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New research suggests specific nutrients such as those found in fish may help improve arterial function, lowering your risk for cardiovascular disease.Jeremy Pawlowski/Stocksy United
  • A new study has found a link between certain nutrients and more flexible arteries.
  • Increased protein, niacin, and zinc intake were linked to improved arterial structure and function.
  • Arterial stiffness is associated with a greater risk for cardiovascular disease.
  • Eating more foods containing these nutrients might prevent disease by keeping arteries flexible.
  • The Mediterranean Diet is a diet that can help keep your heart and blood vessels healthy.

According to a study being presented at the European Congress on Obesity (ECO), which is being held on May 4-7, 2022 in Maastricht, the Netherlands, there may be some very particular dietary changes you can make that will help keep your arteries healthy and flexible.

The authors say that protein, niacin, and zinc were linked to improvements in both the structure and function of blood vessels in their study.

In addition, they point to a specific dietery pattern which may do a good job of providing you with these nutrients, as well as others that are linked to cardiovascular health.

The research is pre-publication and has not yet been peer-reviewed.

Lead author Dr. Brurya Tal and her team at The Sagol Center for the Metabolic Syndrome, Institute of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Hypertension, Tel Aviv-Sourasky Medical Center, Tel Aviv, Israel, wrote that it is known that weight loss is associated with improvements in cardiovascular and metabolic health.

What it is not known, however, is whether any particular nutrient changes during dieting might be responsible for those improvements.

In order to investigate this question, the researchers enrolled 72 people with metabolic syndrome and obesity into a one-year weight loss program.

Metabolic syndrome is defined by the American Heart Association as having at least three of the following risk factors:

  • High blood sugar
  • Low levels of the “good” cholesterol HDL
  • High levels of triglycerides
  • Excess abdominal fat
  • High blood pressure

Having metabolic syndrome puts people at greater risk for heart and blood vessel diseases.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), obesity is characterized by a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30.

The study participants were provided with a personalized diet and exercise plan as well as regular meetings with a doctor and a dietitian.

The average age of the participants was 53.

They were required to complete a dietary questionnaire a week before beginning the weight loss progam as well as at the end.

At the end of the year, the research team measured blood vessel flexibility in three different ways: pulse wave velocity (PWV), common carotid artery intima media thickness (IMT), and flow mediated dilation (FMD).

PWV is the rate at which pressure waves move down the vessel.

Carotid artery IMT is the thickness of the two innermost walls of the arteries which supply blood to the brain.

FMT looks how much the artery widens as blood flow increases.

At the conclusion of the diet, people’s BMI had dropped on average 9.4 percent.

In addition, all of the measures of blood vessel flexibility had improved.

They found that improved PWV was linked to reduced calorie intake, lower saturated fat intake, and increased zinc intake.

IMT was linked to reduced calories and saturated fat as well. It was also linked to increased protein intake.

Finally, improved FMD was linked with increased intake of the vitamin niacin (vitamin B3).

Arterial stiffness is associated with aging. It is caused by the loss of elastin fibers over time with their replacement by collagen fibers, which makes arteries less flexible.

“Blood vessels that are too stiff increase the risk of future heart disease,” said Tal.

Increased arterial stiffness is closely linked to an increased risk for conditions like high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases.

The good news, however, is that it appears to be reversible. Reversing this condition could help prevent future cardiovascular disease.

Tal said because she has a PhD in nutrition, she was interested in looking at how nutrition might impact vascular flexibility.

“Nutrition is a natural way to reduce the risk of heart disease and we have found that nutrition has improvement capabilities that have not been tested in studies published to date.”

Some of the nutrients that appeared to play a role in arterial flexibility included zinc, niacin, and protein.

Zinc plays a crucial role in the production of nitric oxide, which helps blood vessels relax and widen.

Niacin also helps to dilate blood vessels, especially in the upper part of the body, according to the study authors.

As to which dietery pattern specifically can provide more of these nutrients, Tal said, “The weight loss diet of the study participants was a Mediterranean diet, rich in protein and vegetables, which contained nuts and seeds and a moderate amount of fruits and starches.”

Shereen Jegtvig, a nutritionist at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, who was not a part of the study, agreed with their approach, saying, “The Mediterranean diet is a good heart-healthy diet according to a number of studies.”

The Nordic and Okinawan Diets are good too, she said.

“Basically, a heart-healthy diet is loaded with vegetables and fruits and includes plenty of whole grains (and less highly refined grains).”

She also noted that you don’t necessarily have to follow any specific diet.

“The best diet is one that you can follow, so it needs to have a nice variety of foods you enjoy, just with a focus on healthier choices,” she said.

When it comes to the specific nutrients mentioned in the study, Jegtvig said that good protein and niacin sources include lean meat, fish, seafood, dry beans, nuts and seeds. These foods are also high in zinc, she added, and oysters are an especially good source of zinc.