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 Image result for human heart in human body wikipedia 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:

Following a healthy lifestyle can greatly reduce genetic heart attack risk

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]

  New research found that negative health effects - 35% increased risk of cardiovascular problems (coronary heart disease, heart attacks, strokes) are when the vitamin D levels are really low (under 15 nanograms per milliliter). Currently many doctors recommend optimal levels for health as somewhere between 35 to 40 ng/ml. One article in Medscape recommended 1,000 IU of vitamin D (preferably D3) daily to achieve this level. Or you can go outside in the sun for 15 to 20 minutes. From Science Daily:

Specific vitamin D levels linked to heart problems

A lack of vitamin D can result in weak bones. Recent studies also show that vitamin D deficiency is linked to more serious health risks such as coronary artery disease, heart attacks, and strokes. And now, a new study shows what level of deficiency puts someone at risk of developing these heart problems.Researchers at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City have found that patients are fine from a heart standpoint, and may need no further treatment, if their vitamin D level is anywhere above 15 nanograms per milliliter.

"Although vitamin D levels above 30 were traditionally considered to be normal, more recently, some researchers have proposed that anything above 15 was a safe level. But the numbers hadn't been backed up with research until now," said J. Brent Muhlestein, MD, co-director of cardiovascular research at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute, and lead researcher of the study.

The body naturally produces vitamin D as a result of exposure to the sun, and it's also found in a few foods -- including fish, fish liver oils, and egg yolks as well as some dairy and grain products. Those who don't have enough exposure to sunlight or vitamin D producing foods often have low vitamin D levels. Low levels are also attributed to race because people with dark skin have a natural protectant against ultraviolet light.

Dr. Muhlestein and his team have studied the effects of vitamin D on the heart for several years, looking at smaller numbers of patients. In this study, thanks to Intermountain Healthcare's vast clinical database, they were able to evaluate the impact of vitamin D levels on more than 230,000 patients. The 230,000 patients were split up into four groups (<15 ng/ml, 15-29, 30-44, ≥45) and were followed for the next three years by researchers who looked for major adverse cardiac events, including death, coronary artery disease, heart attacks, stroke, and incidents of heart or kidney failure.

Dr. Muhlestein found that for the nine percent of patients in the lower than 15 group, their risk of cardiovascular events increased by 35 percent compared to the other three groups, and the risks faced by the other three groups weren't very different from each other.

Again, the same message of what are healthy habits to prevent heart attacks and heart disease: not smoking, a normal body mass index, physical activity of at least 2.5 hours per week, watching seven or fewer hours of television a week, consumption of a maximum of one alcoholic drink per day on average, and a diet in the top 40 percent of a measure of diet quality.From Medical Xpress:

A healthy lifestyle may prevent heart disease in nearly three out of four women

A new study that followed nearly 70,000 women for two decades concluded that three-quarters of heart attacks in young women could be prevented if women closely followed six healthy lifestyle practices.

The study, published today in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, followed participants in a study of nurses established in 1989, which surveyed more than 116,000 participants about their diets and other health habits every two years. Researchers from Indiana University, the Harvard School of Public Health, and Brigham and Women's Hospital analyzed data on 69,247 of the participants who met the requirements for their study. "Although mortality rates from heart disease in the U.S. have been in steady decline for the last four decades, women aged 35-44 have not experienced the same reduction," said Andrea K. Chomistek, ScD, a researcher from the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington and lead author of the paper.

Healthy habits were defined as not smoking, a normal body mass index, physical activity of at least 2.5 hours per week, watching seven or fewer hours of television a week, consumption of a maximum of one alcoholic drink per day on average, and a diet in the top 40 percent of a measure of diet quality based on the Harvard School of Public Health healthy eating plate.

During 20 years of follow-up, 456 women had heart attacks and 31,691 women were diagnosed with one or more cardiovascular disease risk factors, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure or high levels of blood cholesterol. The average age of women in the study was 37.1 years at the outset; the average age of a heart disease diagnosis was 50.3, and the average age for diagnosis with a risk factor for heart disease was 46.8.

Researchers found that women who adhered to all six healthy lifestyle practices had a 92 percent lower risk of heart attack and a 66 percent lower risk of developing a risk factor for heart disease. This lower risk would mean three quarters of heart attacks and nearly half of all risk factors in younger women may have been prevented if all of the women had adhered to all six healthy lifestyle factors, the authors said.

Independently, not smoking, adequate physical activity, better diet, and lower BMI were each associated with a lower risk for heart disease. Women who consumed moderate amounts of alcohol—approximately one drink per day on average—saw the lowest risk compared to those who did not drink at all and those who drank more.

What if a doctor said you could avoid years of taking medication (and all their side effects and cost), better heart health, and avoid a heart attack by adopting some lifestyle changes. Could you do it? Would you? How to avoid 4 out 5 heart attacks, from Medical Xpress:

Healthy lifestyle choices may dramatically reduce risk of heart attack in men

Following a healthy lifestyle, including maintaining a healthy weight and diet, exercise, not smoking and moderating alcohol intake, could prevent four out of five coronary events in men, according to a new study publishing today in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

While mortality from heart disease has declined in recent decades, with much of the reduction attributed to medical therapies, the authors said prevention through a healthy lifestyle avoids potential side effects of medication and is more cost effective for population-wide reductions in coronary heart disease. 

For the study, researchers examined a population of 20,721 healthy Swedish men aged 45-79 years of age and followed them for 11 years. Lifestyle choices were assessed through a questionnaire exploring diet, alcohol consumption, smoking status, level of physical activity and abdominal adiposity (belly fat). Men in the study with the lowest risk were non-smokers, walked or cycled for at least 40 minutes per day, exercised at least one hour per week, had a waist circumference below 95 centimeters, consumed moderate amounts of alcohol, and followed a healthy diet with a regular consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, reduced-fat dairy products, whole grains and fish.

The researchers found a clear reduction in risk for heart attack for each individual lifestyle factor the participants practiced. For instance having a low-risk diet together with a moderate alcohol consumption led to an estimated 35 percent lower risk of heart attack compared to the high-risk group, those who practice none of the low-risk factors.

Men who combined the low-risk diet and moderate alcohol consumption with not smoking, being physically active and having a low amount of abdominal fat, had 86 percent lower risk. Researchers found similar results in men with hypertension and high cholesterol levels.

The burden of cardiovascular disease could be significantly reduced through programs targeted to men and promoting low-risk lifestyle choices. Even in those who take medication, an additional reduction in risk for chronic heart disease has been observed in those with a healthy lifestyle.

From John M., a cardiac electrophysiologist, who expressed his frustration with unnecessary heart disease, and commented on this study on drjohnm.org:

Let’s stop the unnecessary treatment of heart disease

There are many reasons doctors suffer from burnout and compassion fatigue. One of the least-mentioned of these reasons is that much of what we do is so damn unnecessary. In the US, the land of excess everything, caregivers, especially cardiologists, spend most of our time treating human beings that didn’t need to have disease.

Let’s be clear and honest: Lifestyle-related disease is largely unnecessary.

These days, there is so much unnecessary disease that caregivers, especially cardiologists, rarely see it. We look past the obesity right to the cholesterol number and ECG. And then we pull out the prescription pad for the guideline-directed pills. Just typing that causes me angst.