What Is Endothelial Function And Why Is It Important To My Health?

October 24, 2017

— by Jonathan Maltz

Almost daily, my Google News stream is filled with articles about a new medical study that some food or medication that was once thought good for heart health is now to be avoided. I understand why many people feel confused and disoriented by the constant state of flux of dietary and exercise recommendations.

Among all of this often conflicting information, there remain some dependable guidelines with which everyone agrees: Eat in moderation, maintain an active lifestyle, and keep blood pressure at healthy levels. In this blog, I will discuss a key element that is missing from this simple formula for cardio-health. It is probably the biggest health issue you have never heard of: endothelial dysfunction.

The endothelium, which is the largest organ in the body, is a layer of cells that lies between the wall of blood vessels and the bloodstream. It is a living shield that keeps the arteries clear of build-up and blockage so that essential oxygen and nutrients can get to the vital organs of the body. Over time, the plumbing pipes in your home will gradually narrow as deposits build on the inside wall of the pipe. Human arteries have an active cleaning mechanism (the endothelium) to prevent this from happening, which enables you to survive through many decades of good health.

Many doctors would argue a healthy endothelium is at least as important as maintaining healthy blood pressure.”

When the endothelial shield is not functioning properly, the cells of the body’s immune system can attack the lining of the artery. They penetrate the endothelium, and deposit fats within the artery’s wall. These fatty plaques interfere with the flow of blood. If a piece of plaque breaks off, it often blocks blood flow downstream, depriving organs such as the heart and brain of oxygen. During a heart attack, which occurs when blood is cut off from the pumping muscles of the heart, part of the heart dies. The damaged heart may then not be able to pump enough blood to sustain the body. Likewise, during a stroke, brain cells die when blood flow is blocked off by plaque. This can lead to mental impairment, paralysis and death. Endothelial dysfunction is thus the greatest single cause of death worldwide.

If the endothelium is so important to my health, how come I haven’t heard of it?

Doctors around the world have studied the shield-like properties of the endothelium since the 1980s. Many thousands of research studies have investigated the effects of exercise, smoking, drinking, vitamins, and cholesterol medications on the endothelium. Many doctors would argue a healthy endothelium is at least as important as maintaining healthy blood pressure.

In my opinion, the reason doctors routinely measure blood pressure, but not endothelial function, is simply because it has until now been too difficult to measure at the doctor’s office.  Over 15 years ago, under the inspiration provided by Dr. Thomas F. Budinger MD, PhD, a Berkeley professor who is one of the pioneers of medical imaging, I embarked on the research path that eventually lead to the technology behind the Lexington Biosciences HeartSentry product development program. Our goal was to find a simple, low-cost way to measure endothelial function at primary care facilities, and in the home.

HeartSentry, apart from being the first instrument to automatically determine the current health of your arteries’ endothelial shield, is envisaged as a tool to help you and your doctor understand what specific diet, activities and medications work best for your personal cardiovascular health.

In future editions of this blog, I will explain our vision for how HeartSentry technology can both revolutionize and personalize the way we maintain a healthy heart, body and brain.

Stay heart smart and healthy everyone!

JONATHAN S. MALTZ, PH.D.

Chief Scientific Advisor

Lexington Biosciences, Inc.

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