Body fat can harden arteries in middle age

Carrying around too much body fat can cause arteries to stiffen after middle age, a new study found.

Researchers at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Clinical Sciences Centre at Imperial College London analyzed 200 volunteer participants to measure how fast blood flows in the aorta – the biggest artery in the body.

Since blood travels more quickly in stiff vessels than in elastic ones, researchers were able to see how hardened the aorta walls were based on the speed of blow flow.

Body fat predicts stiffness of arteries

The results showed that, in young adults, more body fat did not correspond with stiff arteries. But for participants over age 50, increased body fat was associated with stiffer arteries for both men and women. Body fat percentage – as opposed to body mass index (BMI) – was more closely associated with artery stiffness.

In younger people, blood vessels seem to be able to compensate for the negative effects of extra fat, the researchers said. But older adults aren't so lucky as the body loses its ability to adapt and arteries become more stiff.

"The effects of having more fat seem to be different depending on your age," Dr. Declan O’Regan, lead study author, said in a press release. "It looks like young people may be able to adapt to excess body fat, but by middle age the cumulative exposure to years of obesity may start to cause permanent damage to the arteries."

More research needed

More research into what age irreversible damage starts to occur in the arteries because of obesity would be helpful, the authors state, as well as understanding how blood health might cause wear and tear on the arteries.

"We don’t know for sure how body fat makes arteries stiffer, but we do know that certain metabolic products in the blood may progressively damage the elastic fibres in our blood vessels. Understanding these processes might help us to prevent the harmful effects of obesity," they concluded.

Source: Science Daily

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