Issue 83 / September - October 2011
It's Us Peter, Your Blood Vessels
Dear Peter, the Heart talked about itself so much that we thought it would never let us speak. Yes, the heart functions as a fabulous pump, but it is nothing by itself. We find our value in cooperation; nothing is created to do everything on its own. The heart naturally makes itself noticeable by its constant movement, sound, and considerable size. On the other hand, we do not get much attention since we do our job quietly. And yet, all the movements of the heart would be in vain without us, and it immediately dies if no vessels feed it. Because all tissues and cells need to be fed, we are the ones who deliver food inside the body. The act of pumping the blood is merely an efficient conveyance for a closed system like ours.
We vessels can be divided into three main groups in terms of structure and function. The ones with thicker walls, which bring every organ the blood they need from the heart, are the arteries. The pressure inside us is higher and we easily carry blood to the organs. The ones with thinner walls, lower pressure, and larger inner space are called veins. As a matter of fact, both arteries and veins have a three-layered structure that is very suitable for holding a fluid like blood. Since our walls are strengthened with both connective tissue and smooth muscle layers, we bear the pressure coming from the heart and help blood proceed by contracting and relaxing. Since arteries are directly subjected to the strong pressure from the heart, our walls were created in a thicker and stronger form. Since the veins return blood to the heart and thus have lower pressure, we have valves that close after blood passes, so it does not flow backward due to gravity. This is a serious challenge for the blood passing through your legs. Varicose veins might develop due to weight gain from pregnancy or obesity, which increases pressure on the legs, or to hours of standing, walking, or running on hard surfaces.
Capillaries are the most delicate blood vessels, with walls made of a single layer of epithelium, which enables us to exchange substances between blood and tissues. As blood vessels, our total length is about 120,000 kilometers. Try to imagine if a fishermanâ€™s net were made from a rope of this length and how wide it would be! And yet, such a vast network of blood vessels is located in your body, and capillaries take blood to every part, without neglecting an area as tiny as the head of a pin.
The well-being of your organs is directly related to us. If our interiors begin to narrow, because of fatty cholesterol plaque for instance, then we begin to lose our flexibility. This means malnutrition for that organ, since a lesser amount of blood than expected can come. If a blood clot sticks to our wall and blocks the blood flow, the relevant organ may be in terrible trouble. If other arteries supply blood to that organ, then it can handle this, but if a main artery is blocked and if secondary channels do not exist or are insufficient, you experience infarction. Taking this into consideration, you need to be careful what you eat and lead a physically active life. When you get old, if sufficient blood does not pass through us in your brain, failures with brain activities appear and you go senile. As the walls of veins and arteries have a rich network of nerves, we let the suitable amount of blood flow according to the need of the organ weâ€™re serving, under the control of the autonomous nervous system. While blood vessels that are connected to an organ not currently requiring much blood contract to reduce the amount supplied, those that are connected to currently more active organs expand. And dear Peter, the greatest blessing here is that none of these activities require any conscious effort from you; everything works smoothly without your even being aware.
This wonderful network of ours finds its value in the vital fluid we carry. If it werenâ€™t for blood, we would have no value at all, and such a perfect means of distribution would be unnecessary. Even the duty of the heart is to make this fluid circulate throughout the body. Now, let us step aside and allow blood to have the floor.