There are many biological systems within the body. However, the cardiovascular system is among the most important. When the body is free of illness, diseases, and life stressors the cardiovascular system and the other systems can function normally and the result is a healthy, happy individual. This writing will address the normal, healthy functioning of the cardiovascular system, how unhealthy lifestyle choices can compromise the system, how vulnerabilities in the cardiovascular system can lead to behavioral problems, and how changes in behavior and lifestyle can improve overall health. A case study of the cardiovascular system will also be covered to show how real-life impairments and stressors can cause damages in some people, but not in others. In order to fully understand the meaning of the compromises, vulnerabilities, and ways to improve the system one must first understand the cardiovascular system itself.
The Cardiovascular System
The heart, the blood vessels, and the blood is considered the “body’s transportation system” and makes up the cardiovascular system (Straub, 2012, p. 66). This system works from the pumping action of the heart, which allows “the blood vessels [to] carry blood rich in nutrients and oxygen to [the] cells and tissues and remove waste products through the lungs, liver, and kidneys” (Straub, 2012, p. 66). There are three types of blood cells that make up human blood; they include: red blood cells, white blood cells, and the platelets. Red blood cells are also called erythrocytes and are said to “carry oxygen from the lungs to the cells of the body” and are formed within the bone marrow (Straub, 2012, p. 66). According to Straub (2012), the red blood cells contain an “iron-rich substance” called hemoglobin (p. 66). Leukocytes, white blood cells, are “part of the immune system” and without them the body would not have “defenses against infection” (Straub, 2012, p. 67). The platelets are cell fragments that allow the blood to coagulate to form clots to repair damages to the body, such as when the skin is cut (Straub, 2012). Through a system called the circulatory system the blood is carried throughout the body leading from the heart to the extremities into the lungs and back through the heart.
The heart is made up of four chambers called the left and right atria and ventricles (Straub, 2012). They beat or pump alternately and in rhythm to send oxygen and nutrients to the various parts of the body and to expel carbon dioxide and other unwanted chemicals (Straub, 2012). This system works properly with the other systems within the body as long as the individual lives a healthy lifestyle; however, unhealthy lifestyle choices can compromise the system.
Unhealthy Lifestyle Choices
According to Harvard University (2010-2015), there are five major unhealthy lifestyle choices that plague people; they include: “smoking, being inactive, carrying too many pounds, eating poorly, and drinking too much alcohol” (Introduction, para. 1). One or all of these can cause “artery-damaging atherosclerosis” and many other illnesses, such as “heart attack, stroke, peripheral artery disease, valve problem, aortic aneurysm, [and] heart failure” (Harvard University, 2010-2015, Introduction, para. 2). According to Harvard University (2010-2015), the damages extend farther than the cardiovascular system and may cause injuries to the “kidneys, bones, and brain” (Harvard University, 2010-2015, Introduction, para. 2). This was confirmed by the increased number of people who developed a “buildup of fatty plaques on artery walls and hypertension” as well as “chronically high levels of catecholamines and corticosteroids (endocrine hormones) appear to increase atherosclerosis” (Sutton, Baum, & Johnston, 2004, p. 8). The case study reviewed for this writing discussed the cardiovascular system and a particular enzyme called the heat shock protein 27.
The Case Study
According to Kardys, Rifai, Meilhac, Michel, Martin-Ventura, Buring, Libby, & Ridker, (2008), this case study focused on the Heat shock protein 27 (HSP27) because it “has been hypothesized to be a potential biomarker of atherothrombosis” but no other studies had been performed in order to “investigate the association between HSP27 plasma concentration and incident cardiovascular events among initially healthy individuals” (p. 1). The study comprised of a baseline of “255 initially healthy participants” who “subsequently developed myocardial infarction, ischemic stroke, or cardiovascular death during a follow-up period of up to 5.9 years” as well as “an equal number of women matched for age and smoking but who remained free of cardiovascular disease over the same time period” (Kardys et. al., 2008, p.1). As the study progressed over the 5.9 years, 111 participants “were diagnosed with myocardial infarction, another 111 were diagnosed with stoke, and 33 were confirmed to have died from cardiovascular [disease related] causes” (Kardys et. al., 2008, p. 2).
According to Genetics Home Reference (2015), the HSP27 is officially known as “heat shock 27kDa protein 1” and its genetic symbol is HSPB1 (What is the official name of the HSPB1 gene?, para. 1). Its normal function is to provide “instructions for making a protein called heat shock protein beta-1” and it “helps protect cells under adverse conditions such as infection, inflammation, exposure to toxins, elevated temperature, injury, and disease” (Genetics Home Reference, 2015, What is the normal function of the HSPB1 gene?, para. 1). The HSP27 is found throughout the body, but it is “particularly abundant in nerve and muscle cells” (Genetics Home Reference, 2015, What is the normal function of the HSPB1 gene, para. 2). When there are vulnerabilities in the cardiovascular system behavioral problems may also be present.
The person’s “experiences, living and working conditions, interpersonal relations, lifestyle, diet, personality traits, and general socioeconomic status” determine how his or her body handles the stress response (National Academy of Sciences, 2001, Stress, Health, and Disease, para. 1). For some people, the stress response can lead to over eating or stress eating, “altered emotional responses, enhanced vigilance, heightened appraisal of risk, enhanced memory storage and retrieval, and changes in motivation” because the stress response is a “rapid and pervasive adjustment of internal states to prepare an organism to adapt to a threat,” which is considered the fight-or-flight response (National Academy of Sciences, 2001, Stress, Health, and Disease, para. 2). A person is likely to respond in an “inappropriate or maladaptive” way based on “threats [to his or her] social position, damage to important interpersonal relationships, loss of possessions, or barriers to the achievement of goals” (National Academy of Sciences, 2001, Stress, Health, and Disease, para. 3). However, there are ways in which a person can avoid or reduce his or her risk factors to the cardiovascular system and other systems.
As mentioned previously, there are five major unhealthy lifestyle choices that threaten the overall health of an individual. The recommended changes are simple and can be done with conviction and determination. The first is to avoid tobacco usage. According to Harvard University (2010-2015), the “smoke from cigarettes, cigars, and pipes is as bad for the heart and arteries as it is for the lungs” and it is worse for those in the same area as the smoker because the secondhand smoke is also toxic (Harvard University, 2010-2015, Five Strategies for Change, Bullet 1). The second is to add “exercise and physical activity” to one’s daily regimen (Harvard University, 2010-2015, Five Strategies for Change, Bullet 2). Exercising for at least 30 minutes daily can greatly improve an individual’s overall health and will ward off “heart disease and other chronic conditions” (National Academy of Sciences, 2001, Stress, Health, and Disease, para. 2). Exercising also eliminates the third major unhealthy lifestyle choice, obesity. Losing weight can also greatly improve overall health, but will also decrease the risk of diabetes, reduce high blood pressure, and lower blood sugar. However, exercising cannot work without a healthy diet, which leads to the fourth healthy change.
Eating fresh vegetables and fruits as well as whole grains and eliminating saturated fat, processed foods, salt, and sugar-sweetened beverages will add to the healthy lifestyle changes and help the individual lose weight and remain active (Harvard University, 2010-2015). The last healthy change that can be made is eliminating alcohol from the diet. Even if the person limits his or her intake of alcoholic beverages to one or two drinks, the person’s body will adapt to the healthy changes and the person will live a lot longer than he or she would have if the changes were not made at all.
Although there are many systems within the body, the cardiovascular system is one of the most important and can be affected in lots of ways by the person’s experiences, lifestyles, and healthy or unhealthy choices. As studies have shown, the cardiovascular system can be impaired or have vulnerabilities that can affect behavior. If the body is to function properly, the individual needs to be aware of the amount of exercise he or she is getting, the proper foods to eat, and toxins that he or she is putting into his or her body. Eliminating unhealthy choices and replacing them with healthier ones can save the person’s life in the long run.
Genetics Home Reference. (Published: June 15, 2015). HSPB1. Retrieved from http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/gene/HSPB1
Harvard University. (2010-2015). Top five habits that harm the heart. Retrieved from http://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/top-five-habits-that-harm-the-heart
Kardys, I., Rifai, N., Meilhac, O., Michel, J., Martin-Ventura, J., Buring, J. E., Libby, P., & Ridker, P. M. (2008). Plasma concentration of heat shock protein 27 and risk of cardiovascular disease: A prospective, nested case-control study. Clinical Chemistry, 54(1), 139-46. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/213987666?accountid=35812
National Academy of Sciences. (2001). Health and behavior: The interplay of biological, behavioral, and societal influences. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK43737/
Straub, R. O. (2012). Health psychology: A biopsychosocial approach (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Worth.
Sutton, S., Baum, A., & Johnston, M. (Ed.). (2004). The SAGE handbook of health psychology. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
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