Your vascular system is a living, breathing, expanding and contracting organ, which is able to elastically absorb the changes in the volume of blood as it is pumped into it with each beat of the heart. This vascular organ is able to push the blood through the capillaries into the veins and back to the heart by means of keeping up a healthy and flexible tension.
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Flexibility and Elasticity of the Vascular System
Since the volume of your blood is not so easily compressed and since your heart is at regular intervals continuously exerting a standard pressure on the blood, the flexibility and elasticity have to come from the vascular system. Especially the part of the system between the heart and the capillaries (the arteries) has to be flexible, since this part has to absorb the enlargement of volume during the contraction of the heart. After the blood has passed the capillaries it flows back to the heart with much lesser pressure fluctuations.
Permeability, Flexibility and Firmness
The elasticity of the vascular walls is derived from the presence of collagen in the inner and outer layers of the walls. This wall has three layers: the intima or inner layer, which is in constant touch with the blood; the media or middle layer and the adventitia or outer layer. At the point of the capillaries, the intima's function is to exchange food-substances and gases. The media consists of muscle cells and elastical nets. This layer has to do with the dynamics of the blood flow. The adventitia holds the wall steady in its environment. All the parts and cells of the wall are so structured that an optimum permeability, flexibility and firmness can be obtained.
The process of deterioration
For the performing of all these functions, the walls have their own vascular system, which brings oxygen and food and which abducts waste materials. The whole system is very delicate and reacts immediately on messages by contracting, stiffening or relaxing. The process of deterioration sets in under the influence of Free Radicals. These biochemical terrorists have a special liking for collagen structures. Collagen consists of chains of amino acids which are intertwined in a spiral way. The spirals are inter-connected by “bridges” and these “bridges” give the elasticity to the collagen. You may compare this with a losely wound rope which is made out of three cords.
Cross-linking of Collagen
When the amino acid chains have the right amount of inter-connections (“bridges”), the structure is flexible and firm at the same time. However, when more “bridges” are being formed, the firmness becomes greater at the expense of the flexibility. This process is called cross-linking and it is very much enhanced by Free Radicals. When the collagen in your vascular walls gets stiffer and stiffer due to cross-linking, it starts to work as a strait-jacket on the cells. Over-linked collagen hampers the flow of blood and fluid through the wall’s own systems. Nutrition and oxygen do not reach the various parts of the wall in enough quantities and, what's as important, waste is not carried away. The wall gets into lower and lower survival stages.
Wiping out the Intima-cells
One of the main functions of the arterial walls is the maintaining and “exerting” of flexibility. When this function lessens, the pressure of the blood against the wall will increase. This mechanical influence will then hurt the cells of the intima to the point where these cells are actually being “wiped off” the underlying media-muscle-cells. This process is enhanced by the fact that poisons in the blood undertake chemical attacks on the intima-cells. Such poisons are the Free Radicals, but also normal body-substances like homocystein, serotonin, histamine and adrenalin. The result of all these counter-efforts against the arterial wall is a hole in the intima layer. Under normal circumstances such a hole would be easily repaired, leaving nothing more than some scar tissue. Under the stress of abnormal conditions the intima will not be able to heal itself and the help of the media-cells is needed. The muscle cells of the media layer can do nothing else than form a new-growth (tumor) to fill the hole.
The Vascular Tumor
Stress, deficient nutrition, poisons (alcohol, nicotine, drugs) and Free Radicals actually wound the inner layer of the arterial wall. Because this wounding action is severe and long lasting, the organism has to react with a powerful over-healing effort, the multiplication of the media-muscle-cells. This vascular “tumor” attracts all sorts of fortifying agents such as fats, fiber-like collagen and cholesterol to form a solid plaster. This effort in itself is very logical and fully in accordance with the survival mechanisms. If the media-cells would not react in this way, the wall would be destroyed further and the hole would grow. Under the pressure of the blood and the existing poisons, the wall would finally collapse. The plaster or “plaque” is a low level, primitive, attempt to keep up the integrity of the vascular wall. We could very well call the “plaque”-formation (artheriosclerosis) the cancer of the vascular system.
Eventually … Heart Attack
Since we have now arrived at a low level of survival, we also find a disruption of the harmony which should exist between the blood and the vascular “organ.” The various dynamics of the segregated parts of the cardiovascular-blood system now collide with each other. The thickening and hardening of the wall will interfere with the free flow of blood and it will increase blood pressure. The pressure is re-located from the arterial walls (where it belongs) to the still more flexible part of the cardio-vascular system: the heart. This will lead to more pressure of the blood on the wall of the left heart chamber, the left ventricle. As I explained in a previous article ‒ Cardiovascular Disease / OPCs and reducing the risk of heart attack ‒ with each beat of the heart, the ventricle’s muscle (the “myocard”) pushes against the blood. Because the blood in the chamber “pushes back,” the muscle, when it contracts, will squeeze itself bloodless for a brief moment. If the muscle is unable to completely refill itself due to high blood pressure, it will remain without oxygen for too long. This brief moment of hypoxia, which occurs with every beat of the heart, will create the metabolic problems that may eventually lead to mycardial infarction: a heart attack.
Watch hereunder what Professor Jack Masquelier had to say about the role of OPCs in maintaining the vascular system.