What Role Does Genetics Play in Heart Health?
Heart disease remains the number one cause of death in the United States. Although lifestyle plays a major role, there is also a genetic component in the development of this disease.
Are you Predisposed to Heart Disease?
There are many different factors that go into developing any illness, including genetics and lifestyle.
There are many different illnesses that can affect the heart. Some conditions, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, do seem to run in families. However, there isn’t one single gene that controls for it, so no test is available at this time. A blood test for high cholesterol or regularly monitoring your blood pressure could help you monitor your risk should you have a known family history for either.
But, there are a few conditions of the heart that are less common and can be evaluated with currently available genetic testing, including various cardiomyopathies that cause abnormal heart rhythms.1
What is Genetic Testing?
Genetic testing is a blood test that evaluates DNA to find mutations that can be passed down within families. Our DNA provides instructions for how to carry out bodily functions and determines our physical characteristics. We have two DNA strands, one comes from our mothers and one from our fathers.
When there is a mutation of a strand of DNA that controls heart function, you only need one mutated strand, passed from either your mother or father to develop heart disease. It is important to note, that just because you have a genetic disease, doesn’t mean your child will get it. The chance of passing on the abnormal DNA is only 50%. This means that usually only half the members of a family will have a disease, even if it is genetic.2
Depending on your family history, your doctor may recommend you see a genetic counselor who can assess your family’s risk for any given condition. Generally, it is more effective if the family undergoes the screening together. Genetic testing can be quite expensive, between $1,000-$5,000, and is not usually covered by insurance unless medically necessary.
How Do You Overcome Genetic Heart Disease?
A genetic predisposition to an illness is not destiny. Lifestyle plays a huge role in the development of a specific disease. There is a lot you can do to reduce your risk, especially if you are genetically predisposed. Here are a few ways you can take control of your health:
- Follow a heart-healthy diet. A Mediterranean-style diet has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease. This diet includes monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil and nuts, and is a large amount of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Fish and poultry are the primary source of protein, while red meat and processed foods are limited.3
- Exercise regularly. Aim to exercise a minimum of 150 minutes a week (30 minutes a day) of moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise, such as walking at a brisk pace.
- Visit your doctor. A primary care physician should regularly monitor you for risk factors such as high cholesterol or elevated blood pressure.
- Take supplements to support the heart. Dietary supplements that support heart health, such as fish oil and CoQ10, can be used as well.
Regardless of your genetic predisposition, your health can still be in your hands.
- Blog Contributor