Heart Function and Circulation: Understanding this Incredible Organ

The functions of the heart are quite incredible, which ensures blood supply to the organs. It's also the center of our spirituality and mental wellness.

A young daughter checks a man heartbeat with stethoscope at home

Have you ever thought about the heart function and what it does? Many of us don’t think about the heart or circulation as it runs itself, ensuring adequate blood supply to all the organs as well as being the hub of spirituality, our minds, mental wellness, and thinking. Pretty incredible.

The heart is an incredible organ located at the center of our circulatory system. Its main function is to pump enough blood to deliver a continuous supply of oxygen and other nutrients to the brain and other vital organs.

As a critical organ, it’s important that we understand its function to maintain optimal heart health and well-being.

What is the Function of the Heart?

A senior man jogging with a young fit woman and senior woman in the park
The heart is an incredible organ that is considered to be the hub of spirituality and physicality.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) considers the heart as the “monarch” of all organs. In contrast, the other organs are courtiers that help the heart perform its functions. The capabilities of our heart are determined by the strength of the heart qi — the vital life energy.

Since the heart connects with other organs — even the brain — it regulates physical and mental activities. By keeping your heart healthy, you’re also maintaining the proper functions of all your organs and ensuring you have a positive mental attitude.

Furthermore, according to the TCM principles, the 7 orifices (七窍) in our body hold access to the essence of the 5 organs. These 7 orifices include the anus, mouth, nose, tongue, ears, eyes, and external genitals. They understand that the heart condition can be assessed by looking at the color of the tongue. It’s because the tongue is the orifice or opening of the heart. If the qi, blood, and yin and yang levels of the heart are well balanced, the tongue will appear pinkish and soft. As for people with insufficient heart energies, their tongues and complexion will appear pale.

We outline more about the many functions of the heart to better understand how it works to keep us alive and revitalized.

Maintains normal heart rate and blood circulation   

The heart pumps blood to every part of the body through blood vessels with every beat. The strong pumping action of a healthy heart depends on the heart qi and manifests as a normal heart rate and rhythm. The incessant beating of the heart ensures nutrition to all the organs and keeps them vitalized. So, a rhythmic and forceful pulse and rosy complexion in an individual is indicative of good health. 

Disturbances in the heart qiyinyang, or blood give rise to ill-health, manifested by a feeble pulse, irregular pulse, and pale- or dark-purplish complexion.

Restores the spirit

TCM considers the heart as the center of mind, consciousness, and the spirit (“Shen“). The overall vitality of a person, seen through the eyes, complexion, and responses, is dependent on the spirit. TCM believes that the spirit also determines how a person responds to an illness and the prognosis of a disease. 

The heart yin and blood play a critical role in keeping the spirit nourished. If the heart does not have enough blood or is disturbed by emotional turmoil, it can cause an imbalance. Symptoms of sleeplessness, mental disturbances, chest pain, insomnia, dry throat, and palpitations can occur if there is a deficiency in the heart yin and blood. The spirit is well nourished when a person thinks clearly and has a sound mind.

Keeps the heart muscle healthy

The heart is composed of four chambers: right atrium, right ventricle, left atrium and left ventricle. This is made from a muscle called the myocardium, which is responsible for pumping. After it pumps, it relaxes and fills with blood. The term contractility refers to how well the heart muscle squeezes and essentially performs its functionality.

It is important that this muscle relaxes before it has to perform the pumping action again. Thus, pumping and relaxing are crucial functions to ensure that enough blood is reaching the organs.

Issues arise when someone has a viral infection of the heart muscle, an inherited heart muscle disorder, or reduced blood flow to the heart muscle also referred to as ischemia, occurs. Additionally, the heart needs its own blood supply as well as nutrients and oxygen. This is vital for it to perform these functions and stay healthy.

How to Prevent Heart Disease  

A doctor with white lab coat holding a red heart
It is critical to maintain a healthy heart with a proper diet and exercise.

The heart plays a vital function for the body, but it’s also a major concern for many Americans. Currently, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 659,000 Americans annually die or 1 in 4 individuals.

Undoubtedly, a healthy heart is essential for optimal physical, mental health, and overall well-being. You should keep it revitalized by limiting alcohol, consuming low cholesterol foods, maintaining a balanced diet, and exercising. It is also important to follow these steps, which may save you from having high risks of heart diseases.

Red colored foods help prevent heart disease  

According to the Five-Element theory in TCM, the color red has benefits to the heart. These include foods that are rich in vitamin A, iron, anthocyanins, beta-carotene, lycopene, ellagic acid, quercetin, and hesperidin. Great sources include strawberries, cranberries, cherries, raspberries, tomatoes, beetroot, berries, and hawthorn berries. They play an essential role in controlling blood pressure. Additionally, they protect against circulatory issues, protect the cell membranes, and maintain blood vessel elasticity.

Herbs to reduce the risks of heart attacks  

Traditional herbal remedies can also aid in boosting heart health. Herbs have been used for centuries to improve the health and vitality of the organs. The incidence of heart attacks is increasing in younger people due to sedentary habits and unhealthy lifestyles. Narrowing and obstruction of the blood vessels to the heart can cause heart attacks.

Green tea, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, and red sage, also known as dan shen, can support heart health and improve blood supply by widening the blood vessels that supply the heart. Red sage, in particular, can also help improve circulation in the smaller blood vessels. It works by activating ion channels that help widen blood vessels and improve circulation in the body. 

Other herbs known to improve blood circulation and boost heart health are Chinese angelica (dang gui) and prepared fleece flower root (zhi he shou wu). Prepared fleece flower root also enhances the functioning of the liver and kidneys. You can take them as supplements to help enrich the blood, nourish heart yin, and counter aging symptoms. Additionally, Chinese angelica improves blood circulation, enhances vitality, and helps in regulating the menstrual cycle

In conclusion, the heart function is quite vast that goes beyond maintaining circulation and pumping blood. The core of our consciousness, minds, vitality, and spirituality, it’s imperative to take care of your heart. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, regular exercise, and natural herbs and supplements are some ways to help boost its functions. Thus, living a healthy, happy life.

This is an adaptation of an article, “TCM: Understanding the Role of the Heart”, which first appeared on Eu Yan Sang website.

References

  1. University of Michigan Health. 2020. How the Heart Works. [Accessed on December 2, 2021]
  2. Medline Plus. 2015. How to Prevent Heart Disease. [Accessed December 2 2021]
  3. Mayo Clinic. 2021. Heart Disease. [Accessed December 2, 2021]
  4. CDC. 2021. Heart Disease Facts. [Accessed December 2, 2021]
  5. Cleveland Clinic. 2021. Heart . [Accessed December 2, 2021]

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