Research shows if you don’t take care of the “inner lining” of your blood vessels, you may be setting yourself up for heart disease or a stroke. Here are some important tips to improve how long and how well your arteries function.
The Relevance of “Endothelial Dysfunction”
The inner lining of your blood vessels is called the “endothelium”. Endothelial function declines with age and is associated with an increased risk for cardiovascular disease. When the lining fails to function optimally, it’s called “endothelial dysfunction” or ED. Think of a healthy endothelium as being smooth (think Teflon®) where nothing sticks to it.
ED refers to a spectrum of damaging changes that take place in the endothelium, such as the smooth inner lining becomes inflamed and “rough” (think sandpaper) from the constant assaults of substances like sodium, high blood sugar, and cortisol (stress hormone). When the endothelium becomes rough, arterial plaque* sticks to the artery wall (think spackling paste or putty).
*Plaque is fatty, waxy substance made up of materials, such as fat, cholesterol, calcium, waste products from cells, and fibrin (a clotting agent).
When Plaque Builds Up and Ruptures
As more plaque deposits build up, your artery narrows and reduces blood flow. This is known as “hardening of the arteries” or atherosclerosis. Plaque not only accumulates in the arteries, it can also rupture and create a blood clot at the ruptured area. Your body sees this rupture as an “injury” and rushes to repair it with platelets (or “thrombocytes”) to rapidly cover up the rupture and form a plug, or clot.
Platelets are very large colorless blood cells (think super glue). They help wounds heal and form blood clots to slow or stop bleeding by clumping and forming plugs in injured blood vessels.
When Plaque Breaks Away
Ruptured plaque can also break away and travel through the blood to other areas in your body and cause a blood clot. If the clot is big enough, it can block the flow of blood to arteries in various organs — e.g., lungs (pulmonary embolism), heart (heart attack), or brain (stroke).