Vet Med looks to nervous system to reduce cardiovascular disease
Friday, October 21, 2022
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Issues with weight are a common point of discussion across the country, but people
aren’t the only ones dealing with it.
Obesity is a common condition in both humans and animals that increases the risk of developing deadly diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.
The Centers for Disease Control reported that obesity prevalence in the U.S. was at 42% in March 2020. Among pets, more than 53% of adult dogs and 55% of cats are classified as overweight or obese.
Dr. Madhan Subramanian, assistant professor in the physiological sciences department at Oklahoma State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, seeks to understand the effects obesity and aging have on the body and how to reduce the associated risks.
“Both obesity and aging cause an increased risk for cardiovascular disease,” Subramanian said. “We are trying to understand how obesity or aging affects your brain and in turn increases your risk for cardiovascular diseases. What we are trying to understand is applicable to both humans and animals.”
To understand these effects more clearly, Subramanian and his team are interested in evaluating the autonomic nervous system.
“The autonomic nervous system has two sides: a sympathetic nervous system and a parasympathetic nervous system,” Subramanian said. “The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the ‘flight or fight’ response in stressful situations. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for controlling the body’s ability to relax or ‘rest and digest.’”
In conditions such as obesity, activity in the sympathetic nervous system is elevated.
“The brain controls the autonomic nervous system,” Subramanian said. “So, changes happening in the brain, such as oxidative stress or neuroinflammation, can lead to an overactive sympathetic nervous system. This puts more pressure on your blood vessels, leading to hypertension, which is high blood pressure, and this in turn stresses your heart, increasing your risk for cardiovascular diseases.”
Individuals who have pre-existing conditions or are of an advanced age are at a higher risk to develop complications from viruses, as many learned during the pandemic.
“COVID-19 affected mainly people with increased cardiovascular diseases who had pre-existing conditions, like type 2 diabetes or obesity,” Subramanian said. “Similarly, it affected the aging population more than the healthy, young population. If we can find more ways to bring a healthy life span among these groups, that would be the best way to prevent any form of severe disease progression.”
Over the next five years, Subramanian aims to target sympathetic nervous system activity in hopes of regulating it.
“The sympathetic nervous system activity controls different end organs, such as the heart, kidneys and blood vessels,” Subramanian said. “If there are more ways to regulate sympathetic nervous system activity, then that would have tremendous translational potential both for humans and animals.”
Subramanian is working with biomedical engineers to develop a neuro-modulatory device that will aid in the control of sympathetic nervous system activity and in turn impact how it affects the end organs, reducing the risk of life-threatening cardiovascular diseases.
Photo By: Phil Shockley
Story By: Kaylie Wehr | Research Matters Magazine