Transportation: Circulation and Inflammation
What if there was an accident that required medical attention, say from an ambulance.
But what if the traffic was blocked, and the ambulance couldn’t get there. The situation would continue to get worse until the ambulance got there. But what if the traffic didn’t clear?
Inflammation has evolved as a protective response to injury and helps to promote restoration of tissue and function. It is a carefully balanced control system, which relies primarily on circulation. In the body, when we have an injury and subsequent inflammation, the circulatory system allows the clear out of debris and restoration of optimal tissue health. Our circulatory system is like the roads, and neutrophils, cytokines and a host of other molecules are the ambulances. So when all the roads are blocked, the ambulance can’t get to the accident.
How do we ensure optimal circulation? There are a few ways. Outside of diet, maintaining a healthy weight, staying hydrated and getting your blood pumping, we can also look at breath control and temperature training. Could it be as simple as changing up your breathing, and getting hot and cold? Yep. How and why? Read on.
The amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood has an important flow on effect to how open or closed our blood vessels are (vasoregulation). You see carbon dioxide (CO2) and Nitric Oxide (NO) are potent vasodilators (opens vessels). The problem is many people have a decreased tolerance to CO2, primarily due to poor breathing habits. Short, shallow over-breathing via the mouth continually boots CO2 out of the body, causing vessels to get smaller, impeding circulation.
What to do? Restore your body's ability to tolerate higher levels of CO2, and therefore keep vessels open. How? Breathe less, breathe slower, breathe with the nose, and occasionally practice holding your breath (only when it is safe to do so). By repeatedly exposing the body to increased C02, the body and brain will adapt, decreasing sensitivity, and improving the bodies ability to maintain oxygenation.
And what about temperature? Well, blood vessels are surrounded by smooth vascular muscle. This type of muscle is involuntary ie. we can’t control it. What does affect smooth muscle is temperature. When we get hot, the muscles relax, allowing vessels to get bigger and release heat. And when we get cold, the muscles contract, closing down vessels to conserve heat. Our bodies adapt to the environment with incredible complexity, the problem is, we don’t give it the chance to anymore. When it is cold, we turn on the heat, and when it is cold we grab a jacket, completely blocking our bodies natural ability. What happens to a muscle when it never gets worked on? It gets weak. So by avoiding temperature variation we invariably are causing our circulatory system to get stiff and weak, further reducing our ability to transport nutrients and clear out inflammation.
So it’s simple. Pay attention to your breathing, and get better at dealing with CO2. And expose your body to variation. Sauna, cold shower, maybe not taking your jacket on a cool day. Exercise the full capacity of your circulatory system.
Ensure that the roads are clear, and that the ambulances can get to where they need to, when they need to.