New research shows that people can minimize an inherited risk for heart attack by living right – exercising, eating healthy, staying slim and quitting smoking.
Even with a little effort in these areas, people can cut their high genetic risk of heart disease by more than half, said senior researcher Dr. Sekar Kathiresan, director of the Center for Human Genetic Research at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
But the opposite also is true, Kathiresan warned. People born with a genetic advantage protecting them against heart disease can ruin their good luck through unhealthy lifestyle choices.
“For heart attack at least, DNA is not destiny,” Kathiresan said. “You have control over your risk for heart attack, even if you’ve been dealt a bad hand.”
Kathiresan presented his findings Sunday at the American Heart Association’s annual meeting, in New Orleans. The study was published simultaneously in the New England Journal of Medicine.
For their research, Kathiresan and his colleagues pooled data on more than 55,000 participants in four large-scale health studies.
The researchers analyzed each person’s genetic risk for heart disease using a panel of 50 gene variants. They also judged each person’s lifestyle based on four factors: smoking, body weight, diet and exercise.
The requirements to have a good lifestyle were not rigorous, Kathiresan said. “It’s safe to say we’re not being that aggressive in terms of the lifestyle score,” Kathiresan said. Even these minimal lifestyle changes mattered greatly for people at high genetic risk of heart disease.
The study looked at the risk for a “coronary event” – heart attack, cardiac arrest or the need for angioplasty or other procedures to open a blocked artery.
A person with high genetic risk and a bad lifestyle has a nearly 11% change of having a coronary event within the next 10 years, the study found. However, a person at high risk who lived well cut the 10-year risk down to 5%, Kathiresan reported.
Those with low genetic risk and a good lifestyle had a 3% risk of a coronary event over the next 10 years, but a bad lifestyle would drive their risk up to 5.8%.
As noted, the lifestyle scoring was very liberal. The exercise minimums for healthy were well below the recommended 2.5 hours per week of moderate exercise. You were still considered healthy if you were overweight, but not obese. It really doesn’t take much to lower the risks.
Big Pharm claims that statin drugs reduce the risk of a “coronary event” by a third. That’s based on the fact that they lower the average risk from 3% to 2% - a 1% reduction. By comparison, lifestyle reduces the risk by 6% (over half) in high risk patients. A bad lifestyle almost double the risk in those with low genetic risk. It makes you wonder why there is so much emphasis on drug treatment and so little on lifestyle.
Both my parents and all my siblings had or have cardiovascular disease. My father died of a heart attack at the age of 47 and my mother had her first heart attack at the age of 37. I have the high genetic risk but at the age of 64 have no cardiovascular disease. I do however, practice a healthy lifestyle.
The Bottom Line:
Cardiovascular disease, like all other chronic diseases, is preventable with a healthy lifestyle. The sooner you begin, the better your results. You don’t even have to be that strict, just do a good job 80% of the time.
Source: November 13, 2016 National Institutes of Health