QUESTION: Family history and heart health?

QUESTION: How much does my family medical history influence my approach to optimizing my heart health? What, specifically, do I need to know?

ANSWER: Whenever a person gets sick, we always look for the root cause of the illness. We ask, “Why this? Why now?” Most illnesses in Western cultures result from the interaction of our lifestyle with our genetic heritage. As such, you need to know your family’s medical history in order to understand the health and wellness tendencies in your life. We are not predestined to follow in the footsteps of our parents. Our parents’ lives are a warning to us. If we live in an imbalanced way then their path will be our path.

Heart disease is a dynamic interaction between cholesterol, arteries, the carrier cells, the healing process, and the stickiness of the blood. Generally, for heart disease to occur, cholesterol needs to be high and of a certain size, arteries need to be damaged by inflammation, the cells that carry the cholesterol into the arteries are turned on by stress, the body tries to stabilize the injury with calcium, and then blood that passes this injured site can stick to it. The blood sticking to the injured site can ultimately form a clot and lead to a heart attack or stroke. During times of anger or stress the tiny muscles in the arteries can squeeze the artery and cause it to close down.

Classic family risk factors include:

  • First heart attack or bypass in your father – older than 55
  • First heart attack or bypass in your mother – older than 65
  • Any heart disease in a brother or a sister

We also ask about the following conditions in the family so that we can more completely understand the potential health trajectory of the individual and his or her potential for heart disease:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Anxiety or stress-prone personalities
  • Hostile or angry personalities
  • Autoimmune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis and lupus
  • Food allergies or sensitivities
  • Insulin regulation issues
  • Obesity
  • Calcium regulation problems
  • Problems with B vitamins
  • Smoking in the house during your childhood

Please note: This question has been republished from the Ask the Practitioner section of the Center for Integrative Medicine website.