Endothelial Health Explained
Our bodies contain 6 trillion endothelial cells, which line 60,000 miles of blood vessels in a single layer. Together, those 6 trillion cells make up an organ known as the endothelium, which is one of the largest organs in the human body. But how does the endothelium relate to cardiovascular function?
Healthy endothelial cells produce a naturally-occurring molecule called Nitric Oxide, also known as NO. NO is crucial to your well-being and, specifically, your cardiovascular system. In fact it is now known as one of the most significant molecules in the body.
But why is NO production so crucial?
- It causes vasodilation, or the opening or widening of the blood vessels; in turn, vasodilation enhances delivery of oxygen and nutrients to your cells.
Let’s pretend your endothelium is a factory whose major function is producing NO, and your 6 trillion endothelial cells are workers in the factory. Now, imagine that half of the workers only eat fast food with excess calories, fat and sugar; never exercise; and have high stress levels. What happens?
Production goes down, because the workers can’t make enough NO to meet the demand.
The good news is that you can support those workers. For the body to produce healthy levels of NO, two things must happen:
- First, the workers need regular exercise and ongoing weight management.
- Second, the workers need proper nutrition through a healthy diet. According to “Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010,” a healthy eating pattern includes reducing the intake of sodium, solid fats (which is a major source of saturated and trans fats), added sugar and refined grains, and replacing those foods with wholesome dietary choices.
Now, imagine that the CEO of the factory puts the workers on an exercise plan and they start eating a healthy diet. Healthy workers can produce NO at their normal output levels, conveying benefits to the entire cardiovascular system. The workers could also supplement their healthy diet with nutrients like arginine and citrulline to support normal production of NO.
Now that you understand that optimal NO levels result from a healthy endothelium, you understand one of the keys to maintaining heart health. Is there someone in your life who could benefit from learning the importance of endothelial health?