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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Monday, March 12, 2007

Children of long-lived parents have fewer heart risks

If you could pick your parents, you'd be wise to choose ones who live long and have few risk factors for heart disease. But don't lose hope if your parents died young -- you still can lower those risks yourself, researchers from the Framingham Heart Study say.

Results published in tomorrow's Archives of Internal Medicine show that middle-aged children who had at least one parent who lived to age 85 were less likely to develop high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease than people whose parents died younger.

Other research has connected longevity to heredity, but this multigenerational study showed that having fewer risk factors for cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in Americans, was an advantage that lasted. The Framingham Heart Study has followed generations of residents since 1948 to study cardiovascular and other chronic diseases. This latest analysis included 5,124 people who were examined every 4 to 8 years from 1971 to the present.

"If you weren't lucky enough to choose your parents, this study shows how some of destiny is determined by risk factors we already know about and know to be modifiable," study co-author Dr. Daniel Levy, director of the Framingham Heart Study and a member of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, said in an interview. "We know that if we eliminate high blood pressure, eliminate high cholesterol and then cigarette smoking, we would eradicate the overwhelming majority of cardiovascular disease in the United States."

People in mid-life shouldn't wait for signs of trouble to take steps to lower their blood pressure and cholesterol, said study co-author Dr. Emelia J. Benjamin, a professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine and a cardiologist at Boston Medical Center.

"Clearly there is a genetic basis to longevity but what this says is, some of the basis has to do with risk factors," she said in an interview. "You don't have to say, 'My parents died young so I can't do anything about it.' What this suggests to me is, 'Why don't you change the risk factors?' "

In an editorial about the article, Dr. Clyde B. Schecter of Albert Einstein College of Medicine asks whether cardiovascular disease is just postponed in long-lived people or if longevity might be a factor in whether people survive cardiovascular disease.

"Heart disease accounts for a large enough proportion of all deaths that any factor that promotes exceptional longevity almost inevitably must lead to decreased risk of cardiac death," he wrote.

The Framingham researchers, funded by NHLBI and NIH, are pursuing answers in the genes. A genome-wide scan of participants across the generations in the study began last fall with genotyping that Levy expects to be completed by the end of the summer.

"Longevity may be related to risk factors we don't yet know," he said. "We intend to look at the genetic variations that may differentiate children whose parents live to an old age from children whose parents died at a young age."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 04:01 PM
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