Vascular aging is a natural process that involves the slow deterioration of arteries as we get older. It’s caused by natural fatigue and the stress we put on our bodies throughout our lives. This stress accounts for many changes that are seen in the elderly. This is why many doctors tell you it’s important to take care of your body and your bones when you’re young.  Even if you were in great shape in your youth, vascular aging is almost unavoidable.

Vascular health is an issue for many senior citizens, putting them at greater risk for the development of many diseases, such as:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • Heart attack
  • Reduced function
  • Death

Over 40% of individuals who die from symptoms of “old age” actually die from complications due to vascular health. Furthermore, this health risk is hardly a silent killer since it’s enough of an issue that scientists are actively looking for a way to reduce vascular aging.

That doesn’t sound possible, right? Wrong!

According to investigators at Harvard Medical School, reversing the aging of blood vessels is definitely possible, at least in mice for noe.  A new study was published in March 2018 in the scientific journal, Cell. This study suggests that by boosting a natural molecule in our bodies known as NAD+, vascular aging can be prevented. The study suggests that vascular aging may even be reversed in patients already experiencing vascular diseases. This means that even those who have already experienced issues with vascular health could be risk-free in the future! The study also suggests this molecule boost could reduce the likelihood of weakening muscles. Ultimately, making the elderly as fit as they have ever been.

The senior investigator to the study is Doctor David Sinclair, a professor at Harvard Medical School. Sinclair says this boost “augments the physiological response to exercise”.  This study was conducted using mice at the research facility. The approach researchers used boosted the NAD+ molecule. The NAD+ molecule is used to regulate protein interactions and repair damaged DNA. The result was stimulated blood vessel growth. This lead to a boost in stamina and endurance in the test subjects.

This research is setting a stage for future trials in human beings.

Through the testing, Sinclair looked at the relationship between NAD+ and SIRT 1 activity. SIRT 1 is associated with enzymes that extend the lifespan of the subject when they are over expressed. A decrease in SIRT 1 often leads to a decrease in NAD+ as well. This results in less blood flow, which leads to vascular issues. Endothelial cells are also looked at through this research because of the relationship to both NAD and SIRT 1. If there is endothelial dysfunction, it can cause capillaries to deteriorate. This means, less oxygen and less blood flow as well.

Less blood flow and less oxygen greatly impacts the health and strength of our muscles. Eventually, this leads to smaller and weaker muscles, making us more frail and prone to injuries. This is why elderly people seem so much more frail than when they were younger. It’s just another part of aging. But, it’s a part of aging that may be avoidable.

To further understand this relationship, Sinclair genetically modified subjects to remove the endothelial cells in certain mice. This was done to determine if SIRT 1 was required for the creation or maintenance of blood vessels. Here were the findings:

SIRT1-deficient mice (genetically modified)

  • Lower capillary density
  • No endurance
  • Reduce ability to form new blood vessels after exercise

Other Mice (no genetic modifications)

  • Typical capillary density
  • Able to run twice as long
  • Able to form new blood vessels after exercise

Through these findings, Sinclair reasoned that “SIRT1 is the key messenger responsible for relaying the growth-factor from muscles to blood vessels”. He also noted that declining NAD+ levels lead to reduced SIRT 1 activity which directly interferes with the ability to grow new blood vessels.

Aging essentially involves the number of blood vessels decreasing in each person as we grow old. This means that the body loses the ability to properly delivery nutrients to tissues. It leads to declining health that just gets worse and worse.

Leonard Guarente, coauthor of the study, commented that the “effect of the precursors that boost NAD is to counteract the decline that occurs with normal aging”. Adding two other functions are to reactive SIRT 1 and restore function in endothelial cells, allowing adequate blood flow and oxygen levels through the vascular system. He added we “may actually be able to rescue muscle mass in an aging population by this kind of intervention”.

Risk Factors for Vascular Aging

  • Smoking
  • Hypertension
  • Hyperlipidemia
  • Impaired glucose tolerance
  • Type 2 Diabetes

Lifestyle improvements are recommended to prevent vascular aging. These improvements include:

  • Eating properly and well-balanced meals
  • Staying hydrated
  • Proper sleep schedule
  • Exercising
  • Reduce alcohol consumption
  • No smoking

In Conclusion

Naturally, the results of this test were met with both optimism and a hint of skepticism. It’s not like everyone can just believe the results of a single report. There aren’t enough variable studies to say anything confidently.

Dr. Eric Verdin from the California Buck Institute for Research on Aging said it’s “quite an important paper”. He also suggested that this isn’t the magical pill many people are hoping will make them look young again. However, it is “one more brick in our efforts to understand aging”. We are building something for the future.

It’s not the fountain of youth, but a more practical application to feeling younger and healthier. As a society, we could be looking at a longer life-span as a result of this type of research.

That’s not the only benefit to research in preventing vascular aging. Another primary benefit of this research is the ability to prevent premature aging, which puts individuals at risk for age-related health impairments long before their natural time. This could lead to drastic changes in society as a whole.

Let’s look forward to further research into preventing vascular aging.

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