Maintaining a Flow
Do you know how blood gets round your body?
There’s quite a lot of it – seven to eight pints (four litres) in the average person. It has quite a long way to go; so it’s really quite a feat of engineering to get it flowing smoothly and regularly to all areas of the body. Especially when you consider that for large portions of its journey it’s flowing uphill!
Do you know why it doesn’t all just pool around your ankles?
Actually the body is extremely well made and in many people blood flow is never seriously interrupted. There are many factors in modern life, however, that contribute to a less than perfect delivery of blood around the body, causing symptoms such as chilly extremities, chilblains, dizziness, giddiness, erectile dysfunction in men, tiredness, memory loss, etc.
Here’s how it should work
The heart, which is an amazingly powerful organ, pumps blood out into the aorta (the main artery) full of oxygen and ready to roll out to all areas. This blood courses through the aorta, powered by the contraction of the heart, and flows into smaller arteries, and thence into capillaries, which are tiny and penetrate the furthest reaches of the body. It may help to think of the main, largest arteries as motorways, the smaller ones as A roads and the capillaries as B roads, or the lanes that lead to tiny villages and hamlets. If we’re going to be scientific about it though, the capillaries provide what is known as microcirculation.
Once the capillaries have taken this oxygenated blood to the tissues and organs that need it, and delivered up the oxygen, deoxygenated blood is collected up by more capillaries and taken to small veins, leading to larger veins, which eventually lead back to the heart. From the heart, the blood takes a trip to the lungs to fill up with oxygen again, and then back it goes to the heart to start all over again.
The deoxygenated blood is pushed back up to the heart from the lower regions of the body by the contraction of the muscles in the calf. Bear this in mind if you are a couch potato! It will be very difficult for your body to pump the blood upwards if you are slumped in a sedentary position most of the time!
What happens if things don’t go as planned?
Chaos and confusion. You really need blood to be delivered around the body; it’s not an optional extra. Areas that aren’t supplied with oxygen and the other nutrients that the blood provides have a distressing tendency to wither and die, or at least cease functioning in an effective manner. Thus we see the symptoms outlined opposite.
Why do things go wrong?
As mentioned before, people who don’t move about much, whether because of their job or their inclination, tend to become sluggish around the extremities. People with weak heart action will lack the ability to pump the blood out of the heart strongly in the first place; and those with weak blood vessels (arteries, veins and capillaries) will find it hard to power blood into the nooks and crannies that need it. Elderly people tend to have less effective blood delivery; and smokers are known to have reduced arterial flow.
More important, what can be done about it?
Luckily, masses! And without having to take up marathon running or having to cultivate a habit of standing on your head for a portion of each day to get the blood back up to the top of your body...
Ginkgo biloba is the most obvious answer to poor circulation. It has been shown in research to benefit microcirculation which I mentioned earlier. It works in a number of ways.
- It relaxes spasm in the small arteries and capillaries, making it easier for blood to flow right into the deepest corners.
- It stabilises those same small arteries and capillaries, reducing the way the walls are attacked by free radicals and thus preventing the walls being broken down.
- It reduces the stickiness of the platelets in the blood, making the blood less thick and turgid.
- The overall effect is that it is easier for the blood to flow around the body effectively. The most recent research has shown that using Ginkgo improves blood flow in the capillaries, opens unused capillaries, and increases the delivery of red and white blood cells around the body.
This means better memory, better concentration, less tiredness, less dizziness or giddiness, warmer hands and feet, and better erectile function for the chaps. It potentially helps tinnitus and dementia as well. Pretty impressive. Remember not to take Ginkgo if you are on anticoagulant medication, e.g. aspirin or warfarin.
Ginger is a good alternative if you can’t take Ginkgo. It’s a blood tonic and stimulates the circulation in a minor way.