the liver and the rest of the body tissues in particles called lipoproteins. Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) – known as the "bad" cholesterol – carry cholesterol from the liver to the body tissues; and high-density lipoproteins (HDL) – known as the "good" form – transport cholesterol back from the body tissues to the liver. Any excess of the unhealthy form that cannot be used may be deposited in the linings of the arteries. This can cause the growth of plaque, which gradually builds up to an extent where it constricts blood flow. We all need to know our heart risk numbers, which include levels of total, "good" and "bad" cholesterol. A cholesterol test kit available from high street pharmacies will give you a quick guide to your cholesterol count, or you can ask your GP for a test. Always test before eating in the morning. If it is high, here are some ways to help reduce it:

  • Avoid eating excessive amounts of meat and dairy products which can contain high levels of saturated fat, linked to an increase in the "bad" cholesterol. Hydrogenated fats may also increase levels and are to be avoided.
  • To favour healthy levels of the "good" cholesterol that protects the heart, take blackcurrant, starflower or evening primrose oil capsules (GLA) as they help the metabolism of cholesterol. For those who are not vegetarian/vegan, a good quality fish oil supplement can also be beneficial; ask your health food store to recommend one.
  • Vitamin C helps to reduce the risk of lipoproteins binding to the wall of the artery.
  • The amino acid lysine can also help enormously by "reversing" the plaque build-up.
  • Turmeric is also very useful for breaking down fatty deposits in the bloodstream.
  • High homocysteine levels also increase risk of heart attacks, strokes and blood clots. Inflammation is a key factor – avoid bad fats, processed foods and refined foods, and high levels of red meat and dairy foods, which can contribute to inflammatory processes.
  • Keep food simple. Eat plenty of green vegetables that have been lightly steamed and green salads.
  • Superfood Plus provides good levels of vitamin C, potassium, magnesium and plant fatty acids that can favour a healthy heart and lower inflammation. Folic acid and other B vitamins can help to lower cholesterol and these are also found in high concentration in Superfood Plus.
  • Increase fresh garlic intake, as well as onions, leeks and chives; the onion family can help to reduce bad cholesterol and thin the blood.
  • Oats and oat-based foods can also reduce bad cholesterol.
  • Eat pineapple and papaya, which cool and calm the liver and gallbladder and also address the problems of platelet stickiness.
  • Make sure you have good vital stomach and bowel flora – acidophilus and other beneficial bacteria can help to lower cholesterol levels.
  • For more information about cholesterol, see Jill Davies' newsletter on the subject at the bottom of this page.

Nutritional advice

  • Read your food labels. Hydrogenated fats (which are usually made from vegetable oils but have been chemically altered to be solid at room temperature) are being phased out of foods in Europe. Olive oil is a good oil to use for low-temperature cooking (not above 90ºC) or used raw in dressings. Coconut oil is an excellent choice for higher-temperature cooking as the fats won't spoil at these higher temperatures; de-odorised versions are available if you don't want the taste of coconut in your food. Flax seed oil is an excellent choice for using raw in dressings (do not heat) – ideally purchase a cold-pressed, oxygen-free source, supplied in special light and oxygen-excluded containers.
  • Salt is acceptable in moderation as long as you use a good-quality, hand-harvested, sun and wind-dried variety, such as Celtic or Malden salt. These salts have the correct balance of minerals and naturally tend to be lower in sodium. Used sparingly in cooked food, they are acceptable because they help build blood.
  • Also explore the use of herbs and spices which often negate the need for salt. Consider using coriander leaves, bay leaves, thyme and fennel.
  • Avoid alcohol as it increases the strain on the circulatory system and heart, potentially causing damage to veins and arteries. It also increases free radical damage and oxidation in the body. Oxidation is what happens when something is overexposed to oxygen. Like a piece of rubber when it gets older, it goes hard, loses its elasticity and will finally crack or sag. Not a condition we seek for our arteries.
  • The Chinese teach us that bitter foods are very supportive and strengthening to both the small intestine and heart and, in our present sugar-oriented society, I think this is an ever more important point to remember.
  • Positive foods include beetroot (the colour of blood). Taken raw, juiced or cooked, it will clear, cool and strengthen the blood and heart. Use it mixed with apple or carrot if the taste seems too intense.
  • Onions and garlic are master cleansers and coolers of the heart and whole system.
  • Wheat grass (sprouted grains of whole wheat) is another good heart food because it can help to cool and clear the blood, easing any inflammation. You can sprout the grains and eat the grass with salads, or juice the grass to add to home-made juices and smoothies. Green wheat grass drinks are also becoming easier to buy (and freeze).
  • Following a mainly juice-orientated vegan eating programme for just 1 month can go a long way to normalising blood pressure and removing cholesterol build-up. Use plenty of garlic (three to six cloves a day).
  • You should also add plenty of medium to hot cayenne. As a guide, take a minimum of 1 small teaspoon per day, but 2 teaspoons per day would be better and 9 teaspoons would be excellent. The body takes a while to acclimatise to cayenne pepper so take months to build to a tolerable level. Take cayenne raw or add to food at the end of cooking – avoid heating it to high temperatures.
  • Most fruits are rich in salicylates. These help to keep the blood from becoming sticky and clumping together to form dangerous clots, so eat plenty of bilberries, lemons, oranges, peaches, prunes, figs, grapefruit, rhubarb, cherries, melons, nectarines, plums, apples and pineapple, always eating the skins (except, of course, those of melons, pineapples and grapefruit).
  • The inner skins (pith) of lemons, grapefruit and oranges are an excellent source of bioflavonoids which can really strengthen the veins, arteries and capillary walls.
  • All the above fruits are also rich in vitamin C and will aid the structure and elasticity of the veins. Vitamin C also protects arteries from oxidation and diminishes the growth of plaque on the vessel walls. In modern life we are becoming more than ever deficient in vitamin C. This is because stress and pollution rob us of this vital vitamin which we are not capable of making for ourselves.
  • If you have cold extremities, add raw black pepper or ginger to the fruits to add fire and warmth for yourself.
  • Hawthorn fruit (or haws) are rich in natural beta-blockers and oxygenating bio-chemistry. Read see Jill Davies' book on "Hawthorn" as a free download. It is a food for the heart like none other. Hawthorn is also one of the ingredients in PumpBeet Capsules – you can ask us for a sample. This can be added to Superfood Plus on a daily basis (take as capsules or empty the capsules into the drink).
  • Caffeine raises the blood pressure. Make healthy substitutes from our range of teas such as Lavender Flower Herbal Tea, a particularly good choice when stress is a major factor in your life.
  • Key kitchen herbs are garlic, rosemary, turmeric, and mustard – these can all aid circulation and help move cholesterol and fats.

Natural healing

  • The heart is the key to emotional well-being, as poets, painters and spiritual guides have been teaching (and research now confirms). Open your heart and you will feel loving, caring, compassionate and at peace with life. Should your general disposition be low, your nervous system stretched, or should you feel depressed or angry, your heart will be affected. In many ways, the heart and the way we feel, or rather how the mind feels, are interconnected.
  • Singing, chanting, movement, dance, meditation and healthy food can all "open" and get to the "heart" of the matter.
  • In Oriental traditions, the small intestine is connected with the heart. This "partnership" gives the male role to digestion (small intestine) and the female role to the heart, the rhythmic, perpetual beat. If one side of the partnership is disharmonious, then its partner will feel it.
  • Cleanse and cool the blood, taking care of general circulation, liver, gallbladder, stomach and bowels with cleanses.
  • A little sweating (through hot showers, baths, saunas and exercise), as long as it's not exhausting or too heated, is beneficial as cholesterol can be sweated out via the skin.
  • Smoking will similarly stress and inhibit the body, therefore DO NOT SMOKE. Smoking accounts for a large proportion of cases of heart failure and circulatory diseases.
  • Exercise is vital, particularly with reference to the heart. It should be taken daily and carefully paced. At some point during the day, ideally after a period of gentle exercise, push the heart to rapid beat for 5 minutes; this will really make it pump and flex.
  • Hydrotherapy will greatly help the heart and circulatory system, adjusting the temperature of the water according to your individual strength and tolerance. Training your body gradually over a period of time to tolerate the extremes of hot and cold showers will be extremely beneficial.
  • Massage and meditation will all enhance the circulatory process. Essential oils are particularly effective as they help to relax mind and body. Roman Chamomile or Ylang Ylang are particularly good oils either for massage or to add to a bath.

Herbs

Our herbal formulae are strong flavoured and effective. Our herbs enjoy a long history of use. A large proportion of them are grown in English soils, harvested using bio-chemistry analysis and many of them are processed fresh, which heightens their remedial properties. The majority are grown organically and are sustainable and wild-crafted. All manufacturing is carried out using licensed good manufacturing practice.

ADDITIONAL HELP IS AVAILABLE BY PHONING THE FREE PRODUCT ADVICE LINE AT HERBS HANDS HEALING BETWEEN THE HOURS OF 9.00AM TO 1.00PM. TEL: 01379 608201.

The cholesterol drug statins & recent worries; natural healing options (newsletter)

With statins in the news lately (and over the last 2 to 4 years) it seems a good moment to focus on anything that will help to prevent us needing statin drugs in the first place.

If you wish to research the story in more detail for yourselves from the original response in May 2010 from a B.M.J study, follow this link to the Guardian article.

What do statins do?

Statins lower all cholesterol levels in the body by blocking the enzyme HMG CoA reductase. This means they also detrimentally block "good" cholesterol production in the body. Good (HDL) cholesterol is vital to us and a natural by-product of good liver function. HDL cholesterol is essential for cellular repair, helps memory and learning, is a precursor of vitamin D and synthesizes your hormones, amongst other roles.

HDL cholesterol is also "good" because it helps remove "bad" cholesterol from the veins, arteries etc. and thereby removes the dangerous build-up of plaque (and potentially heart attack and stroke). It moves the cholesterol to the liver for it to deal with.

LDL is known as "bad" cholesterol but only if we have too much of it; it’s a question of balance. By their very nature, LDL cholesterol molecules are larger than HDL molecules, less dense and less stable, they easily oxidize and deposit plaques. However we need them in the right levels, because they carry the majority of cholesterol through the bloodstream and deliver it to body cells – a necessary process. So one can see why over-prescribing statins or giving them to healthy people wouldn’t be a good idea. With this in mind and due to their prevalent use in the USA, the FDA (the equivalent of our MHRA) are calling for new warnings on statins.

Foods that aim to aid "good" cholesterol

Bitter foods and those rich in plant fibre, phytosterols and plants which influence better liver and bile function (heart and circulatory function) will all be good choices. These include:

  • Olives
  • Olive oil (organic and first pressing e.g. virgin)
  • Coconut oil
  • Artichokes
  • Chicory
  • Broccoli
  • Radish
  • Cabbage and all cabbage family
  • Quinoa
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • All leafy greens
  • Leeks
  • Carrots
  • Beetroot
  • Apples
  • Watercress
  • Basil
  • Milk thistle seeds
  • Ginger
  • Turmeric
  • Lemons

Some of these appear in our Lemon & Artichoke Concentrate. All the above foods will help the liver and gallbladder work properly, so that "bad" cholesterol does not build up, become stagnant and accumulate into high and dangerous levels. (Dr Schulze calls this liver constipation! Very apt.) It goes without saying that mimising animal fats and derivatives – milk, cheese, butter – in the diet is a must, but also processed foods in general, sugar, hydrogenated oils and fats.

How Superfood Plus can help cholesterol issues

All the 14 plants in the Superfood Plus drink can help, each in their own way. Here are just three explained:

Barley grass – this grass (hordeum vulgare) has had several trials done to prove that it reduces "bad" cholesterol levels. It also scavenges free radicals. Apart from this it can help those with blood sugar issues and is rich in a wide range of minerals, chlorophyll, plant enzymes and antioxidants.

Purple dulse seaweed (sea vegetables) – all seaweeds and this one especially can lower LDL cholesterol levels. It also has anti-coagulant and anti-thrombotic properties due to its sulphated polysaccharides, that can bring valuable cardiovascular benefits for those who already have cholesterol management difficulties.

Saccharomyees cerevisiae – this yeast contains many components favourable to those who want to avoid meat and animal fats altogether. Its beta glucans can reduce blood lipid levels and help keep LDL cholesterol in check. The folic acid and high B12 levels help to keep non-meat and non-dairy eaters healthy (protein levels are also high and consist of 18 amino acids). It is grown on beet sugar and molasses, fermented, dried and then heated to remove any active aspect – it is safe therefore for candida sufferers, and is gluten-free.

Extra help for the liver

Remember the liver is there to process good and bad cholesterol, as is the gallbladder. They must both be in good working order, so specific support like milk thistle and other liver herbs can be helpful. Milk Thistle Seeds sprinkled on food is a wonderfully tasty way of doing this, or ask about our Milk Thistle & Dandelion Formula.

Heart support

If heart issues are part of your health picture, or run in your family, then hawthorn can be such a good choice to help prevent clogging arteries and lack of heart oxygen. PumpBeet Capsules contain this useful herb – ask us for a sample. (Do not take if on heart medication.)