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2015 APR

Blood vessels and traditional Oriental medicine

  1. Blood vessels age first in the human body.
  2. So-called blood vessel aging not only affects the heart and brain, but extends to the whole organism.
  3. So, what should one do to slow down the process of blood vessel aging?

Blood vessels age first in the human body.

cerebral hemorrhages and cerebral infarctionsAging blood vessels cause the whole human organism to age and become ill, or at least only half-healthy. Thus, preventing the premature aging of blood vessels should be one of the first checkpoints for those who care about their health. The main mortality causes in wealthy countries nowadays include cancer, heart diseases and stroke. In fact, most of these heart diseases and strokes are caused by the same thing - aging (or degradation) of blood vessels. Deaths caused by problems with blood vessels will surely altogether surpass those caused by cancers. Blood flows inside the blood vessels. Arterial blood flowing from the heart to various parts of the body is rich in fresh oxygen and nutrients. When fresh oxygen and nutrients reach the proper locations, metabolic regeneration takes place in all cells of the body and health is sustained. But sometimes the normal functioning of blood vessels can become obstructed and the needed amount of blood may not reach the parts of the body that require it. This is most often caused by aging (degradation) of blood vessels. There are multiple factors that can cause aging of blood vessels, such as high blood pressure, certain chemical substances, autonomic nervous system disfunctioning, etc., but basically, there are two patterns of blood vessel aging. First is when blood vessel cell walls become brittle and blood leaks out. Second is when "sludge" piles up inside blood vessels, impeding normal blood flow. Let's take cerebral apoplexy (stroke) as an example. Strokes are broadly divided into two major categories: cerebral hemorrhages and cerebral infarctions. Cerebral hemorrhages occur when blood vessels in the brain become fragile, causing small breakages and blood leakage. With cerebral infarctions, "sludge" obstructs the normal blood flow inside the blood vessels, resulting in oxygen starvation and malnutrition of brain cells, which eventually causes brain cells to die. Both kinds of stroke cause big disruptions to the functioning of the whole body, and in many cases may lead to the death of the individual. In the early postwar era, cerebral hemorrage was overwhelmingly predominant because of malnutrition. Nowadays, cerebral hemorrage cases are rare, but on the contrary, cerebral infarctions have become more widespread. As people’s food rations in the developed and developing countries have become more ample, more nutrients capable of strengthening blood vessel walls can now be delivered. This sounds like good news, but on the other hand, the blood flowing in the veins has become thicker, like a soup with oils and fats in it. Sometimes due to stress, active oxygen and other factors, minor injuries can happen on the inside of the blood vessels. These are not much of a problem by themselves and can be healed quickly, but if fatty and oily substances in the blood become attached to these injuries, the situation gets much worse. This is very similar to sludge accumulating where a small riverbank juts out. Let’s have a look at two heart diseases: angina pectoris and myocardial infarction. angina pectoris and myocardial infarctionWhen oily and fatty substances, erythrocytes, thrombocytes and other large cells pile up inside of blood vessels, it is called an atheroma. Our hearts have several heart muscles (myocardiums) and when atheromas take place inside the coronary arteries responsible for providing fresh blood to the heart, blood flow becomes obstructed and oxygen and nutrients necessary for normal functioning of heart muscles cannot make its way. When this happens, the heart starts beating quickly, even after small efforts and sharp spasms of pain in the heart often happen. This is called angina pectoris. Sometimes blood clots made of erythrocytes and thrombocytes can come together tightly and completely seal the already partially obstructed coronary artery. Naturally, blood flow stops completely and no oxygen and nutrients are delivered to the heart muscle, eventually causing its death. This is called myocardial infarction. The coronary artery supplies blood from large to small and from smaller to the smallest blood vessels. If myocardial infarction takes place near the center of the artery, this causes the death of many muscles, and if no emergency medical treatment is taken, the heart will soon stop beating and the person will die. We all live without the knowledge of when and where atherosclerosis will take place. It also can be stated that most of us have atherosclerosis, and the only thing that differs is its extent and location.

So-called blood vessel aging not only affects the heart and brain, but extends to the whole organism.

If it happens to the liver, you have problems with the liver, and if it happens to the kidneys you have problems with the kidneys. Even if blood flow is not obstructed, blood vessel aging brings adverse effects to the whole body in some form. Blood vessel aging or degradation can have different definitions, but broadly it means that through the changes in the blood vessels, different organs and systems inside the body cannot function the way they should. Blood vessel aging which takes place evenly in all systems and organs of the body is thought of as natural, but this is considered rare today. In a more realistic scenario, depending on the lifestyle of a person, certain organs and systems begin aging earlier than others. Life and health in the body is dependent on a complicated counterbalance of all our biological systems. If, for example, a person tends to abuse alcohol, there is a risk that his blood vessels will degrade faster in the liver, which will change the counterbalance and extend the adverse effect on other biological systems. In some persons, aging will start from the liver and in others, from the digestive tract. Another problem is that blood vessel diseases hardly reveal any symptoms in the early stages. For example, atherosclerosis (hardening of blood vessels) has almost no subjective symptoms in the early stages. Even if the coronary arteries responsible for supplying oxygen and other nutrients to the heart muscles become 70 percent blocked, it is hard to tell the difference. If arteries are 70 percent blocked, this basically means their functionality is lowered by 70 percent, but organs are made in such a way that there is some reserve. So, an individual with coronal arteries blocked at 70 percent may not be aware of it, but still be at great health risk.

So, what should one do to slow down the process of blood vessel aging?

Besides such logical answers as rethinking and improving one’s lifestyle, for instance, traditional Oriental medicines (include Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai and others) have some things to suggest. Traditional Oriental medicine, as opposed to Western medicine, not only treats a disease after its onset, but also places great emphasis on preventive measures in order to prevent the disease from happening. For example, traditional Chinese medicine recommends making certain (a qualified Chinese medicine specialist can determine which) functional foods (natural remedies) a part of one's diet. In fact, in Japan some of the traditional Chinese medicine remedies have been officially approved by the Ministry of Welfare and are finding their use in the departments of circulatory organ diseases in many hospitals. Among such remedies are, for example, daisaikotou (大柴胡湯) and saikokaryukotsuboreitou (柴胡加竜骨牡蛎湯). Daisaikotou contains functional herbal components such as bupleurum root, pinellia tuber, ginger, peonym and others, and saikokaryukotsuboreitou contains bupleurum root, pinellia tuber, keishi, ginger, carrot, carina and other components. These two medicines are covered by health insurance in Japan, but many other medications based on traditional Oriental medicine can also be prescribed depending on the doctor. So why is it many doctors in Japan look towards using these herbal medicines (as primary or supplementary medications), when there is no lack in the efficient Western medicines? Firstly, these herbal medicines have fewer side effects compared to the strong Western medicines; and secondly, Western medicines mostly have a quick and strong effect in the beginning, but may not have a sustainable effect in the long run. In contrast, traditional Oriental medicine remedies may not have a prompt effect, but in the long run may have a more sustained effect. Western medicine has evolved with the main idea of treating the disease itself. If one has an illness, Western doctors may try to surgically remove its cause or to restrain it with chemical substances. A good example is how both worlds deal with the viral infections. Western medicine will most probably concentrate on wiping out the virus with a chemical substance, achieving an evident effect quickly. Oriental medicine will go a different way: with a continuous use of certain herbal medicines, it will slowly but firmly help the immune system to do the job itself. When it comes to blood vessel illnesses, balloon angioplasty (helps spread out arteries), attempts to improve the blood circulation with bypass operations and drastically (and forcibly) bringing blood cholesterol and neutral fat levels down with the help of chemicals are the common measures taken by Western medicine doctors. In contrast, Oriental medicine adepts believe that a human body possesses all the powers needed to cope with most diseases. If these natural powers are down, a disease can happen, and the role of medicine is to restore these natural healing powers. We are not saying that Western medicine is wrong and traditional Oriental medicine is right. On the contrary, both of these worlds have their strong sides, and many doctors in Japan prefer to combine them: western medicine can be irreplaceable in acute cases, and traditional Oriental medicine can be more efficient for preventive purposes. Another essential difference between Oriental and Western medicines is the existence of the concept of shou (証) (in Chinese pronounced as "zheng") in the former. Zheng is the condition of a person at a particular moment which determines which substances will have an effect and which will not. "Shou" is determined based on four factors:

  • 陰(yin)
  • 陽(yang)
  • 虚(kyo)
  • 実(jitsu)

If we were to oversimplify these concepts, balance of yin and yang is responsible for the metabolic processes in the body, and the balance of "kyo" and "jitsu" is responsible for the vital powers in the body. Oriental medicine has been using this concept for thousands of years and it is only lately that Western medicine has come to valuing the individual characteristics of a patient when prescribing their medical treatment.