Heart Health and Genetics

In the United States, heart disease is a big problem, and the issue is only getting worse. In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women, with someone in the United States dying every 36 seconds from cardiovascular disease. Your level of risk for heart disease is determined by a number of factors including family history, age, and preexisting conditions. While you may not be able to change your family history or age, there are several lifestyle modifications you can make to lower your personal risk for heart disease. Let’s explore the different types of heart disease and discover how you can optimize your heart health.

Types of Heart Disease: 



There are many different diseases and conditions that can affect the way your heart functions. At Wild Avocado, we examine 10 different categories of heart disease that can be affected by your genetics. It is important that you learn your risk for these diseases early so that you can start making lifestyle changes now that can help you live a long, happy life. The choices you make today about what you consume and how you stay active can have long term consequences on your risk for cardiovascular conditions.

Let’s start with something basic – hypertension, or high blood pressure. This condition, which is commonly known as the “silent killer”, occurs when the pressure on your artery walls is elevated, which can lead to complications of heart disease over time. One challenge with high blood pressure is that it does not always cause symptoms, so many people do not realize they have this condition for years.

Researchers have found many genes that impact your risk for developing hypertension during your lifetime. These genes can be detected with genetic testing. Some forms of hypertension can also be caused by underlying condition such as kidney disease or obstructive sleep apnea. If you are concerned about your blood pressure, consult with your physician to get a blood pressure reading.

Another condition that is important to understand is high cholesterol. There are multiple types of cholesterol, and they do different things for your body. LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, can build up in your arteries, which can cause complications such as clots, heart attack, and stroke. HDL, or “good” cholesterol, picks up excess cholesterol in your blood and brings it back to the liver. People with high cholesterol levels typically have too much LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and not enough HDL (“good” cholesterol).

Doctors typically look at your triglyceride levels as well as these two forms of cholesterol. Triglycerides are a type of fat that is found in the blood stream, and having levels that are too high can also put you at increased risk of heart disease. High triglyceride levels are often associated with diets high in refined carbohydrates and processed sugar and flour. You can improve your triglyceride levels by following many of the same recommendations for improving your cholesterol.


High cholesterol can be inherited from your parents because there are genes that affect your risk. However, many people put themselves at higher risk for high cholesterol because of their lifestyle choices. Making healthy lifestyle and nutrition changes can prevent your risk for high cholesterol, and it can help you lower your cholesterol levels if you already have high cholesterol. The only way to know your cholesterol levels is through a blood test, and most physicians recommend adults get tested at least once every five years. Be sure to follow up with your primary care physician if you have concerns about your blood cholesterol levels.

Another condition that can have a large impact on someone’s health and risk for heart disease is salt sensitivity. For people who are salt sensitive, the amount of salt in their diet has a large impact on their blood pressure levels. An estimated 60% of people with high blood pressure have salt sensitivity, and about 25% percent of people with normal blood pressure could also be salt sensitive. There is not an easy test to see if you have salt sensitivity, but there are genes that can be detected with genetic testing that affect your risk. It is important that you understand your body’s relationship to salt so that you can make an educated decision on the amount of salt you want to include in your diet.

In addition to the conditions above, heart disease can include things like peripheral artery disease, coronary artery disease, and arteriosclerosis. These conditions all have an impact on your risk for myocardial infarction, also known as heart attack. Sadly, about 805,000 Americans have a heart attack every year. In other words, someone in the United States has a heart attack every 40 seconds. This is why it is so important to take steps to reduce your risk for heart disease before you experience one of these events. By learning about your genetic risk early in life, you empower yourself to make more educated decisions on how to live your life.

Reducing Your Risk



Your genetics can tell you how at risk you are for certain conditions, but what you do with that information is up to you. There are numerous ways you can reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease and related complications. While many heart conditions have a genetic component, you can choose to optimize your heart health by making certain lifestyle choices.

A good place to start is by looking at your activity levels. Getting the recommended amount of physical activity every day can reduce your risk for heart disease and other conditions including obesity and diabetes. Try incorporating short walks into your workday, or find a workout partner to do bike rides and runs with. It is important that you find a form of physical activity that you truly enjoy so that you keep up with it.

Alcohol is another factor that can impact your risk of cardiovascular disease. Drinking too much alcohol has been shown to increase blood pressure levels and increase the risk of other heart diseases. Understanding the risks and any possible health benefits of alcohol is challenging and confusing, because the research is inconclusive. At Wild Avocado, we do not have specific recommendations when it comes to alcohol consumption or abstention. Everyone’s ability to metabolize and process alcohol is different. While some people should completely abstain, others are able to tolerate alcohol so you should consult with your physician about your alcohol consumption.

If you do decide to drink, research indicates it is best to limit your alcohol consumption to 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks for men and to avoid drinking within 3 hours of bedtime. In the United States, one "standard" drink (or one alcoholic drink equivalent) contains roughly 14 grams of pure alcohol, which is found in: 12 ounces of regular beer (~5% alcohol), 5 ounces of wine (~12% alcohol), and 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (~40% alcohol).

Lastly, tobacco use is known to increase the risk of heart disease as well as heart attack. Specifically, smoking cigarettes can cause damage to your heart and blood vessels. This can put you at increased risk for atherosclerosis, heart attack, and other heart conditions. No matter how you consume it, nicotine raises blood pressure. This can put you at increased risk for a variety of heart conditions as discussed above. Every positive lifestyle change you make will help you reduce your risk and live a healthier life.

Nutritional Changes



Your nutritional choices have a huge impact on your disease risk for cardiovascular conditions. In order to decrease your risk of heart disease, there are some nutritional changes you can make. The CDC recommends that people who want to eat a heart-healthy diet should avoid foods high in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. Also, it is important to avoid eating too much sodium, which can raise blood pressure. This is especially true for people who are salt sensitive.

These types of fats are often found in animal products such as meat and dairy. If you consume dairy products, look for fat-free or low-fat options. If you choose to eat meat, try to eat grass-fed options which are better for your heart. For example, grass-fed beef has less total fat, more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and more antioxidant vitamins than conventionally raised beef.

There are also several heart healthy foods that you should try to incorporate more into your diet. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, especially those high in fiber. Try to incorporate a combination of leafy greens including spinach and kale with other nutritious vegetables, such as carrots, broccoli, and cabbage. When you can, choose organic options which will allow you to avoid any pesticides and other chemicals used on traditional farms.

Some forms of fat, specifically omega 3 fatty acids, are also beneficial for heart heath. Studies have found that omega 3s can decrease your risk of heart attack and death due to coronary artery disease. Although you can get this nutrient through supplements, experts recommend that you get the recommended amount of omega 3s through dietary sources whenever possible. This nutrient can be found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and herring.


Conclusions

Heart disease is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in the United States. Although your risk for these conditions is partially based upon your genetics, there are many actionable lifestyle changes that you can make to improve your heart health and reduce your risk for heart attack and other serious complications. Even if your genetics put you at risk for developing heart disease, following these tips will allow you to optimize your heart health to the best of your ability. Take steps to stay active in your daily life, and be cognizant of the types of food you are putting into your body. Always remember that you are in control of your health, and it is up to you to optimize your well-being.

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