Healthy Habits and Heart Risks

Women who follow all of the standard health advice--eat sensibly, don't smoke, get some exercise, keep the weight down, have an occasional drink--can reduce their chance of heart disease an astonishing 82 percent, according to a study released yesterday.

Many studies over the years have shown the importance of specific habits such as quitting smoking or cutting out saturated fat. But Harvard researchers say theirs is the first to show what happens when people do everything they are supposed to.

However, the study also shows this isn't easy. The research was done on middle-aged female nurses, who presumably are fairly health-conscious. Yet just 1 percent of the women followed all the rules.

The data are the latest to emerge from the landmark Nurses' Health Study, conducted at the Harvard School of Public Health. The results were presented in Atlanta at a meeting of the American Heart Association.

The study was conducted on 84,129 nurses who were between 34 and 59 years old when it began in 1980. In 14 years of follow-up, 1,129 developed heart disease.

Researchers think the results would be similar for men.

Heart Valves Grown in Lab

Scientists trying to create replacement parts that work more like the real thing have for the first time grown heart valves from scratch in a test tube, researchers said.

So far, this approach, called tissue engineering, has been tested only on animals, with promising results. If it works as hoped, scientists say it will be possible to grow new valves that are better and more durable than mechanical and animal valves routinely used today.

Experiments have been conducted on lambs with valves grown at Children's Hospital in Boston by Simon Hoerstrup, who described the results Sunday at the American Heart Association's annual scientific meeting.

Because they are made from the patient's own cells, the valves could have at least two major advantages: They will grow as the recipient does, and they will work without blood-thinning drugs.

New Drugs to Lower Blood Pressure

A new, experimental class of drugs appears to be the most potent ever at reducing high blood pressure.

Doctors said yesterday that the first of these medicines to reach large-scale testing outperformed two mainstays of blood pressure control, a top-selling ACE inhibitor and a calcium-channel blocker.

The new medicines are called vasopeptidase inhibitors. Several are in development, but the furthest along is Bristol-Myers Squibb's Vanlev, known generically as omapatrilat. Researchers released test results at a company-sponsored session during the American Heart Association meeting in Atlanta.

Bristol-Myers Squibb said it plans to seek permission from the Food and Drug Administration by the end of the year to sell Vanlev.

The main categories of blood pressure drugs are angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (or ACE inhibitors), beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, diuretics and angiotensin receptor blockers.