Heart attacks run in the family? Does this mean you are doomed to also have a heart attack? Well, the good news from a large study is that a healthy lifestyle (with at least 3 of these 4 behaviors: not currently smoking, not being obese, regular physical activity at least once per week, and eating a good diet) lowers the risk of a heart attack by nearly 50% even in those with a high genetic risk for heart attacks. (This is compared to those with an unhealthy lifestyle, which is none or only one healthy behavior.) In this study a healthy diet was one with lots of fruits, nuts, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and dairy products, and a reduced amount of refined grains, processed meats, red meat, sugar-sweetened beverages, and trans fats.
The researchers also reversed the question and asked: "If you happen to inherit good genes, can a bad lifestyle offset that? We actually found yes." The risk of heart attack is also reduced nearly 50% in those people with good genes and a good lifestyle. BOTTOM LINE: Healthy lifestyle counts, no matter whether heart disease and heart attacks run in the family or not. There is an interaction between the two, From Science Daily:
It is well known that following a healthy lifestyle -- not smoking, avoiding excess weight and getting regular exercise -- can reduce the risk of heart disease. But what about people who have inherited gene variants known to increase risk? A study led by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigators has found that, even among those at high genetic risk, following a healthy lifestyle can cut in half the probability of a heart attack or similar event.
"The basic message of our study is that DNA is not destiny," says Sekar Kathiresan, MD...."Many individuals -- both physicians and members of the general public -- have looked on genetic risk as unavoidable, but for heart attack that does not appear to be the case."
In order to investigate whether a healthy lifestyle can mitigate genetic risk, the multi-institutional research team analyzed genetic and clinical data from more than 55,000 participants in four large-scale studies. Three of these studies....followed participants for up to 20 years. Each participant in the current analysis was assigned a genetic risk score....The investigators used four AHA-defined lifestyle factors -- no current smoking; lack of obesity (defined as a body mass index less than 30); physical exercise at least once a week; and a healthy dietary pattern -- to determine a lifestyle score, whether participants had a favorable (three or four healthy factors), intermediate (two factors) or unfavorable (one or no healthy factors) lifestyle.
Across all three prospective studies, a higher genetic risk score significantly increased the incidence of coronary events -- as much as 90 percent in those at highest risk. While known risk factors such as a family history and elevated LDL cholesterol were also associated with an elevated genetic risk score, genetic risk was the most powerful contributor to cardiac risk. Similarly, each healthy lifestyle factor reduced risk, and the unfavorable lifestyle group also had higher levels of hypertension, diabetes and other known risk factors upon entering the studies.
Within each genetic risk category, the presence of lifestyle factors significantly altered the risk of coronary events to such an extent that following a favorable lifestyle could reduce the incidence of coronary events by 50 percent in those with the highest genetic risk scores. Among participants in the BioImage study, both genetic and lifestyle factors were independently associated with levels of calcium-containing plaque in the coronary arteries, and healthy lifestyle factors were associated with less extensive plaque within each genetic risk group. [Original study]