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New Blood Pressure Treatments Ahead?

New Blood Pressure Treatments Ahead?Scientists are one step closer to developing new treatments for high blood pressure -- a leading cause of heart disease-- thanks to collaborative, international research led by Tufts.

Boston [01.24.02] In the U.S. alone, close to 50 million people suffer from high blood pressure -- one of the leading causes of heart disease. While doctors have known for some time that estrogen helps some people lower their risk for the condition, Tufts researchers now understand why the hormone can also have the opposite effect -- causing others to develop high blood pressure. And their findings may lead to new treatments for the condition.

According to Tufts' Dr. Michael Mendelsohn, estrogen helps many people lower their blood pressure by improving blood flow.

"Inside blood vessel walls and in certain cells in the heart, estrogens latch on to two types of receptors: estrogen receptor-alpha (ER-alpha) and estrogen receptor-beta (ER-beta)," reported the newswire Reuters. "The hormone relaxes cells inside blood vessels, allowing blood to flow easily through the body."

But the international team of scientists led by Tufts found that estrogen doesn't necessarily help improve blood flow. In fact, they discovered that the hormone can actually constrict blood flow, increasing the risk of hypertension.

The key, they said in a report published this week in Science Magazine, is the presence of the estrogen receptors. Without the right receptors, estrogen can actually do more harm than good in the battle against hypertension.

"The data support that ER-beta and/or genes that it regulates are important to the regulation of blood pressure," Mendelsohn said in a Reuters report.

The findings could be quite significant, reported the international news service.

"[The Tufts] study is the first to report that these estrogen receptors may play a key role in the development of hypertension."

And that information may allow scientists to develop new -- and potentially more effective -- treatments for high blood pressure.

"The next step will be to identify which genes are most important in this regard. This will provide potential targets for the development of drugs to treat hypertension," Mendelsohn told Reuters.

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