Researchers have found that fat around our arteries may play an important role in keeping those blood vessels healthy. The fat, known as perivascular adipose tissue, or PVAT, helps arteries do what scientists call “stress relax,” or let go of muscular tension while under constant strain. This is similar to the bladder, which expands to accommodate more liquid while at the same time keeping it from spilling out. “In our study, PVAT reduced the tension that blood vessels experience when stretched, and that’s a good thing, because the vessel then expends less energy. It’s not under as much stress,” said study researchers Stephanie Watts from Michigan State University in the US.
The findings, published in the journal Scientific Reports, could affect how researchers test for treatments related to plaque buildup in our arteries, or atherosclerosis, an issue that can often lead to a heart attack, which is currently a leading cause of death in the US. What made the finding so exciting, Watts said, is that PVAT has largely been ignored by researchers who have thought its main job was to store lipids and do little more.