NWI heart experts: Watch out for family history - March 14, 2017

Courtesy of NWITimes.com • March 3, 2017

“The Biggest Loser” host Bob Harper suffered a heart attack last month, likely due to a family history of heart disease.

Since the fitness trainer was in tip-top shape, his case begs the question: How much do genetics impact your chances of having a heart attack?

“This is the age old question of nature vs. nurture,” said Dr. Maya Kommineni, a cardiologist for Porter Regional Hospital. “I weigh both the family history and lifestyle choices near equally, although more research is showing that genetics have less of an influence on developing disease as compared to lifestyle choices.”

Living a heart-healthy lifestyle, she noted, increases the chances of survival for a person with a family history of heart disease. That includes eating a diet rich in whole, fresh, plant-based foods, being physically active, detoxifying the body, avoiding smoking and alcohol, meditating, developing a strong community and being happy.

“Some studies show the genetic disease trends in families may have as low as 30 percent prediction rates in terms of what diseases we are susceptible to,” she said. “Lifestyle is proving to be a more potent modulator of disease in terms of age of onset, severity and link to other conditions which we typically see run together.”

Family history is a greater risk factor if your parent or sibling had a heart attack before the age of 55 for men and 60 for women, said Dr. Harish Shah, a cardiologist for Methodist Hospitals. But lifestyle also plays a big role.

“Say somebody has a strong family history of heart disease, but if that person were to smoke and not eat well he may have a heart attack at 30,” Shah said. “And his brother who didn’t do that may not have a heart attack at age 60. If a son eats the eat same thing as his father, chances are they will have the same problem at the same age.”

If you have heart disease in your family tree, he said, you can reduce your risk by exercising 30 minutes a day, five days a week; eating a low-sodium, low-cholesterol, Mediterranean-style diet (heavy in plants, whole grains, legumes and nuts); and monitor your weight, cholesterol and blood pressure.