Many different types of heart disease can be passed down through families. Some are caused by just one or a few genetic changes that have a very strong effect in causing disease. Known as monogenic conditions, they include uncommon disorders that mostly affect the heart's muscle (such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy) or electrical system (such as long QT syndrome).
Another example is familial hypercholesterolemia, which causes very high cholesterol levels and may lead to premature coronary artery disease (occurring before age 50). While one cannot eliminate genetic risk, scientists have always encouraged that good practices and habits can reduce the risk, especially related to premature blockages in heart arteries.
Various researches in the past decade have proved that you aren’t destined to the fate of parents or grandparents. Improved lifestyle choices are hard but they can influence heart disease risk and slow the progression of heart disease. One such study by the American Heart Association in 2018 has said that regular cardio exercise can even trump ‘bad’ genetics whether someone is at high or low risk.
The report concludes that fitness and physical activity demonstrates inverse associations with incident cardiovascular disease in the general population, as well as in individuals with elevated genetic risk for these diseases. Specifically, high levels of cardiorespiratory fitness were associated with 49 percent lower risk for coronary heart disease (blockages of heart arteries) and 60 percent lower risk for atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat) among individuals at high genetic risk for these diseases.
In line with the above, other than the obvious no smoking, no drinking rule here are a handful of strategies that can help you outwit your genes by turning off those that can cause problems to you:
Physical activity: Exercise has been highlighted as a cost-effective strategy for CVD prevention and the single most important preventive measure. It improves cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) and muscular strength, which both have shown to be inversely associated with future CVD events in population-based studies Regular exercise can provide resistance to your body. Research by NCBI has noticed a genetic fingerprint reverse in men and women older than 65 years after they did twice-weekly resistance training for six months.
Eating raw fruits and vegetables: The International Journal of Epidemiology published a study (from 95 studies around the world) in Feb 2017 that fruits and vegetables contain many healthful nutrients, especially fiber which seems to help lower cholesterol and blood pressure and improve blood vessel function. The items that seemed to offer the greatest benefits included apples, pears, oranges and other citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower), and green and yellow vegetables (such as green beans, carrots, and peppers).
Yoga: Dr Gloria Yeh, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School co-authored a 2014 review of clinical research published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology that found yoga had a significant impact on cardiometabolic risk factors compared to doing no exercise at all. For example, yoga decreased total cholesterol by 18.48 mg/dl and triglycerides by 25.89 mg/dl more than the change seen in the control group. Blood pressure improved too. Yoga may help put the brakes on the body's stress response by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, or the "rest and digest" system, through deep breathing and relaxation.
Avoiding processed junk food- Junk food consumption is related to premature heart disease. The saturated fat in it can increase obesity, hyperlipidemia risk, diabetes, and high salt content can also raise blood pressure levels.
Regular check-ups: Self-monitoring and keeping track of your own parameters, understanding your own health is always important. Regular check-ups, timely medication are fundamental to better control heart disease and lead you to a happy and healthy life.
The author is a leading cardiovascular thoracic surgeon, VC & MD, Asian Heart Institute, Mumbai.