Heart disease kills more Americans every year than any other ailment. In fact, combined with stroke, heart-related disease accounts for one out of every three deaths in the United States. One of the main causes of circulatory system-related deaths such as heart attacks and strokes is a phenomenon known as arterial stiffness.
What is Arterial Stiffness?
In short, over time, the arteries in the human body lose their elasticity, which makes it more challenging for the heart to receive and pump blood to other parts of the body. And by more challenging, we mean arterial stiffness makes the heart work much harder to pump blood.
You see, our hearts and arteries pump blood in synchronized, timed waves (a mechanism referred to by cardiologists as pulse wave velocity or PWV). Flexible arteries allow the heart to push blood through arteries to the rest of the body with low PWV. When portions of arteries stiffen, the pulse wave velocity is disrupted and intensified throughout the entire circulatory system (effectively raising blood pressure). In other words, stiffened arteries mess with the heart’s timing and force the heart to pump more aggressively to get back on time and on quota in delivering blood to the rest of the body.
Over time, arterial stiffness exacts a significant toll on the strength of the heart. Eventually it becomes overwhelmed with the extra effort required to compensate for the irregular pulse waves sent by weakened arteries and stops. Permanently.
What Causes Arterial Stiffness?
A certain amount of arterial stiffness occurs from the natural process of the aging of the arterial wall tissues, so all of us have some level of arterial stiffness no matter how clean a life we lead. That said, a significant amount of arterial stiffness occurs as a result of risky behaviors such as a high fat diet, sedentary lifestyle, heavy alcohol use and prolonged exposure to cigarette smoke. These risky lifestyle behaviors often result in high blood pressure, atherosclerosis (a buildup of plaque/fat/cholesterol in arteries) and diabetes.
But here’s the good news: You can notably reverse arterial stiffness!
How to Combat Arterial Stiffness
An amazing feature of the human body is that it wants to feel better and heal, and it will immediately start to repair itself if you just provide a little help.
Doctors most often provide this help in the form of prescription medication. In the case of arterial stiffness, blood pressure medication and cholesterol lowering drugs have shown some ability to also improve arterial stiffness. For example, a number of studies have shown that statin drugs prescribed for lowering cholesterol are effective in reducing arterial stiffness by about 10%, which is significant in cardiology researchers’ minds. The downside, however, is that statin drugs sometimes produce unpleasant side effects and a few downright dangerous ones.