Life Extension Magazine 2007
A Novel Method to Protect Your Aging Arteries
By William Faloon
An 86-year-old member who successfully reversed some serious medical conditions wrote me an interesting letter. He asked, since you helped correct my health problems and I am in good shape now…how will I die?
This is a difficult question, but based on this member’s age and medical history, I predicted that he would most likely succumb to a vascular disease, be it a stroke or heart attack.
I told this member that if the nutrients he was taking worked for him the same way they did in the clinical trials, then it might be possible to restore healthy endothelial (inner arterial wall) function, and thus avoid these vascular catastrophes.
Recent findings show that certain plant extracts reverse clinical measurements of atherosclerosis. However, we still don’t know how long we can delay the endothelial dysfunction that causes so many aged humans to perish from blood vessel diseases.
Fortunately, nutritional scientists have uncovered a new way to counteract circulatory breakdown. We have thus scored another victory that provides an opportunity to postpone what mainstream doctors believe is an inevitable consequence of growing old.
I am pleased to report that this novel plant extract has been added to formulas that most Life Extension members already use on a daily basis.
One would think a scientific breakthrough that could drastically reduce the incidence of arterial disease would be recognized by physicians who treat vulnerable patients each day. After all, vascular disorders are by far the leading causes of disability and death in the Western world.
The harsh reality is that today’s medical practice is governed by economic, rather than scientific principles. Hurried doctors are bombarded with pharmaceutical promotions and seldom have the time to review the medical literature. The public is victimized by endless advertisements that make it appear that they can protect themselves against vascular disease if only they take the proper prescription drugs.
What has been sadly overlooked is a plethora of published scientific findings showing that the ingestion of certain foods and/or food extracts could slash the numbers of human beings who suffer and die from circulatory breakdown.1-4
Normal aging causes arterial damage
Even when conventional risk factors such as high cholesterol and blood pressure are kept within normal ranges, the aging process itself inflicts severe damage to our arteries.
The endothelium is the inner lining of our arteries. It comes in direct contact with toxic blood constituents such as oxidized LDL and triglycerides. The reason for today’s epidemic of atherosclerosis is the breakdown of endothelial function and structure. Most heart attacks and strokes are caused by atherosclerosis that restricts blood flow through our arteries.
Based on this wealth of scientific data, if aging humans are to gain long-term protection against vascular diseases, they must maintain healthy endothelial function (and structure).
Younger people can protect their endothelium by eating a healthy diet, exercising, taking dietary supplements, and using prescription drugs (if tests indicate drugs are needed). Despite these sensible interventions, harmful changes still occur in the endothelial lining of arteries, especially as humans mature past 70.
The encouraging news is that documented methods have been developed to help correct the underlying reason why arteries become occluded as people reach the later stages of their lives.
How most heart attacks and strokes occur
The two prime factors involved in occlusive arterial disease are abnormal platelet activation and endothelial dysfunction. When the endothelium is not functioning properly, our platelets (blood-clotting cells) become dangerously over-activated. This can cause a sudden arterial blood clot, or contribute to progression of atherosclerosis by stimulating inflammation.
A primary mechanism involved in endothelial dysfunction is the depletion of nitric oxide, often caused from the oxidation of LDL and other blood components. Nitric oxide is produced by endothelial cells. It regulates vascular elasticity, maintains cardiac contraction, prevents vessel injury, and helps protect against atherosclerosis.5-8
As humans age, endothelial function becomes altered. Due to a variety of insults, a depletion of nitric oxide occurs in the endothelium. One consequence of nitric oxide depletion is the inability of arteries to expand and contract with youthful elasticity. The continual stiffening and occlusion of aged arteries is the number one health risk that people in Western societies face.9-14 In order to maintain healthy arterial dilation, the endothelium has to manufacture enough nitric oxide. Impairment in nitric oxide release by the aging endothelium causes arterial dysfunction.15, 16
The band-aid therapies used by today’s mainstream cardiologists (aspirin, statin, and certain anti-hypertensive drugs) do have a beneficial effect on the endothelium, but they may only postpone a serious vascular event. If a person lives long enough, the chronic depletion of endothelial nitric oxide results in impairment of arterial function and progressive restriction of blood flow to vital parts of the body.
Measuring endothelial function in humans
The most accepted way to evaluate endothelial function is to measure the blood flow-induced dilation and contraction of the brachial artery. The brachial artery runs from the shoulder down to the elbow. The flow mediated dilation test uses a highly sensitive ultrasound to assess how blood is flowing through this artery.
A carefully controlled study was conducted on male smokers to evaluate the effects of ingesting chocolate on endothelial function and platelet activation. Based on the mechanisms by which cigarette smoking damages the endothelium, smokers serve as an ideal model to identify agents that will protect against age-related vascular disease.20
Half the group received cocoa-standardized dark chocolate while the other half received white chocolate. The cocoa used to make dark chocolate contains unique polyphenols that have demonstrated impressive results in human clinical trials. White chocolate is devoid of these polyphenols.20
The results of this study showed a significant improvement in flow mediated dilation in the dark chocolate group, but no change in the white chocolate group. Compared to baseline, flow mediated dilation improved by 37% in the dark chocolate group and this beneficial effect persisted for about eight hours.20
Dangerous platelet activation was reduced by 36% two hours after ingestion of the dark chocolate, but no effect was observed for the white chocolate group of men.20
This study documented that dark chocolate induced a rapid and significant improvement in endothelial and platelet function. As you may recall, it is the lethal combination of endothelial dysfunction and platelet over-activation that causes most heart attacks and strokes.20
The authors of this study noted that the unique polyphenols found in dark chocolate protect against the inactivation of nitric oxide, thus rapidly reversing a key measurement of endothelial dysfunction in humans.
A second human study using a standardized cocoa polyphenol beverage corroborated these findings. The results showed significant improvement in flow mediated dilation and blood markers of endothelial function. The doctors who conducted this second study stated:
“Therefore, ingested flavonoids may reverse endothelial dysfunction through enhancement of nitric oxide bioactivity.” 21
(Note: Two mechanisms by which polyphenols protect nitric oxide are to inhibit its oxidative conversion to the dangerous free radical peroxynitrite and to increase the enzymatic activity needed to produce nitric oxide, from L-arginine.)
Cocoa reduces insulin resistance and blood pressure in humans
Insulin resistance causes impairment of vascular nitric oxide and creates endothelial dysfunction that then contributes to hypertension. By increasing nitric oxide, one has the potential to improve endothelial function, decrease blood pressure, and slow down atherosclerotic processes.22
A 15-day study was done on hypertensive human volunteers to evaluate the effects of eating polyphenol-assayed dark chocolate or a white chocolate on various circulatory measurements. Hypertensive patients who ingested the dark chocolate showed an 11-point (mmHg) reduction in systolic blood pressure and a 6.2-point (mmHg) decrease in diastolic pressure. The participants consuming white chocolate showed no change in blood pressure.22
The researchers then looked at measurements of insulin sensitivity in these hypertensive patients. After 15 days of dark chocolate consumption, fasting insulin levels declined by 29%, along with a 6% reduction in fasting glucose. This sharp reduction in excess fasting insulin without an increase in glucose indicates that dark chocolate polyphenols quickly improved insulin sensitivity in these study subjects. No improvements were seen in the group consuming the white chocolate.22
Insulin resistance is defined as a decreased cell sensitivity and/or responsiveness to metabolic actions of insulin. The pancreas responds to insulin resistance by secreting more insulin in an attempt to compensate for the cell’s inability to efficiently utilize insulin. Elevated fasting insulin is commonly seen in obese patients and those suffering from metabolic syndrome, type II diabetes, and vascular disease. A decrease in fasting insulin, as was seen in the group ingesting the cocoa polyphenols, indicates an improvement in systemic insulin sensitivity.
When the flow mediated dilation test was done to assess endothelial function, hypertensive subjects who ingested the dark chocolate saw an improvement to almost normal. Flow mediated dilation improvements were not seen in the white chocolate group.22
This 15-day study showed that dark chocolate decreased daytime and nighttime blood pressure, reduced insulin resistance, and improved endothelial function (as measured by enhanced arterial relaxation and blood flow).22
A second study corroborated these findings when evaluating the effects of dark chocolate on healthy people. The results showed a remarkable 45% reduction in insulin resistance and a reduction in systolic blood pressure within normal values. The researchers who conducted the second study concluded by stating:
“Dark, but not white, chocolate decreases blood pressure and improves insulin sensitivity in healthy persons.” 22