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    Three Heart-Healthy Makeovers

    Can you really improve your heart health and reduce your risk for cardiac disease?

    A Graduate Student Takes Action Against Heart Disease continued...

    Women and heart disease

    "We have to remember that women are not immune to heart disease by any stretch of the imagination," says Jennifer H. Mieres, MD, a cardiologist at New York University. "In fact, today more women than men are dying from cardiovascular disease in the United States."

    But Morgan is working hard to avoid becoming a statistic. "Vernita is a true success story," says Mieres, who was part of Morgan's treatment team. "She used small steps to get big gains. Losing weight, reducing her cholesterol, making lifestyle changes -- these factors are critical to Vernita's avoiding following in the path of her relatives who have had heart disease and stroke."

    A Cardiac Nurse Nurtures Her Own Heart Health

    Carolyn Welsh knows heart disease. In fact, she lives heart disease day in and day out as a cardiac nurse supervisor at St. Vincent Heart Center of Indiana in Indianapolis. Treating thousands of people who have been affected by heart disease over four decades, it never occurred to her that she herself was at risk.

    "This all happened when I was 55," says Welsh, now 63. "I was right on target with my blood pressure and cholesterol, and my weight was 163 pounds, but I'm 5 feet 6 inches, and I felt comfortable there."

    Estrogen and heart disease

    Welsh had three things working against her, though: her age, stress, and a hysterectomy (which often includes removal of estrogen-producing ovaries) she'd had almost 12 years prior, meaning the protective effects of natural estrogen were long gone. Estrogen, which binds to receptors in the blood vessels of the heart and as a result helps them stay elastic, may play a part in keeping the cardiovascular system healthy. Its binding action also releases nitric oxide, which helps maintain smooth muscle relaxation in blood vessels, promotes cell growth and repair, and prevents clot formation.

    "After about 10 years, the loss of estrogen can accelerate the process of cardiovascular disease and put a woman at higher risk," says cardiologist Stevens.

    Having gone through the hysterectomy more than 10 years ago, Welsh was at the tipping point. What pushed her over the edge was some tragic news: While working one evening at the hospital, she learned that her son's unborn child had died during the eighth month of pregnancy, and she was totally distraught.

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