“Genetics are an important contributor to premature heart disease but should not be used as an excuse to say it is inevitable,” said Dr. Joao A. Sousa, one of the authors of the study.
Genetics takes a back seat
Some people are more predisposed to heart disease than others. Humans possess variations in their DNA and some of these genetic variants are linked to an increased risk for heart disease.
On average, heart attacks occur at age 65 for men and 70 for women in the United States. Health experts, however, have noted an increase in the incidence of heart attack among patients who are as young as 34. This trend is evidence of how lifestyle can increase the risk of heart disease.
A notable cause of early heart attacks is premature coronary artery disease (CAD). It occurs when cholesterol and other materials form plaque on the inner wall of the arteries. This plaque makes it difficult for blood to pass through. When the plaque completely cuts off the supply of blood, a heart attack occurs.
In their study, the researchers sampled 1,075 patients under 50, of which 555 had premature coronary artery disease. The average age was 45 years old and 87 percent were men. Specific conditions included stable and unstable anginas, or chest pains, as well as prior heart attacks. Five risk factors were assessed: physical inactivity, smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol.
The team compared the number of risk factors present, as well as the genetic data of the patients to those of a control group. The latter was composed of 520 healthy volunteers — 86 percent of whom were men — with an average age of 44. In the patient group, 73 percent had at least three risk factors, while 31 percent of the control group had two.
The team found that in both groups, the likelihood of developing CAD increased exponentially with each additional risk factor. Having one or two risk factors increased the probability of CAD by three and seven times, respectively. Three or more risk factors, however, increased the likelihood 24-fold.
In addition, they found that when the number of risk factors rose, genetics mattered less in developing CAD.
“The findings demonstrate that genetics contribute to CAD. However, in patients with two or more modifiable cardiovascular risk factors, genetics play a less decisive role in the development of CAD,” said Sousa.
Healthy lifestyle habits help reduce heart disease risk
A person with a family history of heart disease doesn’t necessarily have to suffer the same health consequences later on in life. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can go a long way toward avoiding heart disease.
A study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, analyzed the genetic and lifestyle information of over 55,000 people. The researchers found that those who practice a healthy lifestyle reduced their heart disease risk by nearly 50 percent. These people did not smoke, maintained a healthy weight, engaged in physical activities regularly and ate a healthy diet. (Related: A healthy lifestyle pays off; research shows healthy habits result in a longer and better quality life.)
The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association also stress the importance of adopting a healthy lifestyle. Together, they published a set of guidelines that provide lifestyle and behavioral tips to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Much of their recommendations revolve around proper diet and nutrition, physical activity, body weight management and the hazards of tobacco use.
For more lifestyle tips to prevent heart disease, visit Heart.news.