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How do genetics and lifestyle affect the risk of diabetes and heart disease?

Researchers study the relationships between poor health behaviors and the genetic risk of developing diabetes and heart disease.

Worldwide, heart disease is the leading cause of morbidity and death. Genetics, as well as lifestyle factors such as smoking, diet, body mass index, and physical activity are strongly related to the risk of developing heart disease.

Genome-wide association studies have shown that specific genetic variants are related to a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Depending on the individual, the genetic risk for heart disease and diabetes may be classified as high, medium, or low. The current study aimed to figure out how poor lifestyle choices interact with these different levels of genetic risk. The study was published in JAMA Cardiology. 

Using information from a previously conducted UK Biobank study, the Dutch researchers analyzed health and genetic data collected from over 339,000 British people over the course of nine years. Guidelines from the American Heart Association were used to define “ideal”, “intermediate”, and “poor” lifestyle categories for each participant.

Compared to people in the low genetic risk group with an ideal lifestyle, those in the high genetic risk group with a poor lifestyle were at an increased risk for heart disease, atrial fibrillation, high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes. Overall, the study found that lifestyle factors also play a strong role in the development of diabetes no matter the genetic risk. However, for individuals with high genetic risk, poor lifestyle was linked to a 15-fold higher risk for developing diabetes.

Genetics and health behaviours have an additive effect on the risk of developing heart disease and diabetes. Researchers encourage healthy lifestyle changes for everyone, but particularly for those at high genetic risk for disease.

Written by: Cindi A. Hoover, Ph.D.

Reference: Said MA, Verweij N, van der Harst P. Associations of combined genetic and lifestyle risks with incident cardiovascular disease and diabetes in the UK Biobank Study. 2018. JAMA Cardiology. doi:10.1001/jamacardio.2018.1717

Cindi Hoover PhD
Cindi Hoover PhD
Cindi has a Ph.D. in Marine Science from the University of Delaware and a B.S. in Biology from the College of William and Mary. Her research focused on the genetics and molecular biology of corals. Cindi gained scientific writing experience through her many years of work in genomics and molecular biology laboratories. She is excited to contribute to Medical News Bulletin and to help others learn about cutting-edge scientific research. In her free time, Cindi enjoys hanging out with her family, swimming, hiking, and photography.
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