Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Genetics Does Not Determine Destiny

Exercise and a good diet go along ways toward good health.

We have posted discussions in the past examining the nature vs. nurture argument as it pertains to athletic achievement.
The conclusion seems to be that while both are factors, we have control over much of our physical destiny. Below is another article that looks at the factors in heart disease. It makes the point that while some factors in heart disease are likely inherited, actual heart attacks are not inevitable if good health habits are followed. It's always good to realize that we can control a great deal of our well-being.

MURRAY — Many traits are genetic, but researchers at Intermountain Medical Center have discovered that a propensity for heart attacks isn't something that is passed through the generations.

Using the Intermountain Genealogy Registry, which contains the information of 23 million individuals within extended family pedigrees, Intermountain Heart Institute's director of cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology Benjamin Horne found that heart attacks don't have a strong genetic link in families, but are more commonly a result of lifestyle choices and environmental factors.

"Heart attacks are not necessarily clustering in families. They can hit anybody with coronary disease," Horne said. "There are behaviors and choices that people can make to reduce that risk."

Coronary artery disease, however, can be inherited, he said, but it is now known that having it doesn't mean heart attacks are inevitable.

The discovery may also help guide physicians and researchers to look at risk factors for heart attacks that result from a person's choices rather than genetics.

"A person's risk for heart attack is certainly compounded by their lifestyle," Horne said, adding that genes — specifically a person's blood type — do make up a portion of their risk level, but other factors are necessary for a heart attack to occur.

Years ago, researchers discovered that people with B blood type have the highest risk for heart attacks, while blood type A people have intermediate risk and type O carriers have the lowest risk.

Horne said that although blood type can be a factor, the latest finding keeps a focus on lifestyle choices. Other risk factors include age, diabetes, high levels of systemic inflammation, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Environmental factors that have been found to increase a person's risk for heart attack include acute infections and air pollution, both of which Horne said can largely be avoided.

Medications can help to minimize the risk of a heart attack, but they must be taken as prescribed to have an effect, he said.

"People need to make good choices and have a healthy lifestyle," Horne said, adding that a healthy diet and regular physical activity can have the greatest effect on a person's health and lower the risk of heart attack.

"It is important to understand it is not a forgone conclusion once you get coronary disease," he said, adding that the illness should be monitored by a physician.

"Coronary disease can cause chest pain and a variety of symptoms that are uncomfortable, but treatable. Having a heart attack, the heart muscle dies and you don't get that back," he said.

If survived, heart attacks can also lead to other problems, including arrhythmias and heart failure, which can be fatal.

"Avoiding a heart attack is a crucial step in persevering health, even in people who have coronary disease," Horne said.

And once a heart attack occurs, he said, "every minute counts."

Horne specializes in heart disease research, involving genetic studies. His work has lead to many discoveries over the years, helping science narrow in ways to prevent problems and protect a person's heart. He said researchers might also benefit from the latest news, as it can help guide future studies to identify the limited set of genetic mutations that are involved in predisposing a person to heart attacks.
The study's findings, presented Monday at the national conference of the American Society of Human Genetics in San Diego, would not have been possible without Intermountain's extensive database of genetic and medical information, which has been collected from patients and data that is publicly available. It was funded by the Intermountain Research and Medical Foundation.

"These resources help us find new knowledge that has widespread, worldwide relevance in helping people avoid health risks and improve their quality of life," Horne said.


Email: wleonard@deseretnews.com, Twitter: wendyleonards

Starting young and maintaining fitness throughout the life span is the best approach.

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