iHeart: Measure Pulse Wave Velocity to Prevent Cardiovascular Disease

Illustration of Pulse Wave Velocity
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Cardiovascular disease is considered the leading global cause of death. In America, about one in every three deaths is attributed to heart disease, stroke, or other cardiovascular disease. Every 40 seconds, an American dies from one of these diseases. Efforts are being made to reduce the risks associated with cardiovascular disease and add years to our lives. This is especially important since many of us are unaware of what is happening inside our bodies and tend to ignore warning signs. In fact, the American Heart Association estimates that most Americans have some deficiencies in relation to the seven key health factors and behaviors that increase the risk of heart disease. These are also known as “Life’s Simple 7”: not smoking, physical activity, healthy diet, body weight, and control of cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar.

Some argue that pulse wave velocity (PWV) has emerged as the gold standard method for assessing cardiovascular risk. PWV is a direct measure of aortic stiffness and involves measuring the force of arterial blood flow. Until recently, obtaining the PWV value required complicated and costly procedures. Now, there is a noninvasive measuring of PWV, and this measure is often included in our routine clinical checkups. It is particularly important to perform when examining people with a high risk of heart disease. Furthermore, novel methods are making the process easier, faster and more affordable.

The Link Between Aortic Stiffness and Early Brain Damage

New studies show that stiffening of the arteries might happen to us a lot sooner than we previously believed. According to research led by the UC Davis School of Medicine, healthy individuals in their 40s can already show arterial stiffening. The condition can cause subtle brain injuries, which have been related to slow cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease later in life.

This large study, which included 1,900 participants, tested the participants’ carotid-femoral pulse wave velocity or CFPWV (the measurement of aortic stiffness) as well as subjected them to brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The study concluded that increased CFPWV was linked to greater brain damage.

In other words, participants with more pronounced aortic stiffness had negative changes in their white and grey brain matter.

Dr. Pauline Maillard, the study’s main author, asserts that arterial stiffness may be a good indicator of vascular health and should be monitored throughout life. The results of Dr. Maillard’s study show that initial changes begin at an early age, which suggests the importance of early awareness of arterial stiffness. Other studies have confirmed that high PWV can be an independent predictor of arterial stiffness, heart disease, and death. If these findings are true, addressing arterial stiffness early in life could help preserve brain health as well as reduce morbidity and mortality connected with various cardiovascular causes.

Reducing Your Internal Age by Making Positive Choices

Already Ancient Egyptians made a link between our pulse and heart health. Speaking about the internal factors that affect a person’s life expectancy, Thomas Sydenham, an English physician from the 17th century, observed: “A man is as old as his arteries.” According to Dr. Edward Lakatta from the National Institute on Aging, many middle-aged people are not as healthy as they appear to be. A person’s physiological age might be significantly higher than his or her chronological age.

It is intuitive for most of us that brain and heart health can be preserved longer by making healthy life choices, which include eating a healthy diet, reducing stress and exercising. In 1998, Dr. Hirofumi Tanaka, the director of the Cardiovascular Aging Research Laboratory at the University of Texas, performed a study that included a sample of healthy women and showed that arterial stiffness increased with age in people with a sedentary lifestyle. In contrast, women who were highly active did not experience age-related increase in arterial stiffness and subsequently, had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. More recently, a group of Japanese scientists from the Nippon Sports Science University examined the effect of exercise on PWV in young men. Unsurprisingly, they confirmed that aerobic exercise decreases arterial stiffness in healthy people. However, some authors claim that genetic factors, too, influence our PWV.

How You Can Monitor Your Aortic Stiffness

Commercially available devices now make measuring PWV easier. One way of easily and conveniently measuring your aortic stiffness is by using iHeart—a device developed by Dr. Jess Goodman that can tell us what is happening in our bodies with regard to PWV.

The iHeart system has two components: a fingertip pulse sensor and an app for pulse signal analysis and display. This clip-on device takes 30 seconds to measure your pulse. It then connects to an online database and sends your results to your smartphone or tablet. You find out about your arterial stiffness as well as your physiological age almost instantly.

You can also save the results in an online iHeart profile for future comparison. With some guidance from iHeart’s resources on diet, lifestyle, and fitness, you can work toward lowering your PWV and reap some of the benefits of reducing aortic stiffness.

The company has also introduced a new product, iHeart Pro. It is aimed at health and wellness professionals who can use it to demonstrate the benefits of their sessions to potential clients. Readings can be obtained following different activities to help you establish your body’s reaction to different types of exercise. What’s purportedly so advanced about iHeart is that users are given a metric that is very responsive to lifestyle changes.

Sometimes, iHeart users can be surprised when they see their internal age number displayed. Some are pleased to find out they are biologically younger than they thought, while others can receive a wake-up call when faced with a number (significantly) higher than their chronological age. However, the gadget is not meant to be a diagnostic device, and the measurement of internal age has not been validated yet. Nonetheless, many experts see it as a great motivational tool for those trying to improve their health and well-being.

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