It’s no secret that keeping your immune and your cardiovascular systems healthy is important. On the one hand, your cardiovascular system delivers oxygen, nutrients, hormones, and other important substances to cells and organs in the body. It plays a critical role in helping the body meet the demands of activity and stress. On the other hand, your immune system protects your body from harmful substances, pathogens, and cellular changes that could potentially make you sick. But are they related?
Can things like cholesterol, circulation, and high blood pressure affect your immunity? Let’s find out.
Cholesterol, Circulation, Blood Pressure, and Immunity
Evidence suggests that cholesterol crystals can build up along the inner walls of arteries and trigger the release of immune molecules called NLRP3 inflammasomes. These molecules can cause inflammation and promote blood vessel injury, leading to certain cardiac events like a stroke or heart attack.1
Immune cells have receptors that serve as sentry guards. They can sense the presence of harmful molecules like foreign proteins, cell debris, damaged DNA, or cholesterol crystals, and then send out cellular “soldiers” called cytokines to remove the threat. The problem is, abnormally elevated cytokine levels have been linked with coronary artery disease.2 Studies suggest that high cytokine levels can overstimulate the immune system, causing inflammation in the inner layer of the blood vessel wall. Lowering cytokine levels with medication or by adopting healthy lifestyle changes may help reduce the risk of unhealthy heart events.
Circulation also plays a role in a healthy immune system via the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is made up of tissues and organs that extend throughout the body and help eliminate waste and unwanted materials through a fluid called lymph. Lymph contains white blood cells which are crucial to fighting infection. If bacteria are detected in the lymph, your lymph nodes produce more white blood cells to deal with the invaders. Lymph moves through the body via contractions in the lymph vessels, but it is also aided by general movement like breathing in and out, and by the pressure created by pulsating arteries. If circulation is reduced in any way, it may lead to poor lymphatic drainage. This, in turn, reduces the flow of infection-fighting white blood cells, which can lead to an increased risk of infection.
Your blood pressure can also impact your immune health. High blood pressure, technically known as hypertension, is present in more than one billion adults worldwide. While many lifestyle factors contribute to hypertension, the immune system also plays a role. Traditionally, hypertension has been linked to reduced blood flow to the body’s organs and tissues as well as an uptick in inflammation. But some recent evidence suggests that inflammation can also contribute to the development of high blood pressure.3
How to Make Things Better
Besides the usual lifestyle recommendations given to those trying to boost their heart and immune health (including daily exercise, getting seven to nine hours of sleep, eating the recommended daily servings of fruits/veggies/grains, etc.), there is a rock star nutrient called aged garlic extract that may be able to help. On a chemical level, the aging process transforms the unstable, oil-based, odor-causing compounds in fresh garlic into stable, water-based, and odor-free ones. These new compounds have been shown to provide a range of immune-supporting benefits. A 2016 study in The Journal of Nutrition reported that aged garlic extract contains numerous compounds that have the potential to influence immunity. 4 The research suggests that immune cells, especially innate immune cells, are responsible for triggering the inflammation necessary to kill pathogens. The results of the study suggest that supplementing with 1,200 mg of aged garlic extract daily may enhance immune cell function and decrease inflammation. This not only improves the body’s immune response, it also plays a protective role in heart health.
- Duewell P, Kono H, Rayner K, et al. NLRP3 inflammasomes are required for atherogenesis and activated by cholesterol crystals. Nature Publishing Group. 2010; 464(7293): 1357-61.
- Kaptoge S, Seshasai S, Gao P, et al. Inflammatory cytokines and risk of coronary heart disease: new prospective study and updated meta-analysis. Oxford Academic. 2014; 35(9): 578-89.
- Y Z, Vanni K, Huang J, et al. Association between inflammation and systolic blood pressure in RD compared to patients without RA. Arthritis Research & Therapy. 2018; 107.
- Percival, S. Aged garlic extract modifies human immunity. Oxford Academic. 2016; 146(2): 433S-436S.
This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.