Genes and Heart Disease

I had a discussion with family and friends recently about how important, quantitatively, lifestyle is to health.  Is it 25%of the formula?  50% ?  10%  I have read different versions, and I wonder how numbers can even be assigned to such things.  And how much of the risk can be blamed on genetics?  Human beings are so complex, and we still have so much to learn about what affects risk factors of developing various diseases.

My biggest personal concern is heart disease, and I am a mixed bag of genetics in that area!  Although my dad has severe Alzheimer’s Disease, he is otherwise healthy, in fact unbelievably heart healthy for a guy who drank heartily and ate whatever he wanted all of his life.  His cholesterol at age 86 is still lower than mine.

My mom, on the other hand, comes from a family with many early heart attacks and deaths.  She is remarkable among her clan, having survived breast cancer (almost 40 years ago) and several heart attacks and surgeries.  At age 85, she is not exactly the picture of health, but she keeps on going.

I appear to be somewhere in the middle, which makes perfect sense.  Recently my mom found out that she has the gene for familial hypercholesterolemia – basically a form of inherited high cholesterol and increased risk of early death from heart disease.  What I have learned is that, due to the way the gene is passed on, all of her children have a 50% chance of inheriting the disorder.

My mom’s cholesterol was over 300 years ago, and I remember being concerned about that.  Usually a person’s cholesterol is over 300 when they have the gene for the disorder.  Thankfully, mine is not that high.  Still, I plan to have a more detailed test done.  It can be done using a standard blood draw for cholesterol, but it measure particle size, which is a more detailed indicator of disease, in addition to several other cholesterol values.  The test is called a Nuclear Magnetic Resonance test (NMR).  There is also a genetic test to confirm the diagnosis.

I continue to do what I can:  regular exercise,  healthy eating, and moderate drinking.  I will let you know how the test turns out!


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