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 In Western Medicine, blood, blood plasma, platelets and nutrients are transported throughout the body via the blood vessels. The word “vessel” includes what are called the arteries, veins, and capillaries. The arteries carry oxygenated blood away from the heart after having passed through the lungs to pick up oxygen and are typically red, and the vessels carrying blood back to the heart and lungs without oxygen are blue and are called veins.  As the veins and arteries move through the body they become increasingly smaller and smaller in size creating a network of pathways that are called capillaries. These capillaries connect tissues and cells with blood in order for them to receive oxygen and nutrients and in turn have their cell wastes removed. Some capillary walls are only one cell thick allowing easy transporting of oxygen and nutrients to the cells and the pick up of wastes. This entire system is collectively called the Cardiovascular System.

The heart receives oxygenated red blood from the lungs via the arteries pumping this blood through the arteries, then to the capillaries where cells pick up oxygen and nutrients in exchange for wastes that the blood then moves back through the capillaries to the veins and then the lungs for re-oxygenation of the blood and the process begins again. All with the beat of the heart and the inhalation of oxygen and the exhalation of carbon-dioxide. Other chemical wastes are passed through the body to their respective organ systems by the blood to be excreted in various ways. For example, the kidneys will process waste to be sent to the bladder to be excreted as urine and the lymph will cleanse the blood of toxic wastes. Every cell and organ system depends on the flow of blood to receive nutrients and oxygen as well as to be able to distribute nutrients and remove wastes. All this activity occurs via the blood vessels.

However, the blood vessels do not actively engage in any transport of blood. It is the pumping heart that does the heavy lifting of moving blood throughout the system. The vessels do not perform any kind of peristaltic activity (contracting and releasing as the large and small intestines do for example in their function of moving nutrients and wastes through their passages). The vessels are simply conduits for blood to flow through. The larger arteries and veins can to a certain degree regulate their inner diameter by contracting their inner muscular layer, known as vasodilation and vasoconstriction, which is controlled by the autonomic nervous system, as a method for thermoregulation, but that is all. They remain as pathways or highways, literally, “vessels” through which the blood, nutrients and wastes are carried. The entire system carries blood on a internal journey of over 60,000 miles!

Blood vessels play a huge role in virtually every medical condition. Whether this expresses itself as vessel blockages, blood pressure changes, inflammation, hemorrhaging, poor clotting, ischemia (poor blood supply), necrosis (cell death due, in this case, to lack of oxygen). Our blood feeds and cleans. If the vessels it travels by are inhibited or damaged every cell, organ and function in the body is impacted at one level or another. So stay healthy by nourishing your blood and strengthening your vessels. Eat good foods, use herbs and maintain a balanced lifestyle.

The alternating expansion and contraction of elastic arteries during a cardiac cycle creates a pressure wave known as a pulse.  This pulse is passed through the arterial vessels with each heartbeat. You can feel a pulse anywhere an artery is near the surface of the skin. The radial artery at your wrist is just such a place and is commonly used for feeling pulses. But it is not the only place a pulse can be felt.

For more about herbs that can support healthy blood and blood flow, visit our Herbal Directory for information about individual herbs.