Smorgasbord Health Column – The #Heart – Structure and function.


I appreciate that many of you who have been kindly following the blog for a long time will have seen this post before. However, if you are new to Smorgasbord, I hope you will find interesting.

You can find the other Health Column posts in this directory: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/smorgasbord-health-column-news-nutrients-health-conditions-anti-aging/

The Heart.

We tend to think of the heart from an emotional perspective but in reality it is a pump that has a number of moving parts that is vital to our survival. Since the 1960s, the heart is one of the organs that can be replaced with a transplanted organ, but there are far more patients waiting for a new heart than there are donors.

This means that we need to take care of the one we have. However, like all our major organs it is hidden from view and we really only pay it the attention it deserves when something is wrong with it. Over the next few weeks I am going to look at the heart as an organ and the basics of how it functions. This will be followed by an overview of some of the more common diseases and then the foods that should be included in our diet to help maintain its health.

I will also be featuring the silent killer which is contributory factor in heart disease… Stress.

The structure of the heart and how it works

The heart is the pump that powers the circulatory or cardiovascular system formed by a network of arteries, veins and smaller blood vessels. Blood is continuously pumped out from the heart around the venal and arterial circuits carrying oxygen and vital nutrients to all parts of the body. The arteries take the blood away from the heart and the veins bring the blood back.

Chest x-ray showing heart positionThe heart itself is a muscle, approximately the size of a clenched fist, and is shaped like a large upside down pear, located just to the left of the centre of the chest.

The heart weighs around 11 ounces or 310 grams and rests in a moist chamber, called the pericardial cavity, between the lungs and surrounded by the rib cage.

The muscle is called the myocardium and forms a shell around four cavities or spaces inside the heart that fill with blood. The two upper cavities are called atria and the bottom two spaces are called ventricles. Each side of the heart is separated by a wall called the septum and a valve connects each atrium to the ventricle below it. The valve on the left side of the body is called the mitral valve and the right side connection is called the tricuspid valve. The Endocardium lines the inside of the heart, and the heart valves, and the pericardium is a fibrous sac surrounding the heart.

Heart labelledThe top of the heart is connected to some major blood vessels – the largest being the aorta, or main artery, which carries the nutrient rich blood away from the heart to the rest of the body. Another important blood vessel is the pulmonary artery, which connects the heart to the lungs.

The two largest veins that carry blood back to the heart are called the superior vena cava and the inferior vena cava. The superior vena cava takes de-oxygenated blood from the head and the arms to the right atrium, and the inferior vena cava brings de-oxygenated blood back up from the legs and lower body also into the right atrium.

The cardiac muscle contracts between 70 and 80 beats per minute and if it is to last the normal life-span it will beat over 3 billion times. This means that the muscle has to be incredibly strong and healthy.

De-oxygenated blood always returns to the body through the right side of the heart into the atrium and then onto the lungs to pick up the oxygen. It is then returned to the heart where it enters the left side into the atrium and ventricle to be pumped to all the other parts of the body in a continuous cycle.

How does the heart beat?

The heart beats automatically without our thought or intervention and the number of beats is maintained by an electrical impulse that originates from the body’s own natural pacemaker called the sinoatrial node. The electrical impulse is sent through the atria which stimulates a contraction then through to the atrioventricular node where it will pause for a fraction of a second before continuing down special conducting fibres to the ventricles, causing them to contract.

Specific nerves called autonomic nerves, the main one being the vagus nerve, regulate the amount of times our heart beats. The ideal rate is maintained at around 70 beats at rest but is then speeded up during exercise or stress. The cardiac nerves react to messages sent from the hypothalamus, in the medulla part of the brain, and the beat rate will also increase when the “fight or flight” hormone, adrenaline, is released. This increases the amount of blood and therefore oxygen that is made available to the heart and the rest of the body.

Risk Factors

Risk factors for heart disease and stroke are largely similar for men and women.

  • Factors such as age and family history play a role, but it is estimated that the majority of CVD deaths are due to modifiable risk factors such as smoking, high cholesterol, unhealthy diet, high blood pressure, obesity, stress or diabetes
  • Heart disease was associated with men until the last twenty years and now cardiovascular disease (CVD) – heart disease and stroke – is the biggest killer of women globally, killing more women than all cancers, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria combined.

©sallycronin Just Food For Health 1999 – 2018

A little bit about me nutritionally.

A little about me from a nutritional perspective. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago. I qualified as a nutritional therapist and practiced in Ireland and the UK as well as being a consultant for radio. My first centre was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Here are my health books including a men’s health manual and my anti-aging book.

All available in Ebook fromhttp://www.amazon.com/Sally-Cronin/e/B0096REZM2

And Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sally-Georgina-Cronin/e/B003B7O0T6

Comprehensive guide to the body, and the major organs and the nutrients needed to be healthy 360 pages, A4: http://www.moyhill.com/html/just_food_for_health.html

Thank you for dropping in and if you have any questions fire away.. If you would like to as a private question then my email is sally.cronin@moyhill.com. I am no longer in practice and only too pleased to help in any way I can. thanks Sally

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Smorgasbord Health Column – The Brain – Part Three – Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease


I appreciate that many of you who have been kindly following the blog for a long time will have seen this post before. However, if you are new to Smorgasbord, I hope you will find interesting.

The Brain – Part Three – Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

Dementia is actually a collective name for progressive degenerative brain diseases, which affect our memory, thought, behaviour and emotions. It is not a normal result of ageing and it does not seem to have any specific social, economic, ethnic or geographical links. It can effect different people in different ways, which makes it difficult sometimes to diagnose and to treat.

Certain dementia, such as vascular dementia, where plaque is blocking the blood vessels in the brain are linked to lifestyle related causes such as heavy alcohol consumption. Most dementia is likely to have an element of environmental, diet or lifestyle involved in its development.

There is no known cure, but there are ways that we can modify our lifestyle to reduce our risks of brain degeneration and to slow down any process that has already begun.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and accounts for around 60% of all cases. The disease is degenerative over a period of years and destroys brain cells and nerve cells causing a disruption to the transmitters, which carry messages in the brain, particularly those that are responsible for our memories.

As the disease progresses, the brain shrinks and gaps develop in the temporal lobe and hippocampus. These areas are responsible for storing and retrieving new information. The damage results in a reduction in a person’s ability to remember events that happened in the short term, to speak, think and to make decisions. All this is both frightening and confusing, as a person will be aware of these lapses in the early stages of the condition.

What are the symptoms of Alzheimer’s

In the beginning, there may be infrequent lapses in memory, forgetting where keys have been left or perhaps failing to switch off electric cookers or other equipment. A person will start to forget the names of everyday objects or people that they are usually very familiar with. They can also suffer from mood swings and panic attacks.

As the disease progresses these symptoms worsen and there is an element of confusion over completing every day tasks such as shopping, cooking and more dangerously driving.
The changes in personality are often attributable to fear and the awareness that something is very wrong. In the earlier stages people tend to try and hide the symptoms. This happens because, much of the time, they will be aware that there is a problem and will not want to accept that this could be as serious a condition as dementia.

In the advanced stages it is not only extremely stressful for the person concerned but also very distressing for their immediate family. We have experience of the problem with a close family friend who was in his 80’s and was looking after his wife who had Alzheimer’s for two years before she went into a home. At that point he was no longer able to cope. She was in danger of hurting herself as she was wandering off in the middle of the night, falling over and hurting herself as well as becoming terrified and disorientated. My own mother in the last two years of her life became increasingly confused but she was nearly 95 when she died. She had family and remained in her own home but for future millions who perhaps have not surviving family it will be a challenge for them and the care services.

What are the risk factors?

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of dementia, but there are several probable links that have been the subject of research in recent years.

There is some evidence of a genetic link to the disease, but that is not proven. Lifestyle most definitely will have played a contributory role as exposure to toxins from smoking, excessive alcohol consumption or work environment will cause damage to the body as a whole and certainly to the brain. There is obviously natural age related degeneration of the entire body and its systems to take into account and any previous head trauma may be part of the problem. There are links to chemical contamination including poisoning from mercury – which can be found in some of the fish that we eat – and also from aluminium, which is most commonly linked to the metal in some of our cooking utensils.

Some recent statistics suggest that at least 10% of those over 65 and 50% of those over 85 years old will be suffering from varying degrees of dementia. We unfortunately have no control over natural ageing, or our genetic background, which means that we should be looking at ways to prevent or minimise the risk of us developing the disease from a much earlier age than our 60’s.

What preventative measures can we take – starting today?

  1. The key factors to reducing your risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in particular are very simple and effective.
  2. Your brain is a major organ of the body that requires nutrients to function efficiently and to repair and protect itself. There are specific foods that provide those nutrients and including them in your diet on a very regular basis will be effective.
  3. You need to keep your heart and arterial system clear of oxidised LDL cholesterol and working efficiently to enable vital nutrients and oxygen to reach the brain. However, cholesterol is essential for the body and is involved in many processes including the production of hormones and therefore brain function. Reducing total cholesterol can therefore impact your brain health. Healthy fats are essential in various forms.
  4. You must work the brain as you would any muscle in your body. Stimulating activities strengthen brain cells and the connections between them and may even create new nerve cells.
  5. We all need people around us and it is even better if we involve ourselves in activity that requires mental and physical co-ordination.
  6. Physical exercise maintains healthy blood flow to all our organs including the brain where it will prolong the health of existing brain cells by preventing any further damage.

The one way to deal with an overwhelming fear is to face it and take control of it. For me that has meant a radical change in lifestyle. At one time I smoked over 40 cigarettes a day and drank more than was good for me. My diet was atrocious and I was morbidly obese. I was certainly in a high-risk category for declining brain health, if I had lived long enough to develop the disease.

That is not to say that you have to totally abstain from everything that gives you pleasure. We only have one life and whilst I am totally anti smoking these days, I do believe that we should balance our lifestyle with our pleasures factored in. You will often find me quoting my 80/20 rule. If you follow a healthy lifestyle 80% of the time and the other 20% indulge yourself a little then you will be on the right track.

Reduce the Risk

  • Good Nutrition and hydration.
  • Low levels of plaque in our arteries so that oxygen can get to the brain
  • Exercise your brain as well as your body
  • Social interaction

Next time – Key nutrients for brain health.

©sallygeorginacronin 1999-2018

A little bit about me nutritionally.

A little about me from a nutritional perspective. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago. I qualified as a nutritional therapist and practiced in Ireland and the UK as well as being a consultant for radio. My first centre was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Here are my health books including a men’s health manual and my anti-aging book.

All available in Ebook from:  http://www.amazon.com/Sally-Cronin/e/B0096REZM2

And Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sally-Georgina-Cronin/e/B003B7O0T6

Comprehensive guide to the body, and the major organs and the nutrients needed to be healthy 360 pages, A4: http://www.moyhill.com/html/just_food_for_health.html

Thank you for dropping in and if you have any questions fire away.. If you would like to as a private question then my email is sally.cronin@moyhill.com. I am no longer in practice and only too pleased to help in any way I can. thanks Sally

Smorgasbord Health Column – The Organs of the Body – The Brain – Part Two – How the brain develops from conception through life.


I appreciate that many of you who have been kindly following the blog for a long time will have seen this post before. However, if you are new to Smorgasbord, I hope you will find interesting.

Here is part one of the series about the structure of the brain.

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2018/03/26/the-smorgasbord-health-column-the-organs-of-the-body-the-brain-part-one-introduction-and-anatomy/

How the brain develops from conception through life.

We are hard wired and from the moment of conception there will be enforced changes to the structure and function of our brains. Whilst the process of development is beyond our control, there is still a powerful external influence on how well that programming is carried out. Before birth the health, nutrition, environment and lifestyle choices of the mother can impact both the rate of brain development and the health of the brain cells. After birth during the formative years up to age 15, environment, nutrition and stimulation of those brain cells is critical and if they do not receive sufficient amounts of all of these there is a chance that irreversible damage will occur.

The development of the brain does not follow a straight upward line it comes in waves with certain parts of the brain achieving full function at different times. There is however a sequence that every brain will follow.

Egg surrounded by SpermAt conception the sperm and the egg form a single cell combining to form the genetic blueprint. Over 60% of our genes are committed to forming our brain which is after all the control centre for all our other functions. Around three to four weeks into development a thin layer of cells form in the embryo, which then fold and fuse to form a liquid filled tube. This minute start is vital as it is the first stage in the development of the brain and spinal cord. This is followed by the production of nerve cells called neurons.

Embryo 54 daysA miracle occurs as cells in the neural tube accelerate at an amazing rate reaching around 15million neurons an hour. This rate of growth continues for the first six months of a foetus’s development.

At around 14 weeks with millions of cells in place a change occurs as they begin to migrate to specific parts of the neural network and the inbuilt GPS usually sends them to the correct address. Some do however get lost or damaged in transit and die off.

Rarely however, some do reach the wrong destination and form incorrect connections and this coding error can lead to certain disorders such as autism or epilepsy, slower physical and mental development and in some cases more severe mental health issues.

At 20 weeks about half the existing cells are shed and those that remain are organised into compartments within the brain that govern virtually every automatic function in our bodies and also our senses and skills.

At birth we have around 100 billion brain cells and we begin the next stage in our development. Most of the connections between the neurons are barely formed and will need to be strengthened by the time we reach the age of three. A baby has most of the senses working at birth such as sight, smell, hearing and the ability to respond to touch. Immediately with that first breath the brain kicks into overdrive and forms trillions of connections and pathways enabling learning.

As with the early development of the brain, it is vital that the environment, nutrition and stimulation are available to enable the brain to process and learn from experience.
These experiences trigger the electrical activity necessary to enable the brain to develop connections and grow. These connections are called synapses. The connections are formed by each neuron putting out a long tentacle like fibre called an axon. The neuron uses the axon to send messages to other neurons. The messages are sent as electrical signals and picked up by thousands of short, hair like fibres called dendrites (also produced by the neurons). Each neuron is able to connect up with thousands of other neurons.

It is then that ‘practice makes perfect’ comes into play as repeated experiences, sights, smells or movements form well-worn paths within the brain that we remember for a lifetime. By age two our brains have developed trillions of these pathways and although they continue to form throughout our lifetime they have reached their highest density.

Our higher functioning ability is usually operational by age three and we begin to think for ourselves, use language effectively and have developed personality traits.

After three years old we continue to absorb knowledge and experience like a sponge and the constant practice etches the functions into the brain. If that absorption ceases for some reason and we stop practicing certain functions, we can lose them completely as the brain discards little used pathways in favour of more travelled routes.

This pruning process and strengthening of the connections in the brain is most active in the teen years. The prefrontal cortex is the last to mature and it involves the control of impulses and decision-making. Anyone who has had children going through this phase will have a clear understanding of the ‘challenges’ that arise during this phase! This powerful surge in the brain is accompanied by the added influx of hormones which results in a chemical and electrical ‘perfect storm’.

There is a strong element of voluntary change at this stage of the development of the brain. It is around this age that we start making choices about what we eat, the amount of exercise we take, to take up smoking or drinking alcohol and to stop formal education. All these elements will affect the few years left of brain development we have left and therefore our mental capacity.

The brain continues to defrag the mainframe and the strongest connections survive. By our early 20s our brain development is matured into a powerful and functioning organ with approximately 500 trillion pathways.

At around 30 years old the physical changes will wind down in the brain and this is where even more of a voluntary contribution to growth, experience and maintenance is required to keep the pathways clear of debris such as plaque so that they continue to function efficiently.

This phase lasts for the next 35 or 40 years. The brain cells are active and we contribute to their health by diet, stimulation and avoiding lifestyle choices that kill them off. Such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol, not taking exercise, eating a diet rich in components that block our arteries and blood flow to the brain……you get the idea.

After 65 years old there is a natural dying off of cells in certain parts of the brain. This does not mean that you will lose all your mental capacity, but little things will begin to make an impact on your daily functioning. For example brain cells lost from the Hippocampus where we process memories will result in forgetfulness.

You are NOT destined to develop full blown dementia and you can make sure that you support your brain function by eating a healthy balanced diet, getting plenty of oxygen and regular exercise, reducing stress and interacting with others and events to stimulate the pathways to remain open. More so than at any other time in the lifespan of your brain, the voluntary choices and changes you make to your way of life will bring huge benefits.

©sallygeorginacronin 1999-2018

Next time a more detailed look at dementia and how we can take preventative action at any age to minimise the decline in brain function.

A little bit about me nutritionally.

A little about me from a nutritional perspective. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago. I qualified as a nutritional therapist and practiced in Ireland and the UK as well as being a consultant for radio. My first centre was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Here are my health books including a men’s health manual and my anti-aging book.

All available in Ebook fromhttp://www.amazon.com/Sally-Cronin/e/B0096REZM2

And Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sally-Georgina-Cronin/e/B003B7O0T6

Comprehensive guide to the body, and the major organs and the nutrients needed to be healthy 360 pages, A4: http://www.moyhill.com/html/just_food_for_health.html

Thank you for dropping in and if you have any questions fire away.. If you would like to as a private question then my email is sally.cronin@moyhill.com. I am no longer in practice and only too pleased to help in any way I can. thanks Sally