Genetics vs Environment: What We Do Does Matter for Our Heart Health

I have discussions with my patients on a daily basis about whether healthy lifestyle changes truly matter or not. Some patients like to tell me that they can’t help having high cholesterol or heart disease because everyone in their family does. I try to explain to them that genetics isn’t the only thing that dictates our health outcomes. So, imagine my joy at reading this study that just came out that will now truly help me to convince my patients to take the higher road of healthy living.

This study just came out in The New England Journal of Medicine showing us that it’s not just about taking medications and it’s not just about the genetic cards we are dealt with…our heart health depends on what healthy lifestyle changes we are willing to make.

In this study, 55,685 participants across four studies were evaluated for genetic risk for coronary artery disease. The high genetic risk group had 91% higher relative risk for coronary artery disease compared to the low genetic risk group. Four lifestyle categories were established as parameters for healthy lifestyle patterns and those people who had three of the four ended up being able to lower their coronary event risk by 46% such that the relative risk of having a coronary event was that much lower compared to those who didn’t have the healthy lifestyle patterns.

So, what are the four categories that mattered?

No current smoking, no obesity, regular physical activity and a healthy diet.

So, basically, if you don’t smoke, you’re within normal weight range, you move regularly and you eat your vegetables and avoid crappy food, you can lower your relative risk of heart attacks by 46%?

Yes, apparently, that’s the case. Which means that you are not victim to your genetics, you can actually do something about it.

So, to all the naysayers out there who say that what you do in your daily life doesn’t matter in your overall health because your genetics have you tied to your inevitable health outcome…I say that 55,685 people put themselves into studies to show us that that’s not true.

You can positively affect your health outcome by taking charge of your daily habits.

So, let’s put on our running shoes and get to goal weight, pack ourselves a healthy lunch with vegetables and toss away any cigarettes if you are a smoker. Let’s show other people that you are now one more person willing to take charge of your health. Show your loved ones that just like your personality is different from your parents and siblings…your health outcome could be positively different too.

Reference:

Khera AV, et al. Genetic Risk, Adherence to a Healthy Lifestyle, and Coronary Disease. NEJM. November 13, 2016. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1605086?query=featured_home

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