There are 100,000 miles of blood vessels in your adult human body15. These consist of your arteries, which bring oxygen-rich blood from the heart to everywhere else in your body; your veins, which carry blood back to the heart to replenish it with oxygen; and capillaries that connect arteries and veins15. The healthier your vascular system – the younger and more vital you are.
Aging is an independent and essential risk factor when it comes to our vascular system deterioration16. However, in 2018, one group of researchers at Harvard Medical School investigated whether they can revitalize the growth of blood vessels. Their research subjects comprised aging mice, and their findings were exciting3.
The researchers were able to identify critical mechanisms behind vascular aging at the cellular level, and also managed to bring back vitality to muscles. The findings of the research were published on March 22, 2018, in the journal Cell3.
Aging is an inevitable biological process. We all want to “live forever” or avoid death, and this idea stems from the earliest works of literature and philosophy.
Our response to aging is naturally opposing since our body begins to betray us. When we are past the prime of our best years, we are more prone to develop a disease that can significantly affect our quality of life. For some, this natural process is more comfortable to bear, but for others, it can get quite challenging.
There are plenty of things to do to slow down aging, such as practicing regular exercise. Although, gradually, as we get older, even exercise becomes less and less effective.
As you get older, your smallest blood vessels begin to deteriorate and eventually die out. That means reduced blood flow throughout the body. Subsequently, your organs and tissues are deprived of oxygen and nutrients essential for their best performance. Your muscles also suffer since they are densely vascularized and need a continuous and vigorous blood supply to function6,3, which is why not even regular exercise is enough to maintain muscles as you age.
– Cardiac conditions such as coronary heart disease (CHD), myocardial infarction, stroke, or peripheral arterial disease (PAD)10;
– Neurologic conditions like vascular dementia, caused by reduced blood circulation and deprivation of oxygen in the brain3,14;
– Muscle loss (i.e., sarcopenia), where muscles begin to grow weaker due to age (the older and more inactive you get, the stronger the effects of sarcopenia)4.
Many other conditions may stem from vascular aging, including the difficulty of wound healing or an overall sensation of weakness in the body3,1.
The manifestation of aging is visible on the outside, through our paler skin, gray hair, and weak muscles. But this manifestation comes from processes that primarily play out at the cellular level.
The reduced flow of blood to the different organs of your body contributes to an accumulation of toxins and low oxygen levels11. That has to do with the endothelial cells that line the interior surface of blood vessels and whose vital function is to maintain the health and growth of blood vessels5,11. And this is where the Harvard team looked for answers in their 2018 research.
The team was able to reverse blood vessel deterioration and muscle atrophy in aging mice, which in turn also boosted their exercise endurance in the process3.
The research showed that blood flow reduction is a direct consequence of the endothelial cells losing an essential protein called SIRT13, which regulates cells, especially cells’ reaction to stressors and longevity13. Earlier studies have already shown that SIRT1 extends life span and delays aging in mice12.
It is also known that SIRT1 loss is accelerated by the loss of NAD+, a coenzyme involved in key chemical reactions that maintain living cells by regulating protein interactions and repairing DNA9. NAD+ naturally declines with age as well, but past scientific research has further demonstrated that it promotes the activity of SIRT12,11.
So, the team from Harvard looked precisely at these two agents. If the interplay between SIRT1 and NAD+ is preserved, then the endothelial cells in the walls of the blood vessels and muscle cells are maintained as well, restoring and improving their function3.
It’s an exciting find because it opens the pathway for future medical research where we can look for ways how to reverse blood vessels aging in our species, therefore also slowing down aging. It is possible by boosting the presence of naturally occurring molecules in the body, as would say one of the study’s senior investigators, David Sinclair from the Department of Genetics and the Paul F. Glen Center for the Biology of Aging at Harvard Medical School11.
Until we get there, there are several things you can do to improve your vascular health. The one most important thing you can do is control what you put in your body:
– Cut on hazardous habits such as inappropriate alcohol drinking and tobacco smoking;
– Consume foods that promote blood flow and circulation such as cayenne pepper, pomegranate, garlic, onions, beets, leafy greens, turmeric, walnuts, berries, and tomatoes to name some7.
– Try a Light Therapy treatment, which is a safe and scientifically-backed method that can help you to improve your blood flow and alleviate the effects of aging8,3.
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