Friday, June 15, 2012

You Might Be At Risk of Heart Disease Even Before You Are Born!

When we talk about heart disease, we will usually associate it with unhealthy diet and lifestyle, which can trigger many risk factors including high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. Of course, family history of heart disease might play a role, too.

But a study conducted by researchers from Leiden University Medical Center in The Netherlands found that a woman’s risk of getting a heart attack might begin to rise even before she is born. The risk could be increased by more than 8 times if the woman had changes in certain genes. These changes, as found previously, could be brought on by stress experienced in the womb like not getting enough nutrients.

The new findings, which were published on November 17, 2011 in the ‘International Journal of Epidemiology’, supported the belief of scientists that conditions during early life, such as habits of a pregnant mother, might affect her baby’s risk of later getting heart disease.

1,654 participants, who aged between 70 and 82 and had not had a heart attack before the study’s start, were involved in the study. After 3 years, 122 people were found to have a heart attack. Their DNA was compared with 126 participants who had not experienced a heart attack and were similar in age and other characteristics.

The researchers looked for epigenetic changes in 6 genes, known to be influenced by in the utero environment. A chemical ‘tag’ was added to a section of DNA during such a change.

It was found that epigenetic changes in 2 of the genes were linked to an increased risk of heart attack. Women with a tag on one gene were 2.8 times more likely to have a heart attack while women with a tag on both genes were 8.6 times more likely to have a heart attack, comparing to those who did not have these changes.

As the study was conducted in adults, the researchers do not know exactly what the participants had experienced during the prenatal period. Also the study was small, so they insisted that larger studies including a wider range of age groups should be carried out to determine more accurate risk estimates.

For men, there is no link found between changes in the genes and heart attack. This could be due to the fact that men tend to have heart attacks at earlier ages than the participants in the study, masking the effect of the gene changes in the study group.

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