When Frank Sinatra sang “for as rich as you are, it’s much better by far to be young at heart” he was not thinking of arterial physiology but he was right on target. The idea that aging arteries indicate a generalized aging body go back to the 1600’s when English physician Thomas Sydenham indicated that “a man is as old as his arteries”.
Fast forward to the present time and artery age can be accurately measured by CT scanning, carotid ultrasonography using CIMT analysis, and pulsed wave analysis, strategies I incorporate in my anti-aging cardiac clinic. New data indicate that measures of aging of the heart and its arteries indeed reflect aging throughout the body. In an analysis of 6,814 participants in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) who underwent coronary artery calcium (CAC) scoring by CT and were followed for 10 years, a comparison of those scoring a perfect zero were compared to those scoring over 400 (indicating arterial aging). The presence a CAC score >400 indicated increased risk for heart deaths but also increased the risk of cancer by 1.5 times, pneumonia by nearly two times, and COPD and hip fracture by over 400 percent. A high CAC score was not associated in the MESA group with an increased risk of dementia. However, in another recent study of over 500 elderly patients (average age of 80) who had CAC scoring, a low CAC score in white women was associated with a lower risk of dementia. As the availability of CAC scoring is widespread, is inexpensive (often around $100), noninvasive, and associated with a lower dose of radiation than in the past (approximately 1 mSV or less like a mammogram), the snapshot into arterial and overall aging of multiple organ systems is appealing.
Using a different method of measurement of arterial youthfulness, another center reported on the connection between a healthy heart and a healthy brain in a just released research study. Using the American Heart Association’s scale of 7 health habits and measurements, a scale of heart health was related to measures of brain aging in over 1,000 subjects with an average age of 72 years. An association was observed between the number of ideal cardiac lifestyle factors and better memory and executive function.
The message is clear. Young arteries, young hearts, and young brains share common lifestyle factors and can be predicted by CAC scoring. In my experience, viewing a documentary revealing the power of CAC scoring can be lifesaving in terms of heart disease and can now be expanded to cancer, lung disease and brain health. If it has been a while since you have heard the great Sinatra sing “Young at Heart,” I suggest you listen to it and get your heart and body checked with a CAC scoring CT scan.
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