As we age, one of the changes our cardiovascular system undergoes is a hardening of the arteries, called arteriosclerosis. Maintaining proper blood vessel elasticity is an important part of having a healthy heart. The lining of the blood vessels is called the endothelium. Oxidative stress and toxins cause the blood vessel walls to thicken, and as plaque builds up in the endothelium the blood vessels lose their elasticity.
One of the most well-known conditions decreased blood vessel elasticity can cause is high blood pressure. If the pipes that transport blood through our body become stiff, the pressure within the vessels will increase. High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart attacks and stroke. Decreased blood vessel elasticity is also associated with other health conditions such as dementia and erectile dysfunction.
Naturopathic doctors use a non-invasive testing method called plethysmography to assess blood vessel elasticity. We are also interested in the underlying reasons the vessel lining is being damaged and may recommend additional testing including comprehensive lipid markers, oxidative stress and inflammation markers, insulin and blood sugar, and heavy metal testing.
If the arteries do show signs of hardening there are a number of naturopathic treatments that can be utilized. Regular exercise is an important lifestyle treatment to keep blood vessels elastic. Nitric oxide is a compound that promotes blood vessel elasticity. A variety of naturopathic supplements can also help to increase the production of nitric oxide and promote elasticity. Fish oils also decrease arterial stiffening. It is important to incorporate foods high in omega 3, such as fish, nuts and seeds, and to have a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Weight management and a low-sodium diet also have a beneficial effect.
Enhanced external counter-pulsation (EECP) is a proven, non-invasive therapy that uses pneumatic cuffs on the lower limbs to promote blood flow back to the heart. This is timed with the patient’s heart-beat to increase shear stress and increase blood vessel elasticity. These treatments can also be used to prevent arteries from hardening to promote a healthy heart as you age.