Artery Stiffness in Teens Linked to Worse Cardiovascular Measures in Adulthood

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Artery Stiffness in Teens Linked to Worse Cardiovascular Measures in Adulthood

Teenagers with stiffer arteries may be at greater risk for certain poor cardiovascular measures as adults, according to a new study published in the journal Hypertension.

Artery stiffness can be measured in different ways, including one measure called carotid-femoral pulse wave velocity (cfPWV), which measures the amount of time it takes for an arterial pulse to travel from the carotid artery (in the neck) to the femoral artery (in the leg). Stiffer arteries are a factor in high blood pressure, since when arteries can’t relax and expand as they should, blood flow can become constricted. But arterial stiffness can also develop before it has any measurable effect on blood pressure, and high blood pressure may also contribute to arterial stiffness — meaning that the relationship may run in both directions.

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Lowering elevated blood pressure has been shown to reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes, which indicates that high blood pressure may directly contribute to an inability to properly regulate blood glucose levels in the body. Several diet and lifestyle measures have been shown to help lower blood pressure, including eating flavonoid-rich foods, incorporating herbs and spices in your diet, and eating more whole grains.

For the latest study, researchers looked at a group of generally healthy 3,862 adolescents — with an average age of 17.7 — for seven years. At the beginning of the study, participants had their artery stiffness measured, along with their carotid intima-media thickness (cIMT) — a measure of the buildup of plaque, a fatty substance, in the carotid artery. Participants also underwent several body measurements, including total and trunk lean and fat mass, as well as body-mass index (BMI, a measure of body weight that takes height into account), blood pressure, and fasting blood glucose and insulin levels. These measurements were repeated seven years later.

Higher arterial stiffness in adolescence linked to certain poor outcomes

The researchers found that higher arterial stiffness in adolescence was linked to a number of poor outcomes seven years later — a 20% higher risk for elevated systolic blood pressure (the “top number” measured during heartbeats), a 77% higher risk for elevated diastolic blood pressure (the “bottom number” measured between heartbeats), a 19% higher risk for elevated BMI (overweight or obesity), and a 24% higher risk for elevated trunk fat. No such effects were seen based on participants’ carotid intima-media thickness. Initially, arterial stiffness in adolescence was also linked to a 25% high risk for elevated fasting insulin levels, but this link disappeared once the researchers adjusted for other factors known to raise the risk for insulin resistance, as noted in an article on the study at Healio.

The researchers concluded that they showed, for the first time, that arterial stiffness in adolescence may independently predict obesity and high blood pressure in early adulthood. Intervening in adolescence to reduce arterial stiffness, they wrote, may be an effective way to help prevent high blood pressure and obesity later on — although more studies on this relationship are needed involving larger, more diverse groups of adolescents than the current study was based on.

Want to learn more about protecting your heart? Read “Be Heart Smart: Know Your Numbers,” “Does Diabetes Hurt Your Heart?” “Fight Off Heart Disease With These Five Heart-Healthy Foods” and “Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease.”

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips on social media

A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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