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  • Writer's pictureTina Shiver

How Genetics, Environment and Lifestyle Choices Contribute to Cardiovascular Disease

hand holding a model of dna strand

More than 100 million Americans have one or more major risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading killer of men and women.

Risk Factors

  • Waist circumference if you are a women 35 inches or more, if you are a man 40 inches or more

  • Blood pressure running 140/90 or higher

  • If you are a women and your HDL(Healthy Cholesterol) is lower than 60 mg/dL, if you are a man less than 50 mg/dL

  • Triglyceride levels more than 150 mg/dL or higher

  • Diabetes

  • Migraine headaches if you are a female

  • Vitamin D deficiency

The Genetic Link

When you talk genetics there is a test to determine four specific genes that can increase cardiovascular risk.

  • 9P21 gene which is known as the heart attack gene

  • K1F6 gene increases risk for heart attack, stroke and cardiac death

  • Apo E gene provides instructions for making a protein called apolipoprotein E. This protein combines with fats (lipids) in the body to form molecules called lipoproteins

  • Interleukin-1 gene regulates the inflammatory processes in the body and the key player in numerous autoimmune disorders including rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes mellitus or systemic sclerosis, has recently been proved to be involved in development of several cardiovascular diseases as well.

These tests can be ordered by your physician and should be discussed with them.

The Role of Cholesterol

What is interesting about the Apo E is you get a glimpse of what type of diet will best work for you to help reduce your risk.

If your cholesterol levels are low, it does not mean you are not at risk for cardiovascular disease. Over 50% of people with low cholesterol still have heart attacks. It’s not always about the “total cholesterol”, you want to dive in deeper and make sure that both blood and urine tests are conducted to confirm whether or not you are at risk.

For example, if a blood test for Lp(a) (a genetic marker) is high, it can put you at a higher risk for stroke and heart attack.

Diet does not seem to lower Lp(a) and neither does statins, however taking certain supplement(s) can possibly help to lower the level.

Cholesterol plays an important function in the body including aiding in the production of vitamin D, bile acids that help you digest fat, and many hormones such as testosterone, estrogen and progesterone. It also works to form synapses.

Lifestyle Choices and Diet

I think everyone is aware of some of the lifestyle choices that can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Smoking, excess alcohol and limited or no exercise have been clearly documented to increase risk.

A diet high in sugar, saturated fat and processed foods will contribute to cardiovascular disease. If blood sugar rises it can result in Diabetes Type II. Having diabetes contributes to cardiovascular disease because the high blood sugar starts to damage the arteries. Keeping your blood sugar low by eating a balanced diet is very important.

The Power of Food

A good place to start is choosing more foods with soluble and insoluble fiber like oatmeal, brown rice, legumes, fruits and vegetables. Removing white sugar from your diet and choosing foods that have a lower glycemic index.

Choosing lean meats that have not been raised with hormones or substituting meat with tofu/tempeh. It is an individual approach when it comes to what you should eat. Some people need more fat while some need more fiber.

Work with a dietitian who can guide you to determine the best diet for you is key. We all know that fad diets come and go and can hurt you in the long run and again harm your heart.

Follow my blog over the next month and learn how important it is to start making choices now to reduce your risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease.

Until next time...remember to eat healthy and move.


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