They say genetics load the gun and environment pulls the trigger. But does it really? How much do our genes control our health, and how much control do we actually have? When it comes to heart health and coronary artery disease, it's well known that lifestyle modifications have an enormous effect on our risk for developing CAD. But how much do our healthy habits of diet and exercise actually help? Well, recent research published in the New England Journal of Medicine, examined just this. 

Researchers quantified genetic risk for CAD in three separate search groups, encompassing over 55,000 participants: 7814 participants in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study, 21,222 in the Women’s Genome Health Study (WGHS), and 22,389 in the Malmö Diet and Cancer Study (MDCS). They also examined compliance with a healthy lifestyle by scoring participants based on 4 factors:  no current smoking, no obesity, regular physical activity, and a healthy diet. A  healthy or "favorable" lifestyle was considered one with 3 out of 4 of the above criteria. While an unhealthy of "unfavorable" lifestyle only contained 1 of the above criteria. 

When they ran the numbers on all that collected data, they found several (un)surprising numbers...

  1. The relative risk of incident coronary events was 91% higher among participants at high genetic risk. 
  2. A healthy lifestyle was associated with a substantially lower risk of coronary events than an unhealthy lifestyle, regardless of the genetic risk category.
  3. For patients with high genetic risk, a favorable lifestyle was associated with a 46% lower relative risk of coronary events than an unfavorable lifestyle. 
  4. A reduction in the standardized 10-year incidence of coronary events for patients that maintained a favorable lifestyle. 
  5. A favorable lifestyle was associated with significantly less coronary-artery calcification within each genetic risk category.

Now, you may have a family history of CAD or heart problems, but you can do your part to adhere to a healthy lifestyle and drastically decrease your chances of being affected. So talk with your primary care physician about simple and easy ways to start living a healthier lifestyle! Your heart will love you for it!