How to trump a genetic risk for stroke

While anyone can have a stroke at any age, certain factors can raise your risk. Some of these factors, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, smoking, diabetes or taking birth control pills, can be changed or managed to reduce your stroke risk.

But then there are those risk factors that can’t be altered, like your genetic history. If anyone in your family has had a stroke, especially before the age of 65, it significantly raises your own stroke risk.

A 2003 study even found that 86 percent of strokes in those under 65 happen to only 11 percent of families.

So, while it can seem you’ve been dealt a pretty poor hand, there is a trump card that helps put the odds back in your favor…

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Weighing the risks

In a past study, researchers zeroed in on four healthy habits that can slash stroke risk by as much as 66 percent: not smoking, eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and fish, getting regular exercise and maintaining a body mass index (BMI) under 30.

Now, researchers at UTHealth Houston have taken those findings a step further….

Researchers examined 11,568 adults from ages 45 to 64 who were stroke-free at the beginning of the study and followed them for an average of 28 years. Their cardiovascular health was measured in levels based on the following American Heart Association recommendations known as Life’s Simple 7:

  • Stop smoking
  • Eat better
  • Get activity
  • Lose weight
  • Manage blood pressure
  • Control cholesterol
  • Reduce blood sugar

The researchers computed each participant’s stroke polygenic risk score to determine their lifetime stroke risk. People with more genetic stroke risk factors received a higher score.

What did they find?

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Good heart health can offset genetic risk

The results show that those who scored the highest for genetic risk of stroke and who had the poorest cardiovascular health had the highest lifetime risk of having a stroke at 25 percent.

By contrast, those who took steps to follow a healthy heart lifestyle lowered their stroke risk by 30 to 45 percent — regardless of their level of genetic stroke risk. That adds up to nearly 6 more years of stroke-free life.

Overall, roughly 57 percent of stroke events recorded during follow-up occurred in people with low adherence to Life’s Simple 7, while an estimated 6 percent occurred in those with high adherence.

“Our study confirmed that modifying lifestyle risk factors, such as controlling blood pressure, can offset a genetic risk of stroke,” says Dr. Myriam Fornage, senior author and professor at UTHealth Houston. “We can use genetic information to determine who is at higher risk and encourage them to adopt a healthy cardiovascular lifestyle, such as following the AHA’s Life’s Simple 7, to lower that risk and live a longer, healthier life.”

One limitation of the study is that the polygenic risk score has not been broadly validated, so it doesn’t have optimal clinical utility, particularly for people from diverse racial or ethnic backgrounds.

If you haven’t really been following a heart-healthy lifestyle, it can seem overwhelming to jump right into something like Life’s Simple 7. But if you’re a smoker, the first place you should start is by quitting.

Then, once you’ve picked one healthy habit and mastered it, add another. Before you know it, you’ll be well on the path to great cardiovascular health and lower stroke risk.

Editor’s note: There are numerous safe and natural ways to decrease your risk of blood clots including the 25-cent vitamin, the nutrient that acts as a natural blood thinner and the powerful herb that helps clear plaque. To discover these and more, click here for Hushed Up Natural Heart Cures and Common Misconceptions of Popular Heart Treatments!


A healthy lifestyle can offset a high genetic risk for stroke, according to new research by UTHealth Houston — UTHealth Houston

Polygenic Risk, Midlife Life’s Simple 7, and Lifetime Risk of Stroke — Journal of the American Heart Association

Risk Factors for Stroke — Johns Hopkins Medicine

Understanding Smoking and Stroke — World Stroke Organization

Carolyn Gretton

By Carolyn Gretton

Carolyn Gretton is a freelance writer based in New Haven, CT who specializes in all aspects of health and wellness and is passionate about discovering the latest health breakthroughs and sharing them with others. She has worked with a wide range of companies in the alternative health space and has written for online and print publications like Dow Jones Newswires and the Philadelphia Inquirer.