Press Releases

1997 Releases

How Progesterone Inhibits Heart Disease Identified

For immediate release: September 01, 1997 

Boston, MA--Investigators from the Harvard School of Public Health Cardiovascular Biology Laboratory describe in today's Nature Medicine the means by which natural progesterone protects against heart attack by directly inhibiting DNA synthesis and proliferation of arterial smooth muscle cells in animal and human blood vessels. Smooth muscle cells constitute an important part of the arteriosclerotic plaque, which narrows blood vessels and ultimately leads to vessel occlusion, the major cause of heart attack or stroke. By providing a biological explanation for the benefit of progesterone, the study points to the potential benefit of both natural and chemical sources of progesterone in preventing heart disease.

"We had seen that the incidence of cardiovascular disease is substantially lower in premenopausal women than in men of the same age. It is also lower in postmenopausal women who take estrogens and progestins together rather than estrogens alone. To date, there had been little evidence of an independent effect by progestins in animal studies. Consequently, we set out to learn whether progesterone could be an important influence in this process," comments the author, Edgar Haber, MD, director of the Cardiovascular Biology Laboratory at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Molecular biologists from the same laboratory, directed by Dr. Haber, working from important clues provided by epidemiologists, also confirmed how homocysteine encourages the growth of smooth muscle cell in arteries in the heart. Homocysteine's biological mechanism was described in a study reported three years ago in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

For further information, please contact:

Robin Herman
Office of Communications
Harvard School of Public Health
677 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
Phone: 617-432-4752