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Harvard researchers make heart health breakthrough

May 14, 2013

Heart disease remains one of the biggest threats to senior health, but researchers from Harvard University believe they have found a potential way to reduce the effects age has on the heart. Study authors say a protein found in the blood of mice and humans - known as GDF-11 - could hold the key to rejuvenating the heart and helping older adults enjoy the benefits of healthy aging, according to findings published in the journal Cell.

To measure the effects of GDF-11, researchers looked at mice whose heart walls had become thicker - a common age-related problem in humans. After injecting the mice with the protein, the team noticed that their heart walls became thinner and began to resemble healthier, younger hearts. Although studies still need to be performed on human subjects, scientists are encouraged by the results and believe they could be a significant breakthrough in how the medical community views growing older.

"In this study, we were able to show that a protein that circulates in the blood is related to this aging process, and if we gave older mice this protein, we could reverse the heart aging in a very short period of time," said study leader Richard T. Lee. "We are very excited about it because it opens a new window on the most common form of heart failure."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is responsible for the deaths of an estimated 600,000 people each year. There are some lifestyle changes seniors can make to protect themselves, however. There are many heart-healthy foods, but oranges, kale, almonds and salmon are some of the best options, notes ABC News.