Objectives: This study aimed to investigate whether the clustering of the risk factors of the metabolic syndrome (MetS) is associated with stiffness of central and peripheral arterial segments; whether these associations are similar in men and women; and whether insulin resistance and low-grade inflammation mediate any such associations.
Background: Increased arterial stiffness may explain, at least in part, the increased cardiovascular and diabetes risk associated with the MetS. However, the mechanisms linking the MetS to an increased arterial stiffness are incompletely understood, and gender differences may exist.
Methods: Cross-sectional analyses of data on 313 young men and women (mean age 23 years) from the Northern Ireland Young Hearts Project. Subjects were categorized according to the number of traits of the MetS; in addition a continuous MetS score was calculated. Arterial stiffness was assessed by measuring pulse wave velocity (PWV) in three arterial segments using a non-invasive optical method.
Results: The prevalence of the MetS was similar for men (10.6%) and women (10.5%). After adjustment for potential confounders and other cardiovascular risk factors, PWV of the three arterial segments investigated increased with increasing traits of the MetS in women only. Women with the MetS, as compared to those without risk factors of the syndrome, had greater PWV of the aorto-iliac (+14.0%, P = 0.016), the aorto-radial (+13.2%, P = 0.010) and aorto-dorsalis pedis (+11.8%, P = 0.011) segments. A great deal (up to 75%) of the association between the MetS and aortic-iliac PWV was mediated by heart rate, inflammation markers [C-reactive protein (CRP) and fibrinogen] and insulin resistance [homeostatic model assessment-insulin resistance (HOMA-IR)], whereas these variables did not explain much of the association between the MetS and PWV of the peripheral segments.
Conclusions: Young women with the MetS show increased stiffness of peripheral and central arteries, a mechanism that may explain their increased cardiovascular risk. Low-grade inflammation, insulin resistance and sympathetic activation explain much of the adverse impact of the MetS on central, but not peripheral, arterial stiffness.