An ecosystem is all the living things, from plants and animals to microscopic organisms, that share an environment. An ecosystem can be quite large, as in the ecosystem of the Amazon rain forest, or as in some ecosystems within humans, invisible to the naked eye. In just the last decade, scientists have discovered much about these ecosystems of the body. For example, we now know that keeping a healthy gut environment maintains a plethora of benefits for overall health. Let’s apply that same idea as we discuss the ecosystem of the blood.
Within the cardiovascular system is a transportation system consisting of the blood and its “freeway” we call the arteries. If you were to open up all of the blood vessels in the human body and lay them out flat, they would occupy a surface area larger than several tennis courts. Within this surface area live billions of cells that are metabolically active and transport essential nutrients throughout the body. Maintaining a healthy environment inside those vessels keeps the freeway running smoothly. To ensure there are no fender-benders or tie-ups on the road, the following “cargo” is necessary.
Blood oxygen is the essential fuel that is carried to the cells of the body for metabolization, or making energy. After a cell is finished making energy, its by-product is carbon dioxide, which needs to be transported out of the body. This vital process of oxygen in, waste product out, is driven by the lungs. Therefore, the clear starting place to support this exchange is to breathe – and not just the unconscious, shallow breathing we do automatically, but deep breathing. Techniques such as deep or diaphragmatic breathing along with aerobic exercise that forces your heart rate to increase are excellent ways to support this system.
Another way to increase oxygen uptake and improve heart health is to consume foods that are rich in nitrates. This is not the same “nitrate” found in processed meats. Nitrate is a compound formed when nitrogen combines with oxygen and it can be found naturally in our soil. Studies show nitrate-rich foods can improve cardiovascular health in a variety of ways, notably decreasing blood pressure.
Nitrate-rich foods include:
Water, Nutrients and Proper pH
Blood is opaque and thick, so it’s not easy to imagine that it is made up of mostly water and minerals. Without going too far into the science of blood, it’s important to note that over 90% of blood plasma is water, while the rest is made up of proteins, electrolytes, vitamins and nutrients like glucose.
Let’s highlight the electrolyte minerals here, as they play a major role in transporting the blood to the tissues and maintaining proper pH of the blood. The term “pH” stands for a measure of acidity. Human blood pH likes to hang out slightly alkaline (around 7.35 to 7.45) to maintain healthy body chemistry. A good balance of electrolyte minerals such as sodium, potassium and bicarbonate are essential to keep things moving on the cardiovascular freeway. Unfortunately, our modern Standard American Diet (aka SAD) is far too high in one of the minerals above: sodium! Here’s an alternate route to approach lowering your sodium intake – instead, think of increasing your potassium-rich foods. Potassium balances sodium and keeps the heart healthy!
- White beans
- Potatoes and sweet potatoes (with skin)
- Cooked spinach and Swiss chard
- Unsweetened coconut water
When temperatures rise, a road can buckle. If it gets too cold, roads can become icy and hazardous for driving. Similarly, in order for our circulatory system to function, it must maintain the right body temperature. To ensure this is properly managed, the body employs one of the master glands, the hypothalamus, for the job. This hormone manager regulates the blood to either absorb or give off heat, depending on the body’s needs. As we age, our body temperature can be a challenge to regulate, so here’s some “road-side assistance” to help you remain comfortable in both hot and cold environments.
Cold body (Air or Earth) tendencies:
- Add warming spices to your diet: turmeric, ginger,
- Avoid iced or frozen food and/or beverages
- In cold temperatures, cover the chest and the ankles.
Hot body (Fire) tendencies:
- Add electrolytes to your water
- Avoid fried and spicy foods
- Have ½ cup plain yogurt with 1 tsp 100% pure maple syrup after a meal or as a snack
As we travel along the road to better health, it is important to understand how our bodies function in order to optimize our well being. Like a car without fuel, we can’t go anywhere without a healthy blood ecosystem, so let’s do our best to give our bodies what they need to run smoothly!