As we age, our blood vessels gradually lose their ability to stretch and rebound. This process, known as vascular aging, is partially due to oxidative damage and arterial stiffening, caused in part by genetics and lifestyle factors. Luckily, researchers are always looking for ways to help us stay healthy as we age, and recently found that targeting free radicals produced by mitochondria—small organelles inside cells—with specific antioxidants improved vascular function. The preliminary trial included 20 healthy adults, ages 60 to 79, with reduced blood vessel flexibility, a sign of impaired vascular function. Researchers randomly assigned the participants to take 20 mg of a mitochondrial-targeted antioxidant (MitoQ®, a commercial supplement made with a special form of coenzyme Q10), or a placebo, daily for six weeks. Throughout the trial, researchers tested the participants’ vascular elasticity by measuring flexibility in the brachial artery, and stiffness of the aorta, the largest artery in the body. Following a two-week washout period, the trial was repeated with the participants who had previously taken the antioxidant now taking the placebo, and vice versa. At the end of the two trials, researchers found that:
Measurements of brachial artery elasticity were an average of 42% higher after taking the antioxidant than after taking the placebo.
Aortic stiffness was more improved after the antioxidant than after the placebo.
This study suggests this form of coenzyme Q10 could help slow vascular aging. Similar effects have been seen in animals, but clinical trials in humans are just beginning to take place. Future research will help determine whether specialized antioxidants like MitoQ® can effectively slow vascular aging. While we wait for such studies, other research indicates adopting lifestyle habits that help us maintain a low BMI and avoid diabetes are critical for keeping our blood vessels healthy as we age.