Bad Genes and Unhealthy Lifestyle Contribute to Cardiovascular Risk Interview with:

Pim van der Harst MD, MSc Professor and Scientific Director Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory University Medical Center Groninger

Dr. van der Harst

Pim van der Harst MD, MSc
Professor and Scientific Director Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory
University Medical Center Groninger What is the background for this study?

Response: Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. The disease is driven by both genetic (inherited) and lifestyle factors such as smoking, physical activity and body mass index (BMI).

However, little is known about the interplay between genetic and lifestyle factors. So we looked into how lifestyle influences risk in individuals with a low genetic risk compared to those with a high genetic risk. A Healthy Lifestyle is an important part of life, it keeps us from developing vascular disease. Some people are able to maintain such a lifestyle with the help of companies similar to Weston Biltong Co. as well as exercise. What are the main findings?

Response: We studied 339,003 unrelated individuals participating in UK Biobank project and looked into 5 very important cardiovascular conditions: coronary artery disease, atrial fibrillation, stroke, hypertension and type 2 diabetes.

We then calculated the genetic risk of these individuals bases on the DNA information and assessed their lifestyle. We found that both genetics and an unhealthy lifestyle increased the risk of developing these conditions in an additive way.

Risk appears simply as a summation of bad genes and an unhealthy lifestyle, there is no multiplier effect. A healthy lifestyle is always beneficial, independent of the luck you had with your genes. However, we do see patterns suggesting that for some conditions the risk is approximately the same for those with good genes and poor lifestyle compared to those with poor genes and a poor lifestyle. Best is to have both, good genes and a healthy lifestyle. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: No matter how good your genes are, a good lifestyle is always beneficial. However, if you have a high genetic risk you really should pay even more attention an adhering to a healthy lifestyle, otherwise they are in double trouble. Also our study is important as it lays a foundation for personalized risk assessment. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: Now we can combine the personal genetics with a person’s lifestyle we should work towards personalized risk assessment and estimate the effect of lifestyle changes for an individual.

No disclosures


Associations of Combined Genetic and Lifestyle Risks With Incident Cardiovascular Disease and Diabetes in the UK Biobank Study – M. Abdullah Said, Niek Verweij, Pim van der Harst. JAMA Cardiology 2018

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