The heart is one of the five vital organs in the body. It is a muscular organ, located between the lungs but slightly to the left of the sternum and above the diaphragm. Weighing about 250 grams, it is usually the size of a fist.
There are four chambers in the heart: the right and left atrium; the right and left ventricles. Blood flows from the rest of the body (deoxygenated blood) into the right atrium and from there it is pumped into the right ventricles from where it is pumped to the lungs where it receives oxygen. This oxygenated blood is pumped to the left atrium and further on to the left ventricle. The left ventricle is the most powerful of all the chambers and it is the one that pumps oxygenated blood through a network of arteries and capillaries to the rest of the body.
The coronary arteries are two arteries that originate from the aorta through to the surface of the heart to supply blood to the musculature of the heart. The heart is a complex organ that has a network of nerve tissue running through it which conducts complex electrical impulses that control the contraction and relaxation of the heart. There is a covering known as pericardium that surrounds the heart completely.
In the eighth week of pregnancy, a period known as “period of maximum organogenesis,” the heart starts to beat and from that time, the heart never stops beating until death. The heart is such an important organ in the body which works throughout your life that no effort should be spared, to make sure that it remains healthy and in optimal working condition to maintain your wellbeing. It pumps oxygenated blood throughout the whole body, receives and pumps deoxygenated blood to the lungs to be loaded with oxygen and the circle continues.
There are other substances such as nutrients, hormones, chemicals, enzymes, neurotransmitters, waste products (carbon dioxide, toxins, acids) etc. that are also transported by the blood. These substances also get to heart through the coronary arteries.
An unhealthy heart
Certain things may go wrong with the heart as it functions throughout the life of an individual. As we have just learnt, the heart cannot afford to stop beating at any time. It is therefore imperative that we make sure nothing goes wrong with the heart. Our mantra has always been, “you are what you eat and drink” and those things transported by the blood, apart from oxygen derive their origin from what we eat and drink.
The causes of an unhealthy heart can by grouped into what we will like to refer to as unhealthy lifestyle choices
- What kind of food do you eat? Your food may be too salty or you may be one that likes the salt shaker on your dining table and you enjoy adding more salt to your food all the time. May be you have a sweet mouth and you major on consumption of sugary things. Do you have salt and sugar as permanent occupants of you dining table. Other types of food that make your diet unhealthy that could affect your heart are animal proteins and fats, trans fat, oxygenated fats (that margarine you spread on that toasted bread), high carbohydrates as in polished rice and some types of swallow.
- Living a sedentary lifestyle with lack of exercise is an unhealthy lifestyle. A sedentary lifestyle is one that is associated with just sitting or lying down too often without engaging in any meaningful activity. Simply put, it is a life devoid of exercises. The end result is increase in weight, sluggishness of blood flow, accumulation of total cholesterol, damping down of blood with the risk of formation of blood clots and finally increase in the risk of developing heart disease including hypertension.
- Smoking. This is definitely an unhealthy habit that has no benefits to mankind. Nicotine in cigarette has been shown to cause hypertension.
What signs of an unhealthy heart should you watch out for?
- Pain in the chest (angina) that may radiate to the shoulder and jaw
- Cardiac arrhythmias – irregular heart beat
- Oedema. This is swelling of the legs and feet.
- Dizziness and lightheadedness
- Sleep apnea and other sleep problems like snoring
- Pain in the mouth and gums
- Long standing cough – when fluids begin to accumulate in the lungs, it can cause cough which may be persistent.
- Bouts of cold sweat
- Failure of sexual function.
What must you do to keep your heart healthy
We have seen causes of an unhealthy heart and to maintain the heart in a healthy state always, the word CHANGE has to be uppermost in your mind. Change of your lifestyle and habits.
- You are a smoker. Now you have to stop smoking. If you don’t stop smoking, smoking may stop you!
- Diet change. You will have to change your diet from eating ‘dead food’ to eating ‘living food.’ Eat more vegetables and fruits with whole grains, seeds and nuts and oils therefrom. Avoid white salt and sugar, there are substitutes such as sea salt, Himalayan salt, Celtic salt; stevia and honey are substitutes for sugar. You may also have to dump that white rice and look back at our local, unpolished rice (Ofada and Abakaliki rice in Nigeria) and brown rice. The use of ‘bad’ oils for your fries and consumption, should give way to oils like Extra Virgin Cold Pressed Olive Oil and omega 3 fatty acids sourced from cold water fresh fish and flaxseed oil.
- Exercise. Regular exercising should become your lifestyle. Brisk walking for 30 minutes, 4 to 5 days a week should do. Spend less time in a seating position, even at work, get up from your chair and walk around a few times a day.
Complications of an unhealthy heart
The following diseases may occur as complications of an unhealthy heart:
- Coronary artery disease
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
As we continue with this campaign, we shall look at these diseases and more in more details. We hope that at the end of the campaign, everyone’s heart and life will be healthy always.