Why Focus on Endothelial Health?- by Dr. Lou Ignarro

female-pushups-300x200When most people think of organs in the body, they think of the heart, lungs and liver. But did you know you have another, less-know organ called the endothelium? This cardio-supportive organ is made up of 6 trillion endothelial cells that line 100,000 miles of blood vessels in a single layer throughout the body. In utero, this impressive organ is one of the first to develop since blood flow is necessary to a growing fetus. With stats like that, it’s surprising more people aren’t aware of the endothelium.

The endothelium is also one of the most important organs for supporting heart health. Why? Endothelial cells are the major producer of Nitric Oxide (NO), the critical molecule responsible for relaxing the blood vessels and maintaining healthy blood flow. When the endothelium is weakened through poor lifestyle habits, NO production decreases. Since healthy NO levels are crucial in maintaining a healthy heart, focusing on the endothelium—the “production house” of NO—is an important part of supporting long-term cardiovascular wellness.

You can support endothelial health in three simple steps:

  1. Get more exercise. Better yet, commit to a lifetime of fitness that involves regular physical activity. Exercise encourages dilation of the blood vessels and increases blood flow. This increased blood flow is known as “shear stress” and is a stimulus for NO production. So, the more you move, the more NO your body produces.
  2. Maintain a healthy weight. A study by Boston University School of Medicine suggests that losing weight may help restore endothelial health. Their findings further indicate that what matters in weight loss isn’t necessarily the pounds shed—it’s the metabolic changes that occur in the body as a result of weight loss.
  3. Eat a balanced diet rich in key nutrients. While you can’t supplement NO, you can give your endothelium the nutrients it needs to function optimally and produce NO. Limiting saturated fats and eating a balanced diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy are the most important nutritional building blocks for a healthy endothelium. Supplementing with key nutrients like L-arginine and L-citrulline can support endothelial health, too. Vitamin C, vitamin E and alpha lipoic acid (ALA) also have antioxidant activity, protecting cells from the damaging effects of free radicals.

Even if this is the first time you’re learning about the endothelium, don’t worry: You can make changes now to support this important organ. Do your friends, co-workers and online social network know about the endothelium? If not, consider sharing this article to help spread the story of endothelial health. You might just help someone take a step toward living a heart-healthy—and endothelium-healthy—life.

What do you do to support the health of your heart?


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