Can food help if you have a family history of heart disease?

The quick answer is food can’t change your genetics, but it can have a major impact on heart disease outcomes.

Individuals with a family history of coronary artery disease (CAD) need to be especially proactive in addressing ALL modifiable risk factors for heart disease. Those risk factors include: smoking, inactivity, high blood pressure, blood sugar abnormalities/diabetes, high cholesterol, excess weight, and poor diet.

Diet is especially important because it can cause high cholesterol, blood sugar abnormalities, high blood pressure and excess weight. Eating poorly is also linked to increased inflammation in our bodies and abnormal blood vessel function — both of which increase the tendency to accumulate plaque/develop atherosclerosis.

An individual with known heart disease should be on a statin. That does not mean that once you’re on a statin you get to ignore diet. It’s still vitally important to eat right because so many other risk factors are food related.

Children of individuals with early onset CAD should undergo testing for cholesterol levels, blood pressure, blood sugar and any other inherited risks (like elevated Lipoprotein A or homocysteine level) which have beenidentified in the parent. Any abnormality needs to be addressed. Above and beyond that, diet and exercise remain the main focus of prevention efforts. And the earlier you start the better. We know that poor dietary habits can lead to the development of early atherosclerosis even in young children (even those without a family history of heart disease).

Unfortunately, there are no guarantees that eating right and exercising will completely eliminate all risk of future problems. But it is great insurance.

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