Your heart is so much more than just an amazing pump. For the whole of your life its perpetual beat moves plasma around your body. This fluid, circulating through your arteries, capillaries and veins, contains the oxygen and nutrients needed to nourish every cell in your body, as well as carrying away waste matter and toxins. If your circulatory system were to be laid out it would stretch about 66,000 miles, so one adult’s blood vessels could wrap around the earth 2.5 times.
About Your Circulation
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Your circulatory system, also known as your cardiovascular system, includes your heart, blood vessels and blood. It fights disease and sustains homeostasis (the term for the control of your body temperature and pH balance). With each beat of your heart, 2 fluid ounces of blood is expelled, which amounts to just over 1 gallon of blood each minute and 46 million gallons over a period of 70 years.
Blood is tissue in liquid form. Just over half of it is fluid with white and red blood cells making up the remainder. Red blood cells are your body’s cellular lungs, and they carry oxygen to every cell whilst removing carbon dioxide. A sluggish circulation is not considered an illness in itself; it is the underlying cause that needs to be established and dealt with.
Having a robust circulation is vital for good health, so what can you do to ensure the smooth running of that lifegiving force which is your blood flow?
Avoid A Sedentary Lifestyle
There is a new catchphrase amongst medical scientists that ‘sitting is the new smoking.’ This would seem to be borne out by the results of massive studies conducted by both the John Hopkins University in USA and jointly by Loughborough and Leicester Universities in the UK. Their findings conclusively record evidence that sitting for long hours is extremely damaging to your health because while sitting your blood flow slows down allowing fatty acids to accumulate in your blood vessels. Over time this leads to heart disease as well as impacting negatively on other areas of your body.
New evidence is emerging that in the more affluent societies of the world, adults are spending around 70% of their waking hours sitting and this is taking its toll on cardiometabolic health. The NHS have published guidelines on what you can do to minimise the hours each day spent on a chair, sofa, in a car or on public transport. This does not include the time when you are sleeping.
The advice to stand and move about more applies to everyone at any age, other than those who need to use a wheelchair. It even applies to very young children as it is at this stage when many lifelong habits are formed. The temptation for busy parents to allow their children to spend long hours glued to screens is setting them up for health problems and the prospect of having to unlearn strong early life conditioning.
Public Health England recommend that as well as being physically active, adults are advised to minimise time spent watching TV or playing video games. Even when working at a desk, it’s important to get up and have a walk around every 20 minutes or so. To quote from the government publication entitled Health Matters: “Persuading inactive people to become more active could prevent one in ten cases of stroke and heart disease in the UK and one in six deaths from any cause. In fact, it’s often said that if physical activity were a drug, it would be classed as a wonder drug.”
Aim for a Healthy Weight
Achieving an ideal weight for your body type and age will help you to maintain a healthy circulation, but what is your ideal weight? The NHS offer an online tool to enable you to find your healthiest weight based on a few pertinent factors.
For anyone carrying too much weight there are methods of approaching weight loss to suit everyone’s needs, and stage in life. Being seriously overweight impacts negatively on the cardiovascular system, so concentrating on dealing with this is important. The NHS have a website with free guidance.
Nutritional Tips for Healthy Weight Loss
It is possible to shed weight without feeling hungry or deprived, having to count calories or subscribe to expensive diet schemes. Much of the process lies in changing habits so that you have fewer food cravings.
Adjust your daily meal plan to include less refined carbohydrate foods such as cakes, biscuits, cookies, pastries, white bread, white pasta. Also try to avoid highly processed convenience foods and processed meats. These foods tend to be enticingly moreish but empty of nutrients.
Take a break from alcohol for a while or limit it to the status of treat rather than everyday staple. Sparkling water with a twist of lime or lemon will hydrate you and cleanse your system of toxins, whereas alcohol will do the opposite.
Instead of simple refined carbohydrates choose complex carbs such as wholemeal bread, wholewheat pasta, sweet potato, brown rice, quinoa and pulses.
Include a portion of lean meat protein such as white or red meat, tuna, white or oily fish. Alternatively, choose protein from plant sources such as tofu, tempeh, lentils, beans and chickpeas. If you aim to have a protein portion of any one of these with each meal this will keep you feeling full.
Eggs are a good source of protein and the British Heart Foundation have revalued their advice that eggs were too high in cholesterol and should be restricted to 3 or 4 each week. They, and other health organisations, have now confirmed that eggs do not pose a risk to raised cholesterol levels and their use need not be limited.
Increase your intake of vegetables. The dark green leafy kind are valuable to your immune system as they are loaded with antioxidants. All vegetables are great choices, even starchy veg such as potato and parsnip are excellent sources of dietary fibre so will help your digestive system.
Fresh fruit is a healthy option and makes an excellent substitute for a sweet dessert. Berries with natural Greek yogurt make a satisfying breakfast. Try sprinkling over some ground flaxseed and walnut for an extra health boost.
Avoid fruit juice as just one glass gives a huge helping of concentrated fructose (fruit sugar) without the fibre of the whole fruit. This means you can down it very quickly instead of having to chew and digest. Imagine if you had to eat the ten oranges the manufacturers claim to have been squeezed into every glass of their juice, you’d be struggling.
If you really struggle to do without a sweet dessert, try having a couple of squares of high cocoa solids dark chocolate and just letting each square dissolve slowly in your mouth so you get the full experience of its flavour.
Fizzy drinks are a bad source of hidden calories. Lots of sugar finds its way into your bloodstream each time you have a glass of lemonade or coke, and the artificial sweeteners used to make them sound healthy are no better when it comes to nutritional choices.
You need a certain amount of good fat such as that found in avocados, flax, walnuts, olive oil, seeds and oily fish, so be sure to include a little each day. Even cooking your chicken breast in olive oil is good. Try adding a mashed avocado to your slice of wholemeal toast and topping with a poached egg or scattering a few walnuts through your green salad.
Saturated fat is not good news, especially when considering the health of your cardiovascular system. Saturated fat is mainly (although not always) the kind which is solid at room or refrigerator temperature such as butter, lard and the fat on meats. You will find more information in our blog post on cholesterol. Certain saturated fats are used for deep frying or cooking foods which need a high temperature. This is because saturated fat is stable at high temperatures so if you cook with it, be sure to thoroughly drain whatever you are cooking on kitchen paper before eating it.
Drink lots of water. Your body is nearly two-thirds water so you must keep hydrated throughout the day. Aim for a minimum of two litres of water every day.
A 2009 study found that for participants who were overweight at the time of the study, a loss of 10% of their body weight over a twelve-month period significantly improved their cardiovascular circulation. The weight loss also increased the adiponectin levels of those participating. Adiponectin is a protein hormone produced by fat cells and one of its functions is to reduce inflammation and the formation of fatty deposits in the arteries. It also enhances the way cells respond to insulin.
Spend Time with Friends
According to research by social psychologist John Cacioppo from the University of Chicago, loneliness is one of the causes of hardening of the arteries leading to an impaired circulatory system and risk of heart disease. He states that loneliness is one of the triggers for the body to produce the stress hormone cortisol, and this impacts upon the circulation, causing the heart to struggle. He recommends that anyone feeling stressed by loneliness should try to connect with old friends or join a club or class to help meet new people. Age UK have helpful advice for those who are finding themselves stressed by isolation and loneliness, and your age doesn’t have to be a factor; the advice is good for everyone.
Cardiovascular Activity to Improve Circulation
Any form of physical activity that raises your heartbeat and makes you slightly out of breath will support your circulatory system. It improves the ability of blood vessels to dilate, and this helps them work more effectively, whilst enabling muscles to receive sufficient oxygen to function better.
There are two kinds of physical movement that helps the cardiovascular system. One is aerobic and the other is anaerobic. Aerobic is the exercise derived from steady walking, swimming, cycling, housework, and gardening. Anaerobic is when you add to your activity short bursts of more intense movement such as weightlifting, sprinting, interval training and fast cycling. Ideally you might do a mixture of both, but any exercise at all is very beneficial.
A review in the journal ‘Circulation’ published by the American Heart Association, sets out some interesting statistics on various forms of physical activity designed to help those who are wondering how to make a start on cardiovascular exercise, possibly from a sedentary or semi-sedentary beginning. It gives the following activity levels with corresponding calories burned:
The benefits of factoring one or more of these exercises into your life are numerous and once you make a start, you will find the improvement to your circulation will result in you feeling generally less tired, and as you progress, the activities themselves will become easier.
Yoga for a Healthy Circulatory System
Yoga is a low-impact exercise and can be a very good way to achieve a supple and toned body without indulging in more strenuous activities. If you are new to exercise, yoga can be easily incorporated into your daily life. All you need is a mat and some clothing which allows you to bend, stretch and twist. The stretching and bending positions involved in practising yoga have the effect of not only stretching out and toning muscles and joints but of compressing and decompressing your veins, and this improves circulation.
An easy exercise for anyone new to yoga is known as the ‘downward-facing-dog’. This position is great for improving the circulation because it raises the hips and heart above the head and so causes an increased blood flow towards the head.
Here’s what you do:
- Kneel on all fours with your shoulders in a direct line above your wrists and your hips above your knees
- Take a deep breath in
- Push your hips backward and up into the air as you breathe out
- Straighten your arms and legs
- Keep your hands firmly on the floor
- Breathe in deeply and at the same time lift and press down each heel in turn so you feel the stretch along the back of your leg
- Allow your neck to loosen and relax
- Remain in this pose for three deep breaths in and out
- Slowly allow your hips to lower back into the starting position
Findings of a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials was published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology stating that there is promising evidence that yoga can improve cardio-metabolic health.
Omega-3 for Your Cardiovascular System
Omega-3 fatty acids in oily fish are good for improving circulation and for the health of your heart generally. The fish you need are salmon, mackerel, sardines and tuna. For further information on the efficacy of omega-3 fatty acids, see review entitled ‘A Fish a Day Keeps the Cardiologist Away.’
If you don’t like fish or if you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, it is possible to derive a small amount of omega-3 from kale. A cruciferous vegetable, kale is known as a superfood because it contains lots of vitamins and is also very low in fat. However, the small amount of fat which it does contains happens to be an omega-3 fatty acid called alpha linolenic-acid.
Drink Lots of Tea
Tea contains flavonoids which have antioxidant properties, and these are thought to be helpful for cardiovascular health, including the circulation. According to a scientific review, both black and green tea provide these benefits. One Study found that drinking black tea can improve blood vessel health and another concluded that green tea consumption could reduce coronary artery disease.
Effects of Smoking on Your Circulatory System
The results of tobacco smoke on the circulatory system have been well documented but here’s a reminder:
- High blood pressure and raised heart rate
- Constriction of blood vessels
- Shortage of oxygen in the blood during exercise
- Thicker blood, which is more likely to form clots
- Damaged artery linings, which can cause atherosclerosis (accumulation of fatty deposits on artery walls)
- Reduced blood flow to fingers and toes
- Higher risk of stroke and heart attack due to blockage of blood supply
If you smoke tobacco, stopping is vital. This can be a very difficult habit to kick, but help is available from the NHS both in terms of support, therapy and drugs which can inhibit addiction.
Medical Conditions Associated with Poor Circulation
One of the side effects of diabetes is poor circulation in various parts of the body, and this can result in cramps, particularly in calves and thighs. Sufferers with advanced diabetes may not be able to detect the symptoms of a poor circulation due to a lack of sensation in the extremities caused by diabetic neuropathy.
A condition where the small arteries in hands and toes become narrow and less efficient at allowing blood flow. This results in numbness and cold sensations, particularly in cold weather or during periods of stress.
One of the most frequently reported problems among men of more mature years is erectile dysfunction, and this is often down the fact that the circulatory system is struggling to get enough blood into the blood vessels of the penis to give a strong erection. Women too can find that sexual arousal is not so easy as the years go by, and this could also be down to a poor blood flow to the sexual organs. Pharmaceutical drugs such as sildenafil (otherwise known as Viagra) is widely acknowledged to help this problem, albeit with a number of side effects which may be experienced by some. In terms of natural alternatives to Viagra, we offer a choice of supplements. You may also find the information given in our blog useful.
Supplements for Circulation
When considering natural supplements to help in the quest for an improved circulation, it is important to have access to evidence-based information about the substances and compounds available. For this reason, we would like to explain why the supplements we offer are able to support you in your quest for a healthy cardiovascular system.
- Maritime Pine Bark
- An extract taken from the bark of the maritime pine tree is one that has been the subject of numerous clinical trials and has been found to be effective in strengthening blood vessels, which allows an increased blood flow throughout the body.
- The active ingredient of pine bark is a flavonoid known as oligomeric proanthocyanidin (OPC). Because of the effectiveness of this substance in delivering oxygen to cells, it provides a significant boost for anyone in need of help with their circulation, including those who have suffered a stroke. For more information see our blog entitled Benefits of Pine Bark Extract.
- Vegan Omega 3
- You need a certain amount of dietary fat to keep your body functioning properly as it does crucial work in building cell walls, supporting your brain and nervous system and for making hormones. There are certain dietary fats needed for survival that the body can’t produce and therefore they must be obtained from diet. These are called Omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids. The acids in questions are eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid (EPA and DHA).
- As already mentioned, oily fish are rich in omega acids and certain plant-based foods also have small amounts but for those who follow vegetarian and vegan diets this poses a problem. They would have to consume an unrealistic amount of those vegetables to reach desired levels of EPA and DHA. We have solved this problem with our Vegan Omega 3, derived from algae grown in a pharmaceutically graded environment using tanks of pure, filtered water. This ensures that the omega 3 is free from all ocean-borne toxins and heavy metals, making it an excellent alternative to fish oil supplements.
- Our Ahiflower Seed Oil capsules are a purely plant-based source of the Omega essential fatty acid group, derived only from the seed of the Ahiflower plant. This seed oil provides more omega 3, 6 and 9 than any other plant or seed oil. The Ahiflower also provides gamma linolenic acid which is not obtained from fish and algae oils. This supplement is suitable for vegan and non-GMO diets as no animal or algae ingredients are used in these capsules.
- Co Enzyme Q10
- Co Enzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a compound made by your body and stored within the mitochondria of your cells. Mitochondria are responsible for producing energy and protecting cells from damage caused by pathogens. Naturally occurring levels of CoQ10 lessen as you age, leaving you more vulnerable to oxidative damage.
- Research has shown that many chronic diseases are linked to low levels of CoQ10 and these include heart failure, which is often caused by inflammation of the veins and arteries leading to coronary artery disease. Certain medical treatments for these issues may further lower levels of CoQ10. A 2014 randomised double-blind trial involving 420 participants with heart failure, all of whom received CoQ10 supplementation for two years, found a marked improvement in symptoms which reduced risk of mortality from heart disease.
- L-Citrulline / Pine Bark Combination
- L-citrulline is a relatively new player in our range of circulation-boosting supplements. It works by raising nitric oxide in the blood, and this has the effect of relaxing hardened artery walls, lowering blood pressure and increasing blood flow. The combination of L-citrulline with pine bark’s ability to strengthen blood vessels is a winner when it comes to delivering an improved blood flow to the whole body.
- Healthy Heart Bundle
- For an overall approach to heart health designed to help with such problems as increased blood pressure, poor circulation, and general cardiac wellbeing, we offer a package of all three supplements to support the health of your heart and circulatory system: Vegan Omega 3, Co Enzyme Q10 and L-Citrulline/Pine Bark Combo. These may be purchased together, with a saving of 20%, or they may be purchased individually.
Help and Support
The British Heart Foundation have a wealth of useful information on their website and a support facility with helpline available.
If you would like to discuss any aspect of using natural supplements, or would find advice helpful, please feel free to contact us on 01297 553932.