If you’re looking for the best anti-aging tip you can find, then this is probably it: Your age is best determined by the health of your arteries and veins, so make sure they’re soft, supple, flexible, and in overall tip-top shape. But how do you do that?
Lifestyle is critical, including diet, exercise, and not smoking or drinking too much. But nutrients can make all the difference in the world. There are some that work better than others. So here’s where you should begin.
As you may know, one of the biggest causes of arterial stiffness is calcification. Just as the name implies, calcium is at the root of calcification. And there’s one nutrient your body must have in ample amounts to avoid calcification. That nutrient is vitamin K2.
K2 is particularly active in your bones and soft tissues. It takes calcium out of the arteries and other soft tissues and escorts it into the bones where it belongs. If you don’t have enough vitamin K2, calcium builds up in your arteries and causes them to harden. In fact, a group of Dutch researchers discovered very clear links between the amount of vitamin K you take in, arterial calcification, and cardiovascular death.
But there are at least two nutrients you need to take with K2 to really keep your arteries healthy. The first one is vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 is so vital for vascular health that one study found a low blood level of vitamin D can raise your risk of peripheral vascular disease by a whopping 64%. Another study out of Emory University in Atlanta found that “a lack of vitamin D, even in generally healthy people, is linked with stiffer arteries and an inability of blood vessels to relax.” These researchers went on to say something absolutely incredible: “We found that people with vitamin D deficiency had vascular dysfunction comparable to those with diabetes or hypertension.”
You need to take at least 2,000 IU daily to avoid deficiency. However, most people need 5,000-10,000 IU daily to keep their levels up. If you’re average size for your gender, 5,000 IU should be plenty. But if you’re bigger, then you may need closer to 10,000 IU daily.
The Second Nutrient to Take With Vitamin K2
Vitamin K is best known for its ability to help your blood clot normally. But two new studies say that vitamin K works with other fat-soluble nutrients to protect your brain and arteries.
In the first study, researchers divided a group of mice into three smaller groups. They gave the mice low, adequate, or high doses of vitamin K throughout their life. They found that those with the lowest levels of vitamin K had the highest degree of cognitive decline.
In the second study, researchers found that vitamin K2 prevented hardening of the arteries in 564 postmenopausal women.
Vitamin K protects the brain and arteries in a few ways. First, it helps calcium stay where the body most needs it – in the bones – and out of the soft tissues (arteries and brain). This keeps bones strong and soft tissues soft. Second, it easily crosses through the blood-brain barrier and provides the brain with necessary antioxidants. And third, vitamin K works with omega-3 fatty acids to help your brain and arteries stay young and healthy.
But here’s a little-known fact: If you take fish oil, it’s quite possible you’re low in vitamin K. Why? While the research is still sketchy, omega-3s seem to rely on vitamin K to work effectively – and they appear to use up your stores of the vitamin. Some researchers believe fish oil interferes with vitamin K. But there isn’t any definitive evidence. What we do know is that people who take fish oil seem to be at a higher risk of having a vitamin K deficiency. While unproven, this suggests the fish oil uses up the vitamin K.
We also know that vitamin K needs fat, such as fish oil, to dissolve. And, thanks to these two studies (among others), we know that vitamin K works alongside fish oil to keep your mind sharp and your arteries soft and supple.
Since your liver doesn’t store vitamin K, there doesn’t appear to be any danger of toxicity from high doses. Most integrative doctors recommend between 1,000 and 2,000 mcg per day. And most research suggests the best form to use is vitamin K2, which you can find at any health food store.
Beyond Vitamin K2
One evidence of hardening arteries is high blood pressure. Stubborn hypertension is really frustrating. For those who suffer with it, they can do everything right and it just won’t come down. That puts them at a higher risk for heart attack and stroke. The cause of this stubborn hypertension gives us some indication of how to reverse it.
There’s evidence that a deficiency of nitric oxide can be the reason for the high blood pressure. For people under 40, that means a simple amino acid combination could be all you need. For people over 40, you may have to try another option.
The amino acids are arginine and citrulline. You’ve probably heard about arginine’s ability to produce nitric oxide. Arginine works because it provides the raw material your body needs to produce nitric oxide (NO). Your body uses an enzyme in the inner lining of your arteries to produce NO and dilate your small arteries. When this happens, it frees up your blood flow and reduces your blood pressure.
But it does something else that’s just as important. It causes your arteries to function better. It does this by making them more flexible and pliable. That’s just the opposite of hardened arteries, which lead to higher blood pressure and heart problems. Doctors can measure this arterial function with easy tests. And researchers have used these tests to study the effects of arginine and citrulline.
One study found arginine alone caused significantly greater artery elasticity than the placebo did. The arginine also lowered vascular resistance (resistance to blood flow) significantly as well. The researchers also noted that the patients taking arginine had lower systolic blood pressure. Arginine was even able to lower aldosterone levels. This is an adrenal hormone that can make your kidneys hold on to sodium and water, which causes higher blood pressure.
Citrulline has similar effects. A study back in 2009 found that citrulline helps reduce blood pressure much like arginine. Many doctors don’t use citrulline because arginine is easier to use. Your body converts citrulline to arginine. So doctors would rather just use the arginine. However, some studies have found that patients taking equivalent doses of citrulline and arginine had higher blood levels of arginine when they took the citrulline. And a German study found that it takes half as much citrulline to raise arginine blood levels to the same level as the arginine.
How Is This Possible?
It’s quite simple, really. When you consume arginine, your stomach acids break it down far more than it does the citrulline. What’s more, your digestive tract has an enzyme called arginase that breaks down arginine, but not citrulline. And third, citrulline is able to bypass the liver entirely, so its conversion to arginine is much smoother than arginine’s. In fact, one study found that over 80% of citrulline converts to arginine in the blood vessels.
But there’s even another reason to use citrulline rather than arginine if you’re over 40. Many people over the age of 40 find that arginine has no impact on their blood pressure. If you are in this group, your body may not be able to convert the arginine into NO. In these cases, citrulline might be a better option.
With that said, I think taking both amino acids together is better than taking only one by itself. Take 2-3 grams of arginine two to three times a day. And take 3 grams of citrulline twice daily. Both of these amino acids are readily available at most health foods stores and online. You also can eat foods that are high in arginine. These include nuts (including peanuts), sunflower and sesame seeds, raisins, coconut, dairy, meat, garlic, and some grains (oats, brown rice, buckwheat, barley).
There are some warnings you need to know about with arginine. First, it can trigger herpes, especially if you’re taking this much. So if you have herpes of any kind, you’ll want to avoid arginine. It also can interact with some medications, so make sure you talk to your doctor before taking it if you’re on any medications. Third, women who are pregnant should avoid both arginine (and citrulline) unless your obstetrician gives you approval to use it. Finally, arginine can cause nausea at these doses, so make sure you take it with food.
With all of these issues with arginine, citrulline is a much better way to go. It’s more effective and has few problems. And since it doesn’t have the absorption issues arginine does, it’s perfect for people over the age of 40.
Taking these nutrients along with eating a good diet and exercising can help your arteries stay young and supple for years to come.