The cardiovascular system, made up of the heart, lungs and blood vessels, is responsible for delivering blood and oxygen to all areas of the body. Any problems or diseases of this system can lead to a variety of symptoms and serious illness. Keeping this system strong and working properly requires regular exercise and eating a healthy diet. This includes watching fat intake because excess fats can have negative effects on the cardiovascular system.
The heart muscle is basically a pump that circulates blood throughout the body. The Texas Heart Institute states that blood vessels called arteries deliver blood and oxygen that is pumped away from the heart to the body. Arteries deliver the blood to smaller vessels called arterioles, which then branch into capillaries. After the oxygen is delivered to the cells, the blood enters the venules, which eventually link to veins. Veins are the blood vessels that carry the oxygen-poor blood back to the heart. To maintain good health, the heart muscle and all of the blood vessels need to be able to do their job.
Common diseases that can affect the cardiovascular system include coronary heart disease, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure and heart failure, according to the American Heart Association. These diseases can limit the amount of blood and oxygen that get to the heart and brain, and this may lead to a heart attack or stroke. While age, genetics, gender and ethnicity can all play a role in the development of diseases of the cardiovascular system, they can also be caused by too much fat in the body.
All fats are not created equal. Some are clearly harmful to the cardiovascular system, while others may actually be good for it, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Fats cannot be dissolved in water, so they must travel through the body with the help of carriers called lipoproteins. Low-density lipoproteins, or LDLs, help the body store and transport cholesterol and fats. High-density lipoproteins, or HDLs, help the body get rid of cholesterol and fats. Therefore, LDLs are considered the bad lipoprotein as they can allow fats to build to a high level in the body. HDLs are the good kind because they help to keep fat levels low and can help to protect the cardiovascular system. The goal is to lower LDL levels and raise HDL levels.
Too much fat in the diet can cause atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a condition where plaque comprised of fat, cholesterol and other substances builds up along the blood vessel walls. This makes the blood vessels hard and narrow and restricts the amount of blood and oxygen that can flow through them. Over time, this can limit the supply to the heart and brain and cause a heart attack or stroke. Atherosclerosis can exist without causing symptoms, and a heart attack or stroke may be the first warning sign of its presence. However, as the blood vessels are affected and become narrower, blood pressure will rise. In addition, the level of cholesterol in the blood can be determined through a simple blood test. The best defense is to have blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked often to catch problems before symptoms occur.
To help prevent disease, it is important to monitor and limit the consumption of all fats. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that total daily fat intake that exceeds 20 to 35 percent of total caloric intake is considered too much. Reading labels and avoiding fats that are solid at room temperature will help. Trans fat consumption should be as low as possible. Look for foods with zero trans fat. Saturated fats should make up no more than 10 percent of daily calories, as higher levels have been linked to coronary artery disease. Cholesterol should be limited to 300 milligrams per day, and those with cardiovascular disease should consume less. The rest of daily fat consumption should come from unsaturated fats.
- Texas Heart Institute: Anatomy of the Cardiovascular System
- America Heart Association: Common Cardiovascular Diseases
- Harvard School of Public Health: Fats and Cholesterol: Out With the Bad, in With the Good
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: What Is Atherosclerosis
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Dietary Fats