Stroke is among the most common conditions that lead to disability and death worldwide. In the past 30 years, researchers have worked to determine causes and contributing factors to help reduce the incidence of stroke. Twin and family history studies have revealed that genetics does play a significant role in the risk of stroke. Following these findings, a multi-ancestry genome-wide association study (also referred to as MEGASTROKE) published in Nature Genetics discovered 22 new stroke risk loci, increasing confidence that genetics is a factor in determining stroke risk.
Could the benefits of a healthy lifestyle be enough to combat genetics when it comes to stroke risk? In a new study published in October 2018 in the BMJ, British, Swedish and German researchers explored if a genetic stroke risk score in MEGASTROKE was associated with actual incident in a large population. They also analyzed data to determine whether a healthy lifestyle could alter this association. What they found may surprise you.
Using a study population taken from the UK Biobank (including genomic and lifestyle data of roughly 500,000 people within the ages of 40-69), researchers narrowed the pool to include only unrelated white British persons, and only those whose information passed genetic quality control. Any records missing lifestyle information or a history of stroke or myocardial infarction (heart attack) were excluded, resulting in a pool of 306,000 individuals.
Study findings reinforced the theory that genetic risk is a significant factor for stroke. It found that the risk of stroke was 35% higher among those with high genetic risk when compared to those with low genetic risk.
However, perhaps surprisingly, lifestyle was a larger factor. An unfavorable lifestyle was accompanied by an astounding 66% increased risk of stroke when compared to those with a favorable, or healthy, lifestyle.
When combined, those with both high genetic risk AND unfavorable lifestyle had an increased risk of stroke that was more than TWICE the risk of those with low genetic risk and favorable lifestyle. This demonstrates, that BOTH genetics and lifestyle must be considered in determining a person’s risk of stroke.
While genetics cannot be altered, lifestyle can.
When individuals improved their lifestyle, their stroke risk decreased – regardless of their genetic risk. The lifestyle factors observed to have the largest negative impact on stroke risk were smoking and a body mass index of greater than 30kg/m2. The 2018 study also found that an unfavorable lifestyle posed a greater increase in stroke risk for men (82%) than women (36%). Additional studies are required to determine if the duration of lifestyle factors have an impact on the risk levels, as well as testing among more diverse populations.
Regardless of your genetics, the evidence of this study should be motivation for adhering to a healthy lifestyle. If, as their findings suggest, lifestyle can lead to increased risk for stroke, it is important for all individuals to stay active, avoid smoking and maintain a healthy weight and diet. For individuals with higher genetic risks, this study gives added encouragement that making these healthy changes can reduce their stroke risk.
If you have questions or concerns regarding your stroke risk, talk to your doctor at your next appointment. Chiropractic physicians are trained to care for your overall wellness, such as proper nutrition and healthy physical activities. Your doctor can assist you in determining what lifestyle changes would be most beneficial to you and how to make those changes safely. If you do not have a chiropractor, you can find a doctor near you at tnchiro.com.
Your lifestyle makes a difference! What will you choose?
“A healthy lifestyle can reduce stroke risk even in those with a high genetic risk” 10/25/2018 https://www.msn.com/en-us/health/medical/a-healthy-lifestyle-can-reduce-stroke-risk-even-in-those-with-a-high-genetic-risk/ar-BBOSsko?ocid=spartanntp
Rutten-Jacobs, Loes CA, et all, “Genetic risk, incident stroke, and the benefits of adhering to a healthy lifestyle: cohort study of 306 473 UK Biobank participants.” BMJ 2018;363:k4168.