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Reducing artery stiffness can stave off diabetes, hypertension

Old age causes the arteries to become less elastic—with reduced capacity to expand and contract in response to pressure changes. A degenerative, progressive, vascular process, arterial stiffness, “is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular morbidity and mortality,” according to research—”Dietary Polyphenols Targeting Arterial Stiffness: Interplay of Contributing Mechanisms and Gut Microbiome-Related Metabolism”—which appears in the March issue of Nutrients.

Normal arteries have a “smoothing” function, permitting a steady flow of blood to peripheral tissues. Research states that “the collagen/elastin ratio determines the stiffness of the vascular wall. However, aging and other risk factors cause the arterial tissue to gradually lose its elasticity, primarily due to progressive degeneration of the extracellular matrix in the media layer, which leads to arterial stiffness.”

The arterial stiffness leads to an increase in the systolic (top number) blood pressure reading. Ironically, there is a reverse process in younger individuals with high systolic blood pressure, yielding to the potential over time for stiff arteries and a stroke risk, if left unchecked.

The Mediterranean Diet—high in fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, low-fat meat and fish—with limited amounts of refined foods, is associated with reduced arterial stiffness.

In addition, “specific nutrient measures, such as restricted dietary salt or specific foods, such as dairy products, fermented dairy, dark chocolate, tea, soy, olive oil, grains and nuts, have been shown to have some beneficial effects. Energy intake restriction and aerobic exercise also protect against arterial aging,” according to the Nutrients’ research.

The prime actors in this eating style are known as polyphenols, 8,000 identified to date, which research “suggest an inverse association between dietary polyphenol intake and cardiovascular events both in the general population and in patients with cardiovascular risk factors.”

Here are some of the phenolic cast members: phenolic acids are found in coffee, berries, kiwi, apples and cherry; phenolic alcohols are found in olives and olive oil; stilbenes can be found in grapes and wine; and various flavonoids are contained in soy, miso, celery, parsley, oranges, grapefruit, broccoli, onion, cocoa, chocolate, mango and pomegranate—to name a few sources.

For example, cocoa intake for four weeks significantly decreased postprandial (after meal) systolic blood pressure in obese individuals, as reported in one study.

The key for many phenolic compounds, such as turmeric and curcumin, along with epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), is bioavailability and absorption—yielding to intestinal absorption and gut metabolism. To be absorbed, these polyphenols must first be broken down by intestinal enzymes and the “microbiota” or organisms in the colon, which can make or break their bioavailability.

Research states that “gut microbial composition and metabolism itself influence cardiovascular risk, in general, and AS (arterial stiffness), in particular. Strategies involving targeting the microbiome (gut environment) with probiotics or prebiotics (food for healthy gut bacteria) could, therefore, be valuable in arterial stiffness treatment. Also, polyphenols displaying prebiotic-like effects can potentially be used to modulate intestinal microbiota.”

The research implies that absorption of phenolic compounds can be rate limited by the status of healthy organisms in the colon. Conversely, a poor diet and the excessive reliance on processed foods—along with an overprescribing of antibiotics—contribute to increased susceptibility to fail to benefit from nutrients that might otherwise provide a barrier to arterial stiffness, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke.

All of which led the nutrient researchers from Belgium, Portugal and the Czech Republic to conclude that “targeting the gut microbiome is another potential treatment option for arterial stiffness.”

Try including plain, low fat yogurt in your diet or look for a broad-spectrum probiotic supplement—based on age, gender and your specific health profile—which are quite available and reasonably priced—especially if you’re currently or have been on antibiotic therapy. Consult your physician.

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