Blood circulation plays a critical role in the health of our body. All the cells within our body require nutrients and oxygen. Blood carries these vital elements throughout to the body to nurture organs, tissues and cells. Waste products are also removed from the body through the same system. Blood vessels, lungs and the heart, all work in unison to complete circulation.
There are two dominant circulation pathways involved in blood circulation, the systematic and cardiopulmonary:
Associated with the cardiovascular system, systematic circulation is responsible for transporting oxygenated blood away from the heart to supply the rest of the body. This system also brings deoxygenated blood back to the heart.
This system is responsible for transporting blood away from the heart to the lungs. It also returns blood from the lungs to the heart.
Blood circulation occurs through three specialised routes, the portal, coronary and foetal:
Portal: This route takes blood away from the digestive system and transports it to the liver, regulating blood glucose concentrations.
Coronary: In this route, blood from the heart is transported to the heart wall muscular layer to provide the oxygen necessary for the heart to pump blood. This route is also responsible for removing carbon dioxide as waste.
Foetal: In pregnant women, this route delivers nutrition and oxygen to the foetus from the mother’s bloodstream.
A strong circulatory system is essential for the body to function properly. When your circulation system is compromised, you become susceptible to a wide range of health problems. One of the best ways to help improve blood circulation naturally is to make changes to your diet and exercise regularly.
Here is a video of Dr Ignarro, Nobel Prize winner in 1998 for his work on NO explaining the benefits of increased NO to the human body:
Health Risks Associated With Poor Blood Circulation
Blood circulation impacts all of our body, including vital organs and limbs. Some of the common effects of poor blood circulation are outlined below.
Reduced brain function: Approximately one fifth of the blood required by the brain to function properly is received from blood transported through the heart. If the blood flow to the brain is compromised, individuals may experience memory loss, dizziness, and unexplained headaches.
Unhealthy heart: Poor circulation can reduce the blood supply to the heart. Not only does this limit the flow of blood from the heart to other organs, it also compromises the heart itself. This can result in high blood pressure (hypertension). Hypertension elevates the risk of developing coronary artery disease (atherosclerosis) because of the associated damage to the arteries. The effects of high blood pressure on the body increase the risk of congestive heart failure, blindness, stroke, and kidney disease.
Compromised nutrient supply: Blood carries crucial nutrients throughout that body and in areas of poor circulation cells may die due to an inadequate supply of nutrients. This can also compromise the immune system and healing processes throughout the body, leading to disease susceptibility and poor general health.
Indeed, circulatory diseases are the single largest cause of death over the age of 35!
Symptoms of Poor Blood Circulation
There are a wide range of symptoms that can be associated with poor blood circulation. Some of the more common complaints include:
• Decreased mental clarity
• High blood pressure
• High cholesterol
• Painful swelling of limbs
• Non-healing wounds
• Chest pain
• Erectile dysfunction
What Causes Blood Circulation Problems?
Poor blood circulation is a very common condition, especially in the older population. As we age, our blood supply naturally declines. Lifestyle factors such as tobacco and alcohol use, poor nutrition, lack of exercise and unmanaged stress, can all contribute to blood circulation problems. Some diseases also add to poor blood circulation, such as diabetes and obesity.
Despite the prevalence and seriousness of poor blood circulation, there are some simple measures that can be taken to improve this condition. One very important step to resolve poor circulation is to ensure that the body is receiving enough nitric oxide (NO).
The Critical Role of Nitric Oxide in Blood Circulation
The American scientific community declared NO as the ‘Molecule of the Year’ in 1992, and in 1998, a Nobel Prize was awarded to the scientists that discovered its role as a critical signalling molecule. It is involved in an array of pathological and physiological processes within the body and plays a vital role in blood circulation.
Nitric oxide is naturally produced within the endothelial cells that occur within blood vessels. This molecule signals the body to carry out certain functions when it’s released into the bloodstream. It helps to lower blood pressure and it promotes vascular homeostasis1.
Essentially, NO supports optimal blood circulation and improves the body’s overall performance2. Better blood flow improves brain function, enhances oxygen transfer and increases energy. It also helps to shield the body from cardiovascular diseases and other serious illnesses.
Amino Acids Citrulline & Arginine – Critical Precursors of NO
In order for the body to manufacture NO it must be able to convert the amino acid arginine. For the body to produce arginine, it needs another amino acid, citrulline. Consequently, arginine and citrulline are vital precursors for the body to produce NO.
It’s possible to boost NO levels by increasing citrulline intake to facilitate arginine conversion. This can be very beneficial for people with NO deficiencies. It is also advantageous for individuals suffering from cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure 3. The associated improvements in blood circulation can also help to treat mild erectile dysfunction in men without having to resort to drugs such as Viagra4.
There are many supplements on the market that combine arginine and citrulline in order to help individuals boost their NO concentrations. However, it’s very important to follow the prescribed doses. Excess NO within the body can have toxic side effects5. If you are already taking medication to lower blood pressure, it’s highly recommended that you consult a physician before taking arginine and citrulline supplements.
Pine Bark Extract aka Pycnogenol
Once Arginine gets absorbed in the body, it travels into the bloodstream, where it can convert into NO. This chemical reaction requires an enzyme known as nitric oxide synthase (NOS). Therefore, NOS acts as a limiting factor on the amount of Arginine that can convert into NO. Taking Pine Bark Extract (also known as Pycnogenol in the USA) increases the activity and amount of NOS available to catalyse the conversion.
As a potent antioxidant, Pine Bark Extract can also help to fight free radicals that cause disease and aging. Arginine is also thought to increase the secretion of HGH, human growth hormone, from the pituitary gland6.
Foods Rich in Citrulline & Arginine
By including foods rich in arginine and citrulline into your diet you can help to optimise blood circulation and decrease the damaging effects of poor circulation.
Rich food sources for citrulline include watermelon, cucumber, cantaloupe, beans, onions, garlic, eggs, fish (especially salmon, haddock and tuna) and poultry. Soy-based proteins are one of the best sources of arginine. Other arginine rich foods include nuts, whole grains, seafood, eggs, sesame seeds, legumes, spinach, poultry, pork and red meat.
Poor blood circulation has numerous negative side effects on our body, some of which can lead to life threatening diseases. How well our body circulates blood is carefully regulated by nitric oxide, with deficiencies leading to poor circulation.
While NO occurs naturally in our body, its availability is closely linked to the amino acids arginine and citrulline. These NO precursors are readily available within certain foods. Through our diet, it’s possible to elevate the production of NO and promote healthy blood flow.
Improving our blood circulation offers plenty of health benefits. It can decrease the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, improve brain function, enhance nutrient transport throughout the body, and ultimately, increase our body’s performance. A balanced diet containing arginine and citrulline will also contribute to an overall well-being through supporting other important processes within our body.
- “http://www.clinchem.org/content/44/8/1809.long ↩
- “http://www.pnas.org/content/86/9/3375.short ↩
- “http://jn.nutrition.org/content/130/11/2626.short ↩
- “http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21195829 ↩
- “http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/001457939500764Z” ↩
- “http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12127300” ↩