Using untargeted metabolomics profiling, researchers have identified several lifestyle factors that could cause arteries to stiffen and increase the risk of heart disease. Whilst many of the factors -such as diabetes and high cholesterol - were already known, the researchers also identified two peptides commonly found in foods that may increase the risk of heart disease.
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Cardiovascular disease is one of the main causes of death worldwide. The World Health Organization estimates that 17.9 million people died from cardiovascular diseases in 2016, making up 31 percent of all deaths worldwide.
Arterial stiffness is a common sign of vascular aging and contributes to cardiovascular disease in older people. It has strong associations with systolic hypertension, coronary artery disease, stroke, heart failure, and atrial fibrillation. The exact causes of arterial stiffening have not been identified as of yet.
The new study, which was carried out by researchers at the University of Georgia, utilized untargeted metabolomics profiling in 1,239 participants in the Bogalusa Heart Study.
Researchers evaluated 1,202 metabolites and were able to link 27 of these to arterial stiffness. Sixteen of the identified metabolites were “independent of traditional risk factors”.
Metabolomics is the large-scale, scientific study of the small molecules known as metabolites inside cells, biofluids, tissues, and organisms. Metabolites enable the body to function normally and are created every time energy transfers occur in the body. Alterations in metabolite levels can therefore indicate how lifestyle factors including smoking and diet are affecting an individual’s overall health.
The study’s author and assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at UGA’s College of Public Health Changwei Li explained the results, saying:
In this study we identified many metabolites related to coffee drinking, alcohol drinking, Southern foods, dietary supplements, and even pesticides.
We were able to identify some environmental and lifestyle related-metabolites, build metabolite networks to show how the body reacts to the environmental exposures, and more importantly, tested the effect of those metabolites on arterial stiffness.”
Changwei Li, Study Author
Common foods may cause arterial stiffness
While many of the metabolites were linked to known risk factors that can contribute to arterial stiffness (increasing cholesterol levels, diabetes, and high blood pressure), the researchers also identified two peptides that are fundamental elements of cells and are naturally present in foodstuffs.
The peptides in question were γ-glutamylvaline and γ-glutamylisoleucine, food flavorings which are often added to chicken broths to enhance the savory taste of the product. Both γ-glutamylvaline and γ-glutamylisoleucine have short-lived physiological or cell-signaling effects.
Previous research has found that levels of γ-glutamylisoleucine in the blood were significantly higher in men with primary dilated cardiomyopathy (a disease that prevents the heart from pumping blood properly). This study states that metabolomic profiling could show “protective or harmful effects on cardiac structure and function.”
γ-glutamylisoleucine is naturally present in garden onions, soft-necked garlic, pulses, and vegetables from the onion family, hence, it is consumed on a daily basis by many.
Although extra research needs to be done to ascertain how these peptides influence arterial stiffening over long periods of time, Changwei Li said:
Our study raised possibility that those additives may cause arterial stiffness. Given the wide usage of those additives, future studies are warranted to investigate their role in arterial stiffness.”
Li, C., et al. (2019) Novel Metabolites Are Associated With Augmentation Index and Pulse Wave Velocity: Findings From the Bogalusa Heart Study. American Journal of Hypertension. doi.org/10.1093/ajh/hpz046.