Our instant-gratification society teaches us to seek out quick solutions for our health challenges. Google any health condition and you’re bound to come across products and procedures that fit into this mold. Have joint pain? Take glucosamine chondroiton. Have chronic acne? Take high doses of vitamin A. Want to lose weight and have rock-hard abs? Obey the golden rule to a flat stomach, and the rule will only cost you $39.95. It’s fine to use natural products to optimally support specific areas of your body. But please be mindful of the following principle of healing.
The best way to improve the health of one area of your body is to use all of your daily choices to improve your overall health.
To help keep this principle at the forefront of your mind as you strive to get and stay well, let’s take a big picture look at how interconnected all of your body parts are.
To start, let’s review the basic pathway of blood through your body.
A good place to begin is your small intestine. As your blood courses through the vessels that line your small intestine, it picks up nutrients from your most recent meal.
From your small intestine, your blood flows to your liver, where nutrients are packaged into bundles that can be transported to all of the cells of your body.
From your liver, your blood travels upward to the right chambers of your heart.
From the right chambers of your heart, your blood travels to your lungs, where it picks up oxygen from the air that you inhale. Also at your lungs, your blood releases carbon dioxide (a waste product that it picks up from all of your cells), to be exhaled.
From your lungs, your blood travels to the left chambers of your heart.
And from the left chambers of your heart, your blood is pumped out to the rest of your body to deliver oxygen and nutrients to all of your cells.
Since every organ in your body requires oxygen and nutrients, your blood travels through every organ. And when it passes through your kidneys, your blood is cleansed of waste products by special filters that are embedded within your kidneys.
As your blood unloads oxygen and nutrients to all of your cells, it picks up carbon dioxide and other waste products that your cells need cleared away.
Your blood eventually comes full circle by returning to your small intestine and liver, and then back to your heart.
To ensure that you have a big picture view of the flow of blood through your body, here’s a simple outline of its path:
Small intestine > Liver > Right side of heart > Lungs > Left side of heart > Out to all of the organs and tissues of your body, including your kidneys > Back to small intestine, liver, and right side of heart
To give you an idea of how much ground we’re talking about, consider that:
- If strung together, all of the blood vessels that make up the pathway described above could circle the earth two and a half times.
- Over the course of one day, your blood travels about 19,000 kilometres (12,000 miles).
Now let’s re-visit your heart and lungs. Remember that before your heart pumps blood to the far ends of your body, it first sends the blood to your lungs to pick up oxygen.
If your lungs develop chronic disease through exposure to cigarette smoke, asbestos, other environmental pollutants, autoimmune illness, or any other factor, it experiences repeated bouts of inflammation.
Inflammation is a process that your body generates to try to heal an injured area.
If your lungs experience enough inflammation, it can develop scar tissue, which is tissue that is created to try to shore up damaged areas.
If your lungs develop a significant amount of scar tissue, it becomes harder for your lung tissues to allow fresh oxygen to enter your blood; it also becomes more difficult for carbon dioxide to leave your blood.
The result is that your heart has to work harder because your body’s need for oxygenated blood and clearance of carbon dioxide remains the same, regardless of how healthy your lungs are. In order to keep up with your body’s demand for oxygen and nutrients, the right side of your heart has to pump harder, and possibly faster, to compensate for reduced efficiency in your lungs.
If your lungs don’t return to a normal level functioning, the right side of your heart will eventually become fatigued and won’t be able to sustain the effort needed to keep blood flowing through your system fast enough to ensure optimal delivery of oxygen.
If the right side of your heart is significantly weakened from years of compensating for diseased lungs, your liver may experience signs of congestion, since your liver is constantly sending blood directly to the right chambers of your heart.
So one potential cause of liver disease is lung or heart disease.
Another potential consequence of fatigue and weakness in the right side of your heart is congestion in the blood vessels in your lower extremities, since these vessels are continuously sending blood back to your heart. This is how lung or heart disease can cause problems related to circulation like varicose veins and hemorrhoids.
And what about the left side of your heart? Can problems in the left chambers of your heart create issues in other organs as well?
The answer is an emphatic yes. To provide an example, if you develop thickening in the walls of large arteries (atherosclerosis) by eating too many potato chips and doughnuts, the left side of your heart will have to work harder to meet your body’s need for oxygen and nutrients. Over time, this extra burden can cause the left side of your heart to become fatigued, which can lead to congestion in your lungs (since your lungs are constantly sending oxygenated blood to the left side of your heart). If your lungs suffer enough in this fashion, you can develop all of the problems associated with right-sided heart fatigue.
And what about your kidneys? If your kidneys decline in function, none of your other organs can function properly for a number of reasons, the primary ones being that your body will accumulate toxic waste products and lose its ability to regulate fluid balance.
Here’s what all of this boils down to: it’s impossible to have just one organ in your body suffer from disease.
If one of your organs isn’t doing well, it’s only a matter of time before other organs will experience declining function.
Of course, the reverse is true as well; if your lungs are extremely healthy, the right side of your heart, your liver, the blood vessels in your lower extremities, and all other areas of your body are positively influenced.
Just as the performance of one member of a sports team can affect the performances of her teammates, the health of each organ in your body has ongoing influence on every other part of your body.
Please remember: The best way to improve the health of one area of your body is to work at promoting good overall health by choosing nutrient-rich foods, getting adequate rest, being around fresh air and sunlight (without getting burned), being physically active, and striving to be emotionally balanced.
Natural remedies for specific health challenges may be helpful, but please never forget that lasting, positive change requires mindful food and lifestyle choices that support your overall health on a daily basis.
Dr. Ben Kim is a chiropractor and acupuncturist living and working in Barrie, Ontario, Canada. Visit his website at www.drbenkim.com