Genetics and Heart Disease

1.35 Genetics and Heart Disease

In this HeartStrong.com video/article, we are going to examine how genetics can play a role in developing heart disease, specifically atherosclerosis eventually leading to heart attack, vascular disease and stroke.

Many people become concerned about their personal “family history” heart disease. Whether parents, siblings or aunts/uncles, many people simply accept the fact that “heart disease runs in my family” and “I am destined to have a heart attack in my 50’s like everyone else in my family.” The good news is this is rarely true.

While research does show that if you have a 1st degree relative (parent or sibling) who had a heart attack at age < 55 for men or age < 65 for women, then you are indeed at a higher risk for also developing heart disease. If both of your parents developed heart disease prior to the age of 55, then your risk of developing heart disease by the same age may be as high as 50%.

For those of you with a strong family history of heart disease, it is even more crucial to eat very healthy, exercise and avoid smoking tobacco as well as second hand tobacco exposure. However, heart disease simply put is very common…and poor dietary habits, a sedentary lifestyle and tobacco use are also common. These causes of heart disease are learned behaviors and NOT genetic.

Look at those in your family that have suffered from heart disease, vascular disease or stroke. Did they eat healthy? Exercise? Smoke? Are they overweight or obese? You will probably see that perhaps it is not heart disease that “runs in the family” but rather an unhealthy lifestyle that is the common connection which then leads to heart disease. The same can be said for obesity which is rarely genetic, but mostly a learned behavior amongst families. Even if someone “eats healthy”, remember their diet probably consisted of a significant amount of meat/seafood and dairy which has dietary cholesterol. Would their heart disease have been prevented had they followed a whole foods plant based diet? Many scientists think so..research is still ongoing.

One good way of understanding this is to think about 2 different type of genes. One type of genes we call “destination genes” meaning no matter what you will express a certain trait if you have the gene. Think about eye color or hair color. If you have the gene for blue eyes then you will have blue eyes no matter what! However, many genes are “suggestion genes”. This means that if you are exposed to certain things or a specific situation, then the gene may manifest itself. This is how heart disease and diabetes type II genes predominately act like. You can think of it this way…bad genes load the gun, but diet and lifestyle pull the trigger.

If a person follows a whole food plant based diet, exercises and avoids tobacco, they will never develop heart disease or diabetes EVEN IF they carry the heart disease or diabetes genes. Simply put, diet and lifestyle trumps genetics in most situations, especially for heart disease.

DO NOT simply accept the fact that you will develop heart disease since everyone else in your family did the same. Take matters into your own hands and follow a strict heart healthy lifestyle which of course HeartStrong.com is here to help guide you through.

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