-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas
FRIDAY, May 17 (HealthDay News) -- After age 50, excess body fat
hardens the arteries, potentially increasing the risk of dying from
cardiovascular disease, according to a new study.
The blood vessels of young people can adapt to the effects of
obesity, but this ability is lost after middle age, British
researchers found. As body fat accumulates, arteries become
stiffer, they cautioned, suggesting years of being overweight could
lead to irreversible damage.
"The effects of having more fat seem to be different depending on your age. It looks like young people may be able to adapt to excess body fat, but by middle age the cumulative exposure to years of obesity may start to cause permanent damage to the arteries," said study leader Dr. Declan O'Regan, of the Medical Research Council Clinical Sciences Center at Imperial College London.
One implication of the study, published in the June print issue
of the journal
Hypertension, is that the potential benefits of weight loss
may depend on your age and how long you have been overweight, he
Because blood travels faster in stiff vessels than healthy
vessels, the researchers were able to assess artery hardness by
using an MRI scanner to measure the speed of blood flow in the
aorta of 200 people. Young adults with more body fat had less stiff
arteries, they found. In people older than 50, however, excess
weight was associated with hardening of the arteries. This was true
for both men and women, the researchers noted.
"We don't know for sure how body fat makes arteries stiffer, but we do know that certain metabolic products in the blood may progressively damage the elastic fibers in our blood vessels. Understanding these processes might help us to prevent the harmful effects of obesity," said O'Regan in a college news release.
The study authors pointed out that hardening of the arteries was
associated more with body fat percentage, which is estimated by
passing a small electric current through the body, than body mass
index (BMI), which is a measurement based on height and weight. The
investigators added that more research is needed to determine when
the harmful effects of obesity result in permanent damage to the
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more
atherosclerosis, or hardening of the
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