Every time you put your hand to your chest, you can feel your heart at work. But, do you know what’s really going on in there?
The heart is the body’s engine room, responsible for pumping life-sustaining blood via a 60,000-mile-long network of blood vessels including arteries, veins, and capillaries. The vital organ works ceaselessly, beating 100,000 times a day and more than 2.5 billion times during the average lifetime.
Types of Blood Vessels
The vast network of blood vessels in the body delivers nutrient-rich blood to the organs and tissues. There are three types:
Arteries: Carry oxygen-rich blood away from the heart to the body’s tissues. Arteries branch off in many directions, becoming small as they move farther from the heart.
Capillaries: Small, thin blood vessels that connect the arteries and the veins. Their thin walls allow oxygen, nutrients, carbon dioxide, and other waste products to pass to and from our organ’s cells.
Veins: Blood vessels that take oxygen-poor blood back to the heart. This blood is rich in waste products that will be removed from the body. Veins become larger the closer they are to the heart.
The heart is a four-chambered organ divided into a left and right side. Each side is further divided into two top chambers called the atria, and two bottom chambers called ventricles.
As the heart beats, blood is pumped via the blood vessels throughout all areas of the body, carrying the oxygen and essential nutrients to your body’s cells. Blood also carries carbon dioxide to your lungs so you can breathe it out. Inside your heart, valves keep blood flowing in the right direction. It’s a complex dance that the body has tuned perfectly to sustain life.
Primary Duties of the Heart:
- Transport oxygen and nutrients to organs and cells throughout the body
- Pick up and rid the body of carbon dioxide and wastes
The Heart’s Electrical System
This synchronized system in the body speaks to the true power of the heart. The heart’s electrical field is roughly 60 times greater in amplitude than the electrical activity generated by the brain – producing the largest electromagnetic field of any of the body’s organs.
Your heart’s electrical signals are similar to the way electricity flows throughout power lines to supply your house with energy. The heart muscle is made up of tiny cells that control the timing of your heartbeat by sending an electrical signal through them. Like all muscles, the heart needs a source of energy to perform. Two different types of cells in your heart enable this process. Conducting cells carry your heart’s electrical signal. The electrical signal then triggers muscle cells, which enable the heart’s chambers to contract.
Electrolytes are substances in the blood that help trigger and send electrical impulses in the heart. Think of them as electrically charged minerals that help your body carry out every process. Electrolytes enable muscle contractions, transmission of nerve signals, and regulate fluid levels. Potassium, sodium, calcium, and magnesium are vital electrolytes in the blood that are invaluable to cell function.
How does the heart beat?
Your heartbeat is defined as the contraction of your heart to pump blood to your lungs and the rest of your body. This complex system controls the rate and rhythm of your heartbeat. It’s easy to mix up the two.
Heart Rate: number of times your heart beats per minute
Heart Rhythm: the synchronized pumping action of your four heart chambers
The two upper chambers of the heart (atria) work together as a team with the two lower chambers (ventricles). Every heartbeat is triggered by electrical impulses that travel down a special pathway right along your heart.
- The sinoatrial (SA) node, a small mass of specialized cells located in the right upper chamber (atria) of the heart, sends out an electrical signal.
- This signal triggers muscle cells in the heart, which cause the atria to contract, pumping blood into your left and right ventricles.
- After blood is pumped into the ventricles, the electrical signal arrives at the atrioventricular node (AV), a group of cells located between the atria and ventricles.
- The AV node briefly slows down the electrical signal to allow the ventricles enough time to receive blood from the atria.
- When the electrical signal leaves the AV node, the ventricles can contract. Your right ventricle pumps blood to your lungs while the left supplies blood to the rest of your body.
- After the atria and ventricles have contracted, this intuitive cycle resets and begins again.
If you locate your pulse by placing two fingers on the neck or wrist, you can feel your blood stopping and starting as it moves through the arteries. Normally at rest, the average person has an estimated pulse rate of 60-100 beats per minute.
A healthy heart supplies your body with the proper amount of blood at the rate it is needed. A problem with your electrical conduction system, or the nervous or endocrine systems, which help manage your heart rate and blood pressure—can make it harder for the heart to perform its job.
Common Culprits that Impact Heart Health
While little can be done about the risk factors of age and genetics, the likelihood of heart complications increases with unhealthy lifestyle choices. Let’s highlight a few factors within our control.
- Smoking, of course, is contraindicated in heart disease. It dramatically decreases oxygen levels throughout the body and the heart has to work furiously to try to keep the body oxygenated.
- Drinking alcohol releases catecholamines from the adrenal glands – triggering the release of adrenaline stored in the heart. Alcohol is also dehydrating and feeds intestinal yeast. Caffeine also has a stimulatory effect on the heart similar to alcohol. If you are experiencing heart-related problems you may benefit by refraining from coffee and strong tea.
A healthy, balanced diet plays a major role in blood pressure control and weight management.
High-sugar, high-fat “junk food” diets combined with the overuse of antibiotics and stress can not only add unwanted pounds but can trigger yeast overgrowth in the body. Yeast produces 178 different metabolic byproducts with a variety of side effects that can impact cardiovascular health.
Minerals are necessary cofactors for normal cardiac metabolism. Electrolytes help maintain proper nerve signals, trigger and sustain the heart’s electrical signals, and support healthy muscle contractions. Potassium, sodium, calcium, and magnesium are vital to cell function.
Lack of Movement:
Extended periods of inactivity can put you at a greater risk for high blood pressure. A sedentary lifestyle in combination with an unhealthy diet can lead to the buildup of fatty material in the arteries (the blood vessels that carry blood to your organs). If the arteries become damaged, this can lead to decreased heart function.
The heart is often the driver of our emotional state and experiences. When you become stressed, the brain is the first responder on the scene. Recognizing the threat, a part of the brain called the hypothalamus releases adrenaline to the rest of the body. As a result, the fight-or-flight response is triggered, leading to a quickened heartbeat, increase in blood pressure, and change in breathing patterns. Over time, these reactions can take a toll on the body as consistently high blood pressure and repeated spikes can sabotage cardiovascular health.
Risk factors can develop into more serious health issues over time, and heart function can become compromised. This can lead to hardening of the arteries, weakness of the heart muscle and deficiency of magnesium, potassium, and a long list of other nutrients mandatory for healthy heart function.
What is Heart Disease?
Heart disease is a type of cardiovascular disease (CVD), meaning it affects your heart and blood vessels. There are many types of heart disease, each one having its own symptoms and course of treatment.
One of the most common types of heart disease includes Coronary artery disease.
Coronary artery disease can happen when the major blood vessels that supply your heart become damaged. The buildup of fatty plaques in the arteries, known as atherosclerosis, can impair blood vessels and overall heart function. As we discussed earlier, blood vessels help deliver blood to our organs and tissues. Plaque buildup causes narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Other types of heart disease include:
- Arrhythmias: heart rhythm irregularities
- Heart Failure: your heart doesn’t pump blood well enough to meet your body’s oxygen and nutrient needs.
- Heart Valve Disease: an abnormality that makes it hard for the heart valve to open and close properly. Blood flow can become blocked or blood may leak through.
- Heart Infection
Heart problems can often go unnoticed and remain silent until symptoms of a heart attack or heart failure manifest. Symptoms can also vary depending on the condition.
A few symptoms may include:
- Arrhythmia: Fluttering feelings in the chest (palpitations)
- Chest pain, chest tightness, chest pressure
- Chest discomfort (angina)
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Unusual fatigue & weakness
- Shortness of breath