"It's genetic" 17. November 2008 William Davis (17) At 53, Sam had been through the wringer with heart disease. After his first heart attack at age 50, he'd undergone four heart catheterizations, 5 stents, and, most recently, a bypass operation. He came to us to see if there was a better solution. After hearing Sam's story, I asked,"Did your doctors suggest to you why you had heart disease?" "Well, they said it was genetic, since my father went through the same thing in his early 50s, though he died after his second heart attack at age 54. They said it was bad luck and nothing could be done about it."Though Sam's case is more dramatic than most, I hear this argument every day: Risk for heart disease is genetic. It's true: There are indeed multiple reasons for inheriting causes for coronary heart disease, genes that heighten inflammatory responses, oxidative responses, modify lipoprotein particles, increase blood pressure, etc. There has even been some excitement over developing chromosomal markers for heightened risk. That's all well and fine, but what can we do about it today?In practical life, many inherited genetic patterns can be expressed in ways that you and I can identify--and correct. They are not chromosomal markers, but end products of genetic patterns. (Although there are indeed identifiable chromosomal markers, they have not yet led to meaningful treatments to my knowledge.) These readily identifiable patterns include:--Lipoprotein(a)--Clearly genetically transmitted, passed from mother or father to each child with a 50% likelihood, then you onto your children if you have it. --Small LDL--Although small LDL is amplified by high-carbohydrate diets and obesity, it can also occur in slender people who do not indulge in carbohydrates --i.e., a genetic tendency. Or, it can be a combination of poor lifestyle magnifying the genetic tendency for small LDL.--Low HDL--Particularly the extremes of low HDL below 30 mg/dl. (Although, interestingly, I am seeing more of these people, though not all, respond to vitamin D replacement. Perhaps an important subgroup of low HDL people are really Vitamin D Receptor (VDR) variants.)--ApoE--Two variants are relevant: ApoE2 and ApoE4. In my experience, it's the E2 that carries far greater significance, though the data are somewhat scanty. ApoE4 people are more sensitive to the fats in their diet (greater rises in LDL with fats; thus, some people advocate a tighter saturated fat restriction with this pattern, though I am not convinced that is the best solution), while ApoE2 people are exceptionally sensitive to carbohydrates, develop extravagant increases in triglycerides, and are very diabetes-prone with even the most minimal weight gain. If two "doses" of the E2 gene are present (homozygotic), then the tendencies are very exagerrated. E4 people are also subject to greater likelihood of Alzheimer's, though it is not a certain risk in a specific individual. --Postprandial disorders--We use the fasting intermediate-density lipoprotein (IDL) as an easy, obtainable index of the ability to clear after-eating byproducts of meals from the blood. Increased IDL has been related to increased coronary, carotid, and aortic aneurysmal disease. --Hypertriglyceridemia-i.e., increases in triglycerides, While not all forms of high triglycerides confer risk for atherosclerosis, many do, particularly if associated with IDL, small LDL, increased LDL particle number and/or apoB. There are more, but you get the point. There are clear-cut genetically-transmitted reasons for greater risk for cardiovascular disease. Some, like lipoprotein(a), yield very high risk. Others, like increased triglycerides, yield mixed levels of risk. Importantly, all of these patterns--ALL--are identifiable and are treatable. Treatment may not always be the easiest thing, but they are treatable nonetheless. While lipoprotein(a), for instance, is the most difficult pattern to correct in the above list, I remind everyone that our current "record holder" for reversal of plaque and heart scan scores--63% reduction--has lipoprotein(a) that we corrected. If you've been told that your risk for cardiovascular disease or coronary plaque is "genetic" and thereby uncorrectable and hopeless, run the other direction as fast as you can. Get another opinion from someone willing to take the modest effort to tell you precisely why.