Is there a chance to keep arteries in good health, like those of a young adult, even in old age? Unlike people with diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome and chronic hypertension, those without risk factors for cardiovascular disease can preserve arteries effectively. This notion has been known for about 5 years, when a study was published in 2017 in the journal Hypertension. The team looked at data from 3,200 adults aged 50-60 to understand how their likelihood of vascular aging (reduced arterial elasticity) could be influenced by seven known risk factors: hypertension, poor diet, hyperglycemia, hypercholesterolemia, obesity, sedentary lifestyle and smoking. Well, older subjects who did not have at least six of these risk factors were 10 times more likely to maintain a certain elasticity of blood vessels and their proper functioning than peers who managed to avoid only one of the seven risk factors. .
The team points out that the most important pathogenetic factor appears to be diabetes, especially when associated with overweight. The correlation between overweight, diabetes and vascular stiffness hides, in fact, an excess of inflammation and neuro-hormonal imbalances, typically associated with obesity and diabetic disease. None of the participants at the start of the study had any heart disease, but after researchers followed half of them for nearly 10 years, 10% of the individuals developed heart disease. People with healthy arteries halved (55%) the odds of developing heart disease compared to others. Overall, nearly 18% of the study participants experienced good vascular aging. This included about 30% of people in their fifties and 7% of those in their 60s, but only 1% aged 70 and over. It was found important, the researchers explained, not only to avoid diabetes and obesity but also to keep cholesterol levels low.
Other factors, such as diet, smoking and exercise, would not have been independently associated with healthy vascular aging. A limitation of the study was that it included only Caucasian individuals, so the results obtained may not be applicable to other ethnic groups. Furthermore, the correlations with diet and physical activity have not been fully investigated. Nonetheless, the findings indicate that lifestyle choices may be able to help certain categories of individuals keep their arteries healthy despite normal aging. Nutrition, on the other hand, certainly has its influence. And it is already known that the choice of certain categories of food at the table is capable of positively influencing the health of the heart and blood vessels. The universally recognized Mediterranean Diet is among the most suitable for protecting the arteries, given the enormous amount of scientific data that have confirmed its validity for cardiovascular disease, chronic renal failure and diabetic disease.
The intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega-3; ALA, DHA, EPA) through fish, vegetable oils, linseed, pumpkin seeds, almonds and walnuts is recommended for the constant protection of the vascular endothelium. If it is not possible to access all these sources, external integration is widely available. Another food factor that protects and maintains arterial elasticity is blueberry. Its richness in polyphenols is the critical factor for endothelial protection, and is directed at the entire circulatory system, regardless of the limited reputation of the blueberry in “improving vision”. The reason for this statement is in the ability of blueberry polyphenols to thin the blood and suppress inflammation of the microcirculation (arterioles and capillaries), in this case at the level of the retina. Anthocyanins, procyanidins and chlorogenic acids are the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant active ingredients of blueberry.
In particular, anthocyanins are able to stimulate the vascular endothelium to produce nitric oxide, the natural mediator of arterial dilation. Blueberries also contain a fair amount of vitamin C, but the greatest antioxidant power belongs to the polyphenols. Like blueberry, other dark colored berries have the potential to have the same effect. So black mulberries and blackberries are the ones most directly on the list. The problem is that these are limited in availability. Mulberries in the Mediterranean area are only available in June; blackberries can cover the period from July to September, but their commercial availability is very limited. And not everyone knows or wants to venture among the brambles to pick blackberries in a natural way. In addition, those few available stocks have a unit price that is often not permissive. Another dark-colored and potentially useful berry for blood vessel health is blackcurrant, which can be found commercially as a herbal extract or ready-made juice. But most of those who know it associate black currants with the prevention of allergies, eczema and asthma.
However, there are literature data that indicate that black currant has similar effects to blueberry, not thanks to its antioxidant virtues, but once again to the action of anthocyanins. These fruits, therefore, represent a food source that does not receive the appreciation it deserves. It is worth remembering a central point that almost everyone overlooks: biological damage is done when young and paid for in old age. Health in the second part of life, therefore, must be built in the first part: to date there is no drug that rejuvenates or brings back the food or pleasure mistakes committed in youth.
- Edited by Doctor Gianfrancesco Cormaci, PhD, specialist in Clinical Biochemistry.
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