Research: Antioxidant Makes Some Age-Related Blood Vessel Changes Reverse by 15-20 Years

An incomplete study, but perhaps a more important one than is known now.

Older adults who take a novel antioxidant that specifically targets cellular powerhouses, or mitochondria, see age-related vascular changes reverse by the equivalent of 15 to 20 years within six weeks, according to new University of Colorado Boulder research.

The study, published this week in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension, adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting pharmaceutical-grade nutritional supplements, or nutraceuticals, could play an important role in preventing heart disease-the nation’s No. 1 killer. It also resurrects the notion that oral antioxidants, which have been broadly dismissed as ineffective in recent years, could reap measurable health benefits if properly targeted, the authors say.

“This is the first clinical trial to assess the impact of a mitochondrial-specific antioxidant on vascular function in humans,” said lead author Matthew Rossman, a postdoctoral researcher in the department of integrative physiology. “It suggests that therapies like this may hold real promise for reducing the risk of age-related cardiovascular disease.”

For the study, Rossman and senior author Doug Seals, director of the Integrative Physiology of Aging Laboratory, recruited 20 healthy men and women age 60 to 79 from the Boulder area.

Half took 20 milligrams per day of a supplement called MitoQ, made by chemically altering the naturally-occurring antioxidant Coenzyme Q10 to make it cling to mitochondria inside cells.

The other half took a placebo.

After six weeks, researchers assessed how well the lining of blood vessels, or the endothelium, functioned, by measuring how much subjects’ arteries dilated with increased blood flow.

Then, after a two-week “wash out” period of taking nothing, the two groups switched, with the placebo group taking the supplement, and vice versa. The tests were repeated.

The researchers found that when taking the supplement, dilation of subjects’ arteries improved by 42 percent, making their blood vessels, at least by that measure, look like those of someone 15 to 20 years younger. An improvement of that magnitude, if sustained, is associated with about a 13 percent reduction in heart disease, Rossman said.

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“Exercise and eating a healthy diet are the most well-established approaches for maintaining cardiovascular health,” said Seals. “But at the public health level, not enough people are willing to do that. We’re looking for complementary, evidence-based options to prevent age-related changes that drive disease. These supplements may be among them.”

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Exercise Can Reverse Damage Caused by Heart Aging

Another one of the benefits of exercise reveals itself.

Exercise can reverse damage to sedentary, aging hearts and help prevent risk of future heart failure — if it’s enough exercise, and if it’s begun in time, according to a new study by cardiologists at UT Southwestern and Texas Health Resources.

To reap the most benefit, the exercise regimen should begin by late middle age (before age 65), when the heart apparently retains some plasticity and ability to remodel itself, according to the findings by researchers at the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine (IEEM), which is a collaboration between UT Southwestern Medical Center and Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas.

And the exercise needs to be performed four to five times a week. Two to three times a week was not enough, the researchers found in an earlier study.

“Based on a series of studies performed by our team over the past 5 years, this ‘dose’ of exercise has become my prescription for life,” said senior author Dr. Benjamin Levine, Director of the Institute and Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern. “I think people should be able to do this as part of their personal hygiene — just like brushing your teeth and taking a shower.”

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Sedentary aging can lead to a stiffening of the muscle in the heart’s left ventricle, the chamber that pumps oxygen-rich blood back out to the body, he explained.

“When the muscle stiffens, you get high pressure and the heart chamber doesn’t fill as well with blood. In its most severe form, blood can back up into the lungs. That’s when heart failure develops,” said Dr. Levine, who holds the S. Finley Ewing Chair for Wellness at Texas Health Dallas and the Harry S. Moss Heart Chair for Cardiovascular Research. He also holds the Distinguished Professorship in Exercise Sciences at UT Southwestern, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.

Earlier research by UT Southwestern cardiologists showed that left ventricular stiffening often shows up in middle age in people who don’t exercise and aren’t fit, leaving them with small, stiff chambers that can’t pump blood as well.

However, the researchers also found that the heart chamber in competitive masters-level athletes remains large and elastic, and that even four to five days of committed exercise over decades is enough for noncompetitive athletes to reap most of this benefit.