New Findings Broaden Our Understanding of Artery Function as We Age

Our arteries function less effectively as we grow older, and this poses a threat to our health. In a recently published study, researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia identified one of the causes of this age-related decline in artery function. So how does this finding help scientists prevent artery aging?

What Researchers Found
Using arteries from old and young mice, scientists compared the sensory nerves of the arteries—nerves that sense various chemical changes, some of which are important in regulating blood flow. In response to chemicals released from nerves that should cause arteries to dilate (widen), the arteries of the young mice dilated as expected. However the arteries of the older mice did not dilate as much due to a 30% decrease in the amount of sensory nerves in the older arteries.

Why Arterial Health Matters
The ability of arteries to dilate and provide blood where it is needed is an important function of our circulatory system. This essential function helps regulate blood flow in our bodies, allowing the appropriate amounts of blood to reach certain areas of our body at the right time (e.g., to your muscles when you need to move, or your brain to think). A reduction in appropriate blood flow can adversely affect these other body functions. It also causes an increase in blood pressure and has been shown to cause reduced mobility of the legs and other limbs, but also more serious events such as, stroke and heart attacks.

What We Can Do to Improve Arterial Health as We Age
There is a wealth of knowledge on what can improve arterial health. Large reviews of scientific studies have shown exercise and various diets arteries as we age. All of the evidence suggests that, on a day-to-day basis, you should do some moderate exercise (~150 minutes per week), keep daily salt intake below 2,300 mg (just one teaspoon) and closer to 1,500 mg if you’re over 50 years old, and watch your weight.

(Featured image courtesy of Douglas Seals, Ph.D., Integrative Physiology of Aging Lab, University of Colorado Boulder)

Marcel Davidse

Marcel Davidse was an intern with the Healthy Aging Project in the fall of 2016, and graduated in December 2016 from the Department of Integrative Physiology at the University of Colorado Boulder.