Lifestyle is key to lowering heart disease risk

We all know that as human beings our genetic make-up can leave us vulnerable to certain diseases. The majority of diseases, though, can be described as multifactorial. This means they’re due to a combination of factors, including genetics, lifestyle and the environment around us.

This holds true in the case of coronary heart disease (CHD).

CHD or ischaemic heart disease, involves the build-up of fatty material in the coronary arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the muscle walls of the heart. The gradual furring of the arteries, a process called atherosclerosis, reduces the amount of oxygen reaching the heart and therefore diminishing its ability to pump blood correctly.

Both genetic factors (a family history of CHD) and lifestyle factors (smoking, obesity and high blood pressure/cholesterol) contribute to the disease.

But to what extent? And is there anything we can do to sway the odds in our favour?

Now, a new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine might shed some light on the relative contributions of genetic and lifestyle factors in the onset of CHD.

The researchers reviewed the data of 55,685 people, assessing their genetic risk and monitoring their adherence to healthy lifestyle, in this case defined as: no smoking, no obesity, regular physical activity, and a balanced and healthy diet.

People with the highest genetic risk of CHD were 91 per cent more likely to suffer from the disease than those with the lowest risk. At face value, not particularly good news I know…

But don’t panic, there is hope.

A favourable lifestyle – sticking to at least three of the four healthy lifestyle factors – led to a “substantially lower risk” of coronary events compared to those who didn’t adhere to a healthy lifestyle.

But most importantly, this reduced risk was regardless of whether they had a high genetic risk or not.

So, those people who fell into the high genetic risk category, but stuck to a healthy lifestyle, lowered their risk of CHD by nearly 50 per cent compared to those who led an unhealthy lifestyle.

That looks pretty categoric to me.

The importance of maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle can’t be stressed enough and this study proves it once again. Even if your genetic risk of a condition is high, quitting smoking, exercising and eating healthily can really stack the odds in your favour.

To get your diet on track, why not try starting the Mediterranean diet – rich in olive oil, fruit, nuts, vegetables, fish, poultry and low in dairy, red meat and processed food – which has been shown to lower the incidence of adverse cardiovascular events in those at high risk of cardiovascular disease.

You’ve only got your health to gain!

Wishing you the best of health,

Dominic Rees
Editorial Health Researcher