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April 28, 2010

Smokers' Arteries Age Twice as Fast

Topics: Health Issues

100218_smoking.jpgAlthough it's long been well-known that smoking is bad for the heart and one's overall health, Japanese researchers now have chronicled in detail one reason why - because continual smoking causes progressive stiffening of the arteries. In fact, smokers' arteries stiffen with age about twice as fast as those of nonsmokers:

Stiffer arteries are prone to blockages that can cause heart attacks, strokes and other problems.

"We've known that arteries become more stiff in time as one ages," said Dr. William B. Borden, a preventive cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City. "This shows that smoking accelerates the process. But it also adds more information in terms of the role smoking plays as a cause of cardiovascular disease."

For the study, researchers at Tokyo Medical University measured the brachial-ankle pulse wave velocity, the speed with which blood pumped from the heart reaches the nearby brachial artery, the main blood vessel of the upper arm, and the faraway ankle. Blood moves slower through stiff arteries, so a bigger time difference means stiffer blood vessels.

Looking at more than 2,000 Japanese adults, the researchers found that the annual change in that velocity was greater in smokers than nonsmokers over the five to six years of the study.

Smokers' large- and medium-sized arteries stiffened at twice the rate of nonsmokers', according to the report released online April 26 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology by the team from Tokyo and the University of Texas at Austin.

That's no big surprise, said Borden, noting there's definitely a dose-response relationship. "The more smoking, the more arterial stiffening there is per day."

There is, however, some good news for smokers. A different study found that a year after quitting smoking, smokers' arteries showed signs of reversal (artery function improved 1 percent in the quitters). This may not sound like much but it translates to a 14 percent lower risk of developing heart disease.

Posted by Richard at April 28, 2010 2:53 PM

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