What you need to know about the circulatory system
To understand the circulatory system and how it works, there are a few important areas we need to cover, including:
- What is the circulatory system?
- What can go wrong within the circulatory system?
- What puts us at risk of circulatory problems?
- Natural remedies for circulatory issues
- Common signs of poor circulation.
What is the circulatory system?
The circulatory system provides the cells of the body with oxygen and nutrients and carries waste matter away from them in the bloodstream. This is vital for our survival as cells die without oxygen and, if waste isn't removed, then toxins build up in the tissues.
Blood needs to keep moving at all times as every part of the body has to be supplied with oxygen, food and water. In order to do this, veins and arteries act like roads going through the body, transporting oxygen and nutrients through blood cells.
What can go wrong with the circulatory system?
It is very important to have flexible arteries so that they can expand and contract during physical activity, or as hot and cold temperatures require.
Arteriosclerosis is a condition whereby arteries have hardened and lost their elasticity. This, in turn, leads to higher blood pressure or hypertension.
Blood pressure is expressed as two numbers:
- Systolic pressure - the pressure in the blood vessels when the heart contracts
- Diastolic pressure – the pressure when the heart is relaxed.
120-140 over 75-85 is a normal blood pressure reading for a healthy adult. It needs to be high enough to allow the blood to be pushed around the body and reach all the outlying extremities, but not so high as to lead to problems like a heart attack or stroke.
Smoking and diabetes will contribute to damaged arteries and, without proper blood flow, problems such as angina (insufficient blood provided to heart tissue) can occur in addition to high blood pressure.
Atheroma is the build-up of fatty plaques on the artery walls. This reduces the space inside the artery through which blood can flow. The heart is supplied by three main coronary arteries and, if they get clogged up, the blood supply to the heart will be affected.
Atherosclerosis is a combination of fatty plaques and hardened arteries and is very likely to be present in cases of a heart attack.
Low blood pressure, or hypotension, is less commonly identified than hypertension and is considered less of a problem, as it won't contribute to heart attacks and strokes. It will, however, mean that organs are poorly supplied with blood. This can lead to various symptoms, including: feeling faint or dizzy, experiencing sluggishness, cold extremities and lethargy.
Veins can often become unduly distended and knotted – a condition known as varicose veins. This can be achy and be painful, as well as looking unpleasant.
What puts us at risk of circulatory problems?
Some factors, such as race, gender and age, can increase the risk of circulatory problems. These aren't things we have control over, but there are other issues that we can control:
- Being overweight or obese
- High cholesterol
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Physical inactivity
- Poorly managed diabetes
- Poor diet and nutrition.
Natural remedies for circulatory issues
Circulatory issues, including hypotension and arteriosclerosis, should be managed by a doctor so please see your GP if you have concerns about either condition.
Generally speaking, lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, taking gentle exercise and cutting down on salt and caffeine, can have a positive effect on circulatory problems. It may also be beneficial to cut down on animal fats and hydrogenated fats in the case of atheroma and atherosclerosis.
Varicose veins, on the other hand, tend to be acquired through work due to long hours either standing or sitting down so, once again, symptoms can be tackled with increased movement and natural remedies.
Common signs of poor circulation
As well as the conditions listed above, circulatory problems can result in other symptoms that affect day-to-day life. These include:
- Chilly hands and feet
- Tendency towards chilblains
- Poor memory and concentration
For more information on the signs and symptoms of poor circulation, check out my blog 'How do you know if you have poor circulation?'.