The circulatory system is often called the cardiovascular system. Its role is to circulate blood and transport amino acids, minerals, vitamins, electrolytes, oxygen, carbon dioxide, hormones and blood cells to and from all parts of the body. Our circulatory system is the conveyor belt that nourishes the body and help in fights disease, stabilises temperature and maintains pH. The centre of this system is the heart.
Blood consists of plasma, red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. It's all circulated by the heart, carrying oxygen and nutrients to and waste materials away from all body tissues. An adult has around 5 litres of blood, and our kidneys filter this repeatedly each day, in fact they filter 180 litres per day!
The human body evolved to move around and be active for most of the day. A sedentary lifestyle, particularly sitting, has a negative effect upon circulatory heath. When you sit, blood flows slower and muscles burn less fatty acids which can dwell in the blood.
Ways to improve circulation naturally
Doctors tend to treat patients who have circulation or DVT issues with blood thinners and anticoagulants (aspirin, heparin, warfarin....). But like many other medicines, the 'cure' is worse than the disease with some serious side effects. These drugs are not cures because they ignore the underlying problems of inflammation, diabetes, obesity, insulin dependence and micro-nutrient deficiency. But you can almost always guarantee that doctors will not give you and advice on natural circulation boosters found in many foods.
- Read our extensive heart health page.
- Lose weight: If you are overweight and holding the fat internally, specifically as visceral fat, you need to drop the weight as quickly as possible. Being overweight puts a strain on your heart and makes it hard for you to be more active. Staying active reduces the chance of future heart disease and stroke. Intermittent fasting and longer fasting are healthy ways to lose weight with quick results.
- Take L-Arginine or L-citrulline. L-Arginine is the precursor of endogenous nitric oxide (NO), which is a potent vasodilator (Vasodilation is the widening of blood vessels. It results from relaxation of smooth muscle cells within the vessel walls, in particular in the large veins, large arteries, and smaller arterioles) acting via an intracellular second-messenger called cGMP. L-arginine induces peripheral vasodilation and inhibits platelet aggregation due to an increased NO production. Talking L-citrulline (which the body converts to L-arginine) is a better option to follow.
- Watermelon is a great source of natural antioxidants such as lycopene, vitamin C and citrulline. These functional ingredients act as protection against chronic health problems like cancer and cardiovascular disorders. Lycopene increases the volume of semen. L-citrulline boosts nitric oxide production in the body. Nitric oxide helps your arteries relax and work better, which improves blood flow throughout your body.
- Get some sunshine or take vitamin D. The sunshine vitamin is crucial for keeping the endothelial cells that line blood vessels healthy. Vitamin D deficiency will inhibit blood flow, affecting everything from your heart to erections.
- Dark chocolate and cacao. Studies suggest a beneficial effect of dark chocolate on blood pressure, lipids and inflammation. Benefits include greater nitric oxide bioavailability (which helps men achieve an erection). Never go for the factory produced cheap chocolates. Dark chocolate contains L-Arginine.
- Beetroot. Studies have looked at the effect of beetroot juice on blood pressure. Beetroot is a nitrate rich food which can aid blood flow and it is often cited as being a cure for erectile dysfunction as it increases nitric oxide levels.
- Pomegranate consumption is associated with a wide variety of cardiovascular benefits.Consuming the pomegranate juice also boosts the enzymatic process of eNOS which is responsible for the production of nitric oxide (NO). Nitric oxide is a primary agent that dilates the blood vessels.
- Celery is commonly known as aphrodisiac food and it likely does enhance sexual health due to its nitric oxide boosting abilities thanks to it's nitrate content.
- Garlic can increase your nitric oxide levels by 200% when taken in combination with vitamin C. It's thought that this is due to a chemical in garlic known as diallyl sulfide (which causes the strong garlic smell).
- Cabbage is full of a chemical called indole-3-carbinol, which rids your blood of estrogen hormones. Healthy men took 500mg daily for a week at Rockefeller University; their estrogen levels halved, making testosterone more effective. When you eat foods that contain natural nitrates such as cabbage, the bacteria in your tongue converts them into nitritine. Once you swallow the food, the bacteria in your gut converts the nitritines into nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is one of the main driver behind erections and without the molecule there can be no erection. Vasodilation refers to the widening of blood vessels. Nitric oxide initiates and maintains vasodilation through a cascade of biological events that culminate in the relaxation of smooth muscle cells that line arteries.
- Vitamin K2 seems to define where calcium should and shouldn’t go in the body. You need calcium to go to your bones and teeth and not to calcify the arteries and heart. Vitamin K2 works in partnership with Vitamin A and D. A diet high in vitamin K2 will lower your CAC test score. The Japanese food call Natto has an huge vitamin K2 content.
- Magnesium is necessary for maintaining a steady heartbeat and normal blood pressure. Your heart has the highest magnesium requirement of any organ. With insufficient amounts of magnesium, your heart cannot function properly. It's very important to have a good balance between calcium and magnesium, most people are deficient in magnesium.
- Omega 3. Most Western diets are deficient in omega-3 fats. Omega-3’s fats are anti-inflammatory, help regulate heartbeats, ensure healthy blood clotting and reduce the build up of fat in our arteries. Omega-3’s lower the risks of having a heart attack or stroke. Not having enough omega-3 whilst having too many omega-6 fats can actually heighten the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
- Take vitamin B3 via food or supplementation. Vitamin D helps increase blood flow and reduce inflammation, which is one of the underlying causes of high cholesterol and erectile dysfunction. Vitamin B3 is also used to make sex hormones and other important chemicals in the body. Your body uses tryptophan to make vitamin B3 in the liver (it needs B6 and iron). 60mg of tryptophan converts to 1mg of vitamin B3. Tryptophan also makes serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in regulating sleep and moods. A deficiency in tryptophan can lead to insomnia, depression, anxiety, irritability and unexpected weight loss or gain. Vitamin B3 niacin is though to be an important treatment for dangerously high cholesterol levels. Studies have also shown that vitamin B3 can boost levels of the good HDL cholesterol and lower triglycerides, whilst lowering the bad LDL cholesterol (turkey, nutritional yeast, chicken, tuna and liver all contain lots of B3).
- Korean red ginseng has been scientifically studied and the result suggests that it improves blood circulation. Ginseng has beneficial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have shown that ginseng may promote the production of nitric oxide, a compound that improves muscle relaxation in the penis and increases blood circulation. Ginseng may reduce the effectiveness of anticoagulant drugs, so you should consult a doctor before taking ginseng with such medications (
- Grounding: There is huge evidence that having you feet in contact with the earth has heart protective benefits. In a 2013 study "grounding increased the surface charge on red blood cells and reduced blood viscosity and clumping". Grounding appears to be one of the simplest and most profound interventions for helping reduce cardiovascular risk and cardiovascular events. Blood is a complex fluid containing a variety of cells, proteins, nutrients, and waste products, along with dozens of clotting factors. The mobility or zeta potential of red blood cells is a simple method for measuring blood viscosity. This is because blood viscosity is strongly influenced by the blood cells surface charge that drives them apart. Grounding also has a positive impact neutralising reactive oxygen species. Here are some ideas: Leather soles is a good idea, walking or sitting barefoot, wear an earthed wristband or sleep in special sheets that conduct and can be connected to earth. It all sounds a little bizarre, but it is science backed (probably way more healthier than statins, we could've save a trillion dollars!).
- Quit smoking. It is a fact that smoking increases your bodies oxidative stress. But smoking also has a negative effect upon circulation. Smoking damages your heart and your blood circulation, increasing the risk of conditions such as coronary heart disease, heart attack, stroke, peripheral vascular disease (damaged blood vessels) and cerebrovascular disease (damaged arteries that supply blood to your brain). They also increase your risk of blood clots. When we think of the damage being done to our body by smoking, we tend to focus on our lungs. But carbon monoxide from smoking damages the important layer of cells within arteries - this signals the bodies repair system (cholesterol) to stick to vessel walls. The damage being done isn't just to the vessels supplying blood to our heart and brain. It's occurring, to one degree or another, inside every vessel in a smoker's body. It affects everything from blood vessels associated with hearing, to the skin's blood supply that shows itself in wrinkles, early ageing, hair loss and tooth loss.
- When the body is deficient in vitamin C, it reduces our bodies ability to repair arterial damage. One of vitamin C's roles in the body is to repair the micro-fractures and lesions that occur naturally on the walls of arteries. Vitamin C is also used to make collagen. Humans differ from animals in that we evolved not to produce our own vitamin C. But we also evolved a safety mechanism, when vitamin C is low our livers produce a "sticky" repair agent called lipoprotein (a) that could be sent out to temporarily plug the arterial walls. Extreme vitamin C deficiency is called scurvy, where the arterial walls disintegrate. The absence of sufficient vitamin C impairs the formation of stable collagen in the arteries. Arterial plaquing occurs when the body tries to heal over arterial lesions when vitamin C is low. Cholesterol, lipids and calcium build up in the arterial wall which can ultimately lead to heart attacks and stokes. Animals can make their own vitamin C and so regulate collagen production and repair the heart, but interestingly only humans can produce lipoprotein (a). Animals don't tend to have heart attacks, but we do. High levels of Lp(a) means that our body needs it to fix existing arterial problems. The cause is inflammation, bad fat oxidation and a lack of natural anti-oxidants such as vitamin C. Taking measures to reduce Lp(a) does not lower your risk - it's an indicator of risk - meaning that you have an underlying problem.
Signs of poor circulation
- Cold feet and hands.
- Swelling of the legs.
- Numbness of the hands and feet (could also be a B12 deficiency).
- Bad circulation leads to dry skin and hair loss.
- Erectile dysfunction.
- Blue lips.
Being tall doesn't help! In a study published in the journal "Circulation: Cardiovascular Genetics", researchers investigated the link between height and venous clots. They found that men shorter than 5’3” had a 65% lower risk of developing a clots than men taller than 6’2”. Gravity may be the cause, as increased gravitational pressure in the veins of taller legs can also increase the risk of blood flow slowing. So if you are tall, you need to take extra special care with your circulatory health. You should be active and avoid sitting for long periods.
Testing for circulatory issues or heart disease
If you have the signs of poor circulation (numbness, cold feet and hands etc) then the following tests are recommended.
- Heart rate recovery. Write down your resting heart rate. Do 1 minute of hard exercise and take your peak heart rate (A). Wait 1 minute and measure your recovery heart rate (B).
If A-B = 12 or less: you are at risk.
If A-B = 13-20: moderate risk.
If A-B = 20-40: you are in good shape.
- Belly to height ratio. It's easier to do this in centimetres. Measure your waist at the top of your hips (don't suck it in!) Divide this by your height. This ratio has been found to be a better indicator of heart disease than the standard BMI measure. Ideally you should be at 0.5 or below:
0.49 = Females at risk.
<=0.5 = Healthy male ratio
0.51 = BMI 25 equivalent.
0.53 = Males at risk.
0.57 = BMI 30 equivalent, high risk probably obese.
0.58 = Substantial risk
0.63 = Morbidly obese.
- The CAC test score. A coronary artery calcium score is a measurement of the amount of calcium in the walls of the arteries that supply the heart muscle. It's measured by taking a special CT scan of your heart.
- C-reactive protein (CRP). Inflammation plays a key role in the development of atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease and circulation issues. The CRP test is a blood test marker for inflammation in the body. Levels of CRP rise in response to inflammation. Also ask for hs-CRP (high sensitivity).
- Blood sugar and insulin. Insulin resistance represents a major underlying factor driving heart disease and circulatory problems. Sugar is the villain, not fat. Get a fasting insulin test and blood sugar tests. Remove as many processed carbs and sugars from your diet as you can. Diabetics can go blind and have amputations due to the loss of blood circulation.
- Vitamin D test. You’ll take a simple blood test called 25- hydroxyvitamin D. 30 (60 ng/ml is normal). Vitamin D is a fat-soluble wonder compound responsible for increasing intestinal absorption of calcium, magnesium, phosphate and multiple other biological processes. Vitamin D is important for the absorption of calcium from the stomach and for the functioning of calcium in the body. If you are deficient in vitamin D you increase the risk of heart disease. Vitamin D is made from cholesterol. Vitamin D3, also known as cholecalciferol, is made in our skin when sun light is absorbed. So when the body is making vitamin from sunlight, it is consuming cholesterol. Statins will ruin you D production and yield a series of other serious side effects.
- Lipoprotein (a) testing. High levels of Lp(a) means that our body needs it to fix existing arterial problems. High Lp(a) is an indicator of risk - meaning that you have an underlying problem.
- Eye scans. The only visible arteries in your body are in your eye. Cardio Retinometry is a method of studying heart disease through the analysis of the eyes. It is a preventative measure against the threat of heart disease, high blood pressure and strokes. Using standard optical equipment for opticians, such as a fundus camera, patients can discover the early symptoms via the study of small arteries in the rear of the eye.
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