Blood flow starts with your heart, and every one of your body’s organs, tissues, and systems needs blood delivered to it. That’s how everything functions, because blood carries oxygen as well as the body’s primary energy sources, and gets rid of waste material. No blood, no function. No function, no good.

Many things, of course, need to be working properly to guarantee adequate blood delivery to your tissues. That includes your heart, as it pumps blood throughout your whole body. For now, though, I want to concentrate on your blood vessels – the tubes through which your blood travels.

That’s where much of the damage and danger lies. Here’s how: when something, like smoking, damages the inner lining of your arterial walls, it creates a sort of nick in the blood vessels. That nick, as you can imagine, damages the vessel, because its integrity is compromised. Even more potentially damaging is what happens next: your body sends in lousy low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol to try to patch up that nick – sort of like spackling over a nail hole in the wall.

As that plaster builds and becomes inflamed, it turns into plaque and clogs the blood vessel to the point where either blood slows or can’t get through. That’s what contributes to high blood pressure: your heart has to pump harder to get blood through your blood vessels to your tissues. So you develop higher blood pressure as your body tries to force blood around and past blockages. Chronically elevated blood pressure is called hypertension.

As you can imagine, those blockages are the root of all kinds of cardiovascular-related problems. If blood can’t get to your brain efficiently, you’ll have memory issues – or, if no blood gets to a specific brain area, that’s a stroke. If blood can’t get to your private parts, you’ll have sexual function issues.

This process is linked to inflammation. Chronic inflammation in your blood vessel walls leads to larger nicks and plaques and hinders function of the endothelial cells that line your arteries; both further restrict your circulation. That means more problems getting adequate blood flow. If blood can’t get to and from your blood vessels nourishing your heart, you’ll risk having a heart attack.

This is why we doctors are so concerned with your blood pressure numbers and inflammation inside your arteries. We want – we need – blood to move freely throughout your body, not just to get the BP number down, but because it influences just about everything else that happens in your body.

Simple sugars and syrups, simple carbs that quickly turn to sugar in your blood stream, and saturated fat change the function of some proteins or turn on expression of some bad genes, including those that promote nicks and inflammation in your arteries. So a big part of keeping brain function is learning how to cook great-tasting food without the five food felons: simple sugars, added syrups, whole grains that are less than 100 percent, saturated and trans fats.

So if you want to preserve those memories, keep the potential for great sex, and don’t want heart attacks, strokes, or kidney failure, modify cooking traditions to be healthier, and add a few supplements that have been shown to help your brain.

Dr. Michael F. Roizen is chief wellness officer and chair of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Follow him on Twitter @YoungDrMike.

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