Next time you are at a cocktail party and feeling full or yourself, ask a group of people what the largest organ in the body is.
If they have pondered this before, most people will say “the liver” or, if they think they are really clever, “the skin.” These are typical answers, along with” the brain,” “the spleen” and even “the intestines.” But the answer will surprise you.
The largest organ in the body is the vascular endothelium; i.e., the lining of your blood vessels. That means the inner layer of all your arteries, veins and capillaries. Indeed, so large is this layer of organ tissue that, if laid flat, it would cover 6 1/2 tennis courts! Astonishing!
Why is this important? Well, that’s simple. Cardiovascular disease continues to kill and disable more people in the Western (and other) worlds than any other disease. It is the leading cause of death and disability due to stroke, heart attack, peripheral vascular disease and related diseases and conditions such as diabetes, obesity, high blood cholesterol and other lipids. Billions of dollars are spent each year in the Western world to treat these conditions.
The vascular endothelium is not just an inert barrier layer of cells—they serve many important functions, like releasing important chemicals related to the endocrine (glandular) system, blood clots, inflammation, antioxidants and other vital functions. This crucial plumbing layer is perhaps the most battered organ in our bodies, abused by our busy lifestyles of poor diets, lack of exercise, stress, smoking, substance abuse and other factors.
The essential mechanism by which this vital layer is damaged is rather simple: our lifestyle choices create a toxic and turbulent environment to this this delicate layer of cells, creating micro-tears and inflammatory damage that attracts platelets, the blood elements that not only protect us from uncontrolled bleeding but, when sticking to the damaged inner layer of blood vessels, cause blockages due to the buildup of cholesterol and other lipid plaques. These plaques block blood flow and lead to poor oxygen delivery to our other organs and tissues. Doctors write millions of prescriptions each year for lipid lowering medications, heart and blood pressure related medicines, anti-inflammatories, diabetes medicines and others that help mitigate this assault on our plumbing layer. There seems to be no end in sight to this onslaught.
The answers integral to stopping this attack on our largest organ are ones I’ve elucidated in prior blogs on diet, activity and supplements. In theory, the answers are simple but the application of the answer is difficult. Reduce inflammatory foods (refined, high in sugar and saturated fat), reduce stress (meditation, mindfulness, yoga, strong interpersonal relationships), stop smoking and substance abuse, get one hour of exercise a day that includes both aerobic and resistance training, to maintain a healthy body weight, drink alcohol in moderation and if all else fails, use supplements and prescription medicines. We all know the prescription medicines I’m talking about that treat the result, not cause, of the problem: cholesterol-lowering, anti-hypertensive, diabetic medicines etc.
The supplements that are of potential benefit, with your doctor’s approval, include aspirin, fish oil, garlic, co-enzyme Q, turmeric, apple cider vinegar, chromium picolinate, biotin, cinnamon, magnesium, hawthorn extract and others. These supplements, when used alone or together, have varying anti-inflammatory, blood sugar– and blood pressure–lowering, blood thinning and metabolic properties that assist in combatting the vascular-damaging effects of our lifestyles. Do your research, talk with your doctor and nutritionist, if you have access to one, and formulate a plan.
But as with any plan to improve health, this requires commitment. Just knowing what the issues are is half the battle. It is up to each of us to treat the root cause and not merely the end result of our bodily abuse to effect real change. It is doable, but with sacrifice and difficulty. As I’ve repeated many times in prior blogs, I have no delusions that to many this advice will fall on deaf ears. But if just one person adopts this approach, it will have been worth it.