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Genetics and Heart Disease

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Is Heart Disease Genetic?

Genetics plays a role in heart disease. For example, specific genetic conditions, such as familial hypercholesterolemia, result in very high counts of LDL, the “bad” cholesterol. Two scientists, Michael Brown and Joseph Goldstein, were given the Nobel Prize for discovering the cholesterol receptor. The number of cholesterol receptors a person has can vary, which is why your grandmother might have lived to 103 on fried chicken and chocolate pie, but the same diet could be lethal for you.

What do I do if I have high cholesterol?

The good news is that almost everyone has an adequate number of cholesterol receptors, and if you give your body a chance through diet and exercise, they will start to eliminate the excess cholesterol in your blood.

Even those with an underlying genetic defect that causes their cholesterol counts to soar often can turn that genetic switch “off” through diet and exercise. Genes don’t determine everything. There are “epigenetic tags” that toggle genes on and off, given different circumstances. This is why identical twins, for instance, whose DNA is exactly alike, can have different characteristics and different cholesterol counts. The same is true, by the way, of adult onset diabetes. Even if your father and grandfather or mother and grandmother had diabetes later in life and your genetic inheritance mirrors theirs, you can keep from turning on the diabetic “switch” if you follow the right diet and keep your weight down.

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