Really Know Your Heart

Really Know Your Heart
by Allan Tomson

The heart is a muscular pump that sits in the center of the chest within a protective sac called the pericardium. The heart is made up of four chambers: a right and a left atrium, which are the upper chambers and receive blood, as well as a right and left ventricle, which are the lower, more-muscular chambers that pump blood. The left atrium receives deoxygenated blood from the body and sends it to the right ventricle, which pumps the blood to the lungs to pick up oxygen. The tricuspid valve between the right atrium and ventricle prevents blood from flowing backward.

Once blood is oxygenated in the lungs, it is sent back through the left side of the heart—first the left atrium, then to the left ventricle and out to the tissues of the body via a large artery called the aorta. The mitral or bicuspid valve prevents blood from flowing backward and shunts the blood into the aorta. The aorta gives off branches throughout the chest and abdomen that supply the entire body with oxygenated blood.

There are two very small but very important vessels that branch off the aorta almost immediately called the coronary arteries: a right and a left, which supply their respective sides of the heart muscle with oxygenated blood. The left anterior descending (LAD) is a branch off the left coronary artery that is responsible for supplying much of the left ventricular wall with blood. This is also, unfortunately, one of the most often occluded or blocked of any of the coronary vessels and as a result is sometimes referred to as the “widowmaker”.

What Causes Bloackages?

Blood clots or plaques that adhere to the inner walls of our blood vessels can cause blockages and narrowing of our coronary vessels, thus inhibiting blood flow to the heart muscle. These plaques are often created by inflammation of the endothelium or inner lining of blood vessels plus a buildup of cholesterol, fat, calcium, clotting factors, cell debris and other substances found in blood. This condition is called arteriosclerosis. This is usually accompanied by hardening of the arteries called atherosclerosis.

How Can We Test For Blockages and Risk Factors?

There are many tests available, but most evaluations begin with two that are inexpensive and noninvasive. The first is the cardiac calcium score, which measures the amount of calcium within the coronary arteries. Since calcium is a major component of plaque formation, through a measurement in the actual artery, one can get an idea of their risk factor for arteriosclerosis. This five-minute procedure is done by a CT scan, typically costs less than $250. The second test is a Cardiometabolic profile. This test measures blood fats—lipid levels such as cholesterol, LDL, HDL and triglycerides, but in an expanded way. The results of this test show the different fractions of LDLs, for instance. This is important as some of the fractions are much more atherogenic and therefore more dangerous than others. This test typically costs about $200 with insurance.

What Can We Do To Maintain Heart Health?

According to Edgar Cayce, the body thrives in an alkaline environment. He wrote often that one’s diet should be 80 percent fruits and vegetables and 20 percent grains, nuts and meat—which is quite similar to the highly effective Mediterranean diet. This is a good start to maintain a healthy heart.

Next month I will continue this article looking at both diet, heart specific supplements and how stress effects all of it.

Dr. Allan Tomson, DC, is the executive director of Neck back & Beyond Healing Arts, an integrative wellness center in Fairfax, with a satellite office in Manassas.  Not your ordinary chiropractor, Tomson has skills and experience in functional medicine, visceral manipulation, CranioSacral Therapy and Cayce protocols. Next month he will explore the effect of diet, heart-specific supplements and stress on the heart.