As if it were not enough that the degenerating joints and arteries get less flexible as we age, a research team from the University of Delaware and Christiana Care Health System in Newark has confirmed that even our veins stiffen as we age.
"When you're young, your veins are flexible and elastic - like rubber bands," said William Farquhar, a cardiovascular physiologist at the UD College of Health Sciences, "But as we get older, we found that his veins are more like lead pipes. "
And that physiological change may be an important factor in developing high blood pressure, or hypertension, which affects hundreds of millions of people, most of them elderly according Farquhar.
The study, which was conducted in the last two years, was led by Colin Farquhar and youth at the University of Delaware and Michael Stillabower and Angela DiSabatino Christiana Care Health System. The results were published in the November issue of the Journal of Applied Physiology.
While the arterial side of the human circulatory system has been studied extensively, Farquhar said there is little research on the venous system. However, the veins contain approximately 70 percent of the blood when at rest, and the flexibility of the veins is an important factor in the amount of blood returning to the heart during the journey through your circulatory system.
Veins are equipped with valves to prevent any backflow of blood caused by the gravity, as in the case of the blood returning to the heart from the lower extremities. The walls of the veins are collagen and elastin, two proteins that give flexibility and veins help maintain blood pressure.
To determine whether age affects people at work in our veins, the research team recruited 24 people for study - 12 healthy young adults between the ages of 18 and 30, and 12 older healthy adults aged 60 and 70 years old. Each individual underwent a medical examination at the Christiana Hospital, which included a lipid profile, blood pressure monitoring, an electrocardiogram and other tests to ensure overall good health.
Then each participant was involved in a series of research trials UD Human Performance Laboratory at the Newark campus. While each subject was lying on a stretcher, several sensors connected to computers, were placed in the arms and legs to measure arterial and venous pressure and blood flow to the extremities.
To perform these tests, the limbs were imprisoned for a period of about eight minutes, causing swelling and then when released, deflated slowly circulate blood leaving the extremities. Blood volume was measured and recorded. The consistently lower blood volume by pressure, also noted less elastic veins elderly participants. Based on previous research, we suspect that the veins of older adults would be less flexible than younger adults, "said Farquhar." But we did not know if that is due to a functional process, such as a chronic constriction of the muscles around the veins, or if it is due to a decreased flexibility due to a change in the structure of the veins themselves same ".
To find the answer, the researchers monitored the blood flow through the veins of each participant in different scenarios which can constrict the veins, like having one foot immersed in cold water or when squeezing a handgrip. Also administered a nitroglycerin pill under the tongue of each participant to relax the veins. In each case, testing found that had no effect on the response of the veins in both age groups.
"Therefore, we believe that the hardening of the veins as we age is probably due to structural changes, such as thickening of the walls of the veins," said Farquhar. "Hardening of the arteries is a good analogy for what is happening in our veins as we age."
So can we do something to keep our veins elastic for longer?
"Further long-term studies, but it is possible that regular physical training can contain age-related increases in vein stiffness," says Farquhar.
In the second phase of the UD study, currently underway, the research team wants to find out if the veins of people with high blood pressure are more rigid than the veins of people with normal blood pressure. Two doctoral students, Erin Delaney and Megan Wenner, are attending this part of the investigation, which will examine young and older adults with high blood pressure.
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