Heart Disease: Genetics or Lifestyle?

Guest article from Life Extension Institute:

On November 15, 2010, the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2010 featured presentations of the results of two studies which indicate that lifestyle has a greater impact on whether one will develop cardiovascular disease than being genetically predisposed to acquire the disease.

In the first study, researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine evaluated data from 2,336 men and women aged 18 to 30 upon enrollment in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults longitudinal study sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Diet, physical activity, alcohol intake, smoking status, weight, and blood pressure and glucose levels were assessed at the beginning of the study and at the seventh and twentieth years of follow-up.

Among participants who maintained five healthy lifestyle factors (having a healthy body mass index, limiting alcohol consumption, consuming healthy amounts of potassium, calcium and fiber and a low intake of saturated fat; participating in regular exercise, and never smoking) 60 percent had a low risk profile for cardiovascular disease after 20 years. That percentage dropped to 37 percent for those who had four factors, 30 percent for three factors, 17 percent for two and 6 percent for one or none. Separate analyses for men, women, Caucasians and African-Americans turned up similar findings.

The second study, also conducted at Northwestern University, analyzed three generations of families enrolled in the Framingham Heart Study. The researchers determined that the majority of cardiovascular disease that developed in the subjects was caused by lifestyle factors, with only a small proportion due to heredity. “What you do and how you live is going to have a larger impact on whether you are in ideal cardiovascular health than your genes or how you were raised,” lead author and Feinberg School postdoctoral fellow in preventive medicine Norrina Allen concluded.

“Health behaviors can trump a lot of your genetics,” noted Donald Lloyd-Jones, MD, who is the chair and professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern Medicine and a cardiologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “This research shows people have control over their heart health. The earlier they start making healthy choices, the more likely they are to maintain a low-risk profile for heart disease.

“We really need to encourage individuals to improve their behavior and lifestyle and create a public health environment so people can make healthy choices,” he added. “We need to make it possible for people to walk more and safely in their neighborhoods and buy fresh affordable fruit and vegetables in the local grocery store. We need physical activity back in schools, widely applied indoor smoking bans and reduced sodium content in the processed foods we eat. We also need to educate people to reduce their calorie intake. It’s a partnership between individuals making behavior changes but also public health changes that will improve the environment and allow people to make those healthy choices.”

Dr. Jonny comments:

If I had a dollar for every person who’s ever told me, with a fatalistic sigh, “It’s in my genes.. nothing I can do about it”, I’d be typing this from an ocean villa in St. Martin.

Here’s the truth about genes.

Genes are not “fixed entities” that predetermine outcomes. (There are very, very few diseases that are determined by a single gene. Huntington’s Chorea is one- you can count the others on one hand).

Genes are plastic, meaning they can be turned on or off, modified and changed, “expressed” or “not expressed” depending on their interaction with the environment. The emerging science of “Nutrigenomics” is about investigating the interaction between genes and nutrients. The bottom line- as the guest article points out- is that what you do, how you live and what you eat has far more of an impact on your life than your actual genes do.

Earlier research from the Nurses Health Study showed that five factors- surprisingly similar to the five factors found in the above mentioned study—can lower heart disease risk by over 80%. There isn’t a drug in the world that can do that. The five factors?

  1. Maintain a healthy body weight
  2. Eat a Mediterranean style diet high in fish
  3. Exercise regularly
  4. Don’t smoke
  5. Alcohol in moderation (2 drinks max for guys, 1 drink max for women on a daily basis)

My favorite supplements for protecting the heart are Fish Oil, Magnesium and Coenzyme Q10. (If you’re on a statin drug, you MUST take CoQ10 on a daily basis!) If you have any kind of heart disease, you should probably add to those three D-Ribose and Carnitine. (Cardiologist Steve Sinatra, MD recommends CoQ10, carnitine, ribose and magnesium as the “awesome foursome” for heart disease. I agree wholeheartedly.)




  1. Gloria

    Excellent article I will share it with my friends.

  2. John

    What is your take on betaine HCL supplements for low stomach acid?

  3. Jordan

    Or perhaps the genetic disposition towards heart disease is proliferating (the genes themselves, which no doubt hold advantages as well). Just as some people can smoke their entire lives without getting heart disease, many have healthy lifestyles and get it anyway. Genetics play a much larger role than this article leads readers to believe. We just hate hearing that it’s not 100% in our control, so we error on over-weighing the more pleasant explanation. “Changes on chromosome 9 increase heart attack risk by 40%”