The heart is more than just a symbol of love. It’s the only part of your body that never takes a day off during your entire life!
It matters for just about everything in our bodies, which is why it also always had a significant role in our culture. Just turn on the radio, and we’re sure you’ll hear a song about matters of the heart.
So to take you on this journey, we have borrowed titles of famous songs to introduce you to the heart, how it works, and how to keep it healthy.
Let’s dive in!
Shape of my heart
The heart is responsible for circulating blood. Its structure varies between living organisms – from a straight tube in spiders to a complex double pump with 4 chambers in mammals and birds.
Our heart, or cardiac muscle, is divided into the right and left heart. Both sides are further divided into two chambers: the upper atrium and the lower ventricle. The two atria receive the blood entering the heart, and more muscular ventricles push the blood out of the heart.
One half of our heart directs the blood to the lungs. There it picks up oxygen from the air we inhale, ditches carbon dioxide, and returns to the other half of the heart. From there, our biggest blood vessel, the aorta, sends it on its oxygen-delivering journey.
Your aorta is as thick as a garden hose! Imagine the strength with which water gushes out of that. It gives you the idea of just how strong your heart muscle is!
Don’t go breaking my heart
As strong as our heart is, we can still do it much harm by living unhealthy lives. Each of us has to be aware of the risk factors and what we can do to avoid an “achy breaky heart”.
Risk factors for developing heart diseases are numerous, and while most are under our control, some are not. These include old age, family history of heart diseases, being postmenopausal (for women) and being male.
Yes, your genes can greatly influence your risk of cardiovascular diseases. But luckily, you can discover—and address—it!
Let’s dive deeper into how your genes can help keep your heart healthy and happy.
“Cardiovascular disease risk (PRS)” chapter of the MyHealth DNA test
The first thing that can guide you into knowing your heart health a bit better is Cardiovascular disease risk (PRS). This chapter is part of the MyHealth DNA test and utilises polygenic risk score (PRS) to assess your risk of developing different cardiovascular diseases.
By analysing various genetic variants to see if you carry a combination that increases the risk of developing diseases. We express the result as a polygenic risk score or PRS. Click here to learn more about PRS, how it works, and how it can help you.
Cardiovascular disease risk (PRS) can identify your risk of developing three conditions: atrial fibrillation, coronary artery disease, and stroke.
Since the WHO states that more than 4 out of 5 CVD deaths are due to heart attacks and strokes, knowing your results can tip the scale towards a healthy future!
Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a heart condition affecting the heart’s rhythm and ability to pump blood efficiently. It is characterised by an irregular, rapid heart rate, usually ranging from 120–160 beats per minute (bpm) but may sometimes exceed 200 bpm.
Atrial fibrillation is the most common form of heart arrhythmia, especially among individuals above 50. The number of people with AF is rising, and its tendency usually builds up slowly over the years.
A DNA test result reveals your risk of developing atrial fibrillation, how to prevent it, and what early detection options exist.
Coronary artery disease
Coronary artery disease or CAD is a heart disease characterised by narrowing coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart. This constriction of the blood vessels results in the heart’s inability to get enough nutrients and oxygen to function normally. This becomes especially pronounced during activities that increase heart rate, such as exercise.
The most severe complication of CAD is myocardial infarction, commonly known as a heart attack.
CAD is a chronic disease and progresses slowly over the years. That’s why it’s more common in the older portion of the population.
It is responsible for 15% of all mortality, although the death rate has declined over the years, most likely due to improved prevention and treatment strategies.
Stroke occurs when the blood flow to a part of the brain is reduced or interrupted. This deprives brain cells in the affected region of oxygen, causing them to die within minutes.
Blood flow can be impaired either because of a blocked or burst blood vessel in the brain. Stroke is a medical emergency requiring immediate treatment. The sooner patients receive it, the better—less damage and fewer complications are likely to affect them.
Stroke is the second most common cause of mortality worldwide and accounts for 11% of all deaths. The risk of stroke increases as people get older, and individuals over 65 make up around two-thirds of all affected cases.
In the developing world, rates are on the rise. Men are 25% more likely to experience a stroke than women, but women are more likely to die due to the event.
We can estimate your risk of those conditions based on your genes. To do that, we only need a bit of your saliva!
“Diet and nutrition” chapter of MyLifestyle DNA test
Specific genetic variants can influence your cardiovascular health, but your lifestyle habits can too. To make the circle complete, genes play an essential part in your habits, as they let you discover more about your tendencies for a myriad of different things—good or bad!
Let’s look at cardiovascular health. MyLifestyle DNA test uncovers your predispositions for:
- blood sugar regulation,
- carbohydrates and blood lipids,
- insulin sensitivity,
- omega-3 metabolism,
- oxidative stress,
- response to monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated fats.
These are all key factors regarding your cardiovascular health, and by knowing if you have favourable or unfavourable genetic variants, you can learn how to act accordingly!
Let us explain with an example …
Let’s say a DNA test showed you have lower insulin sensitivity. Insulin is a hormone responsible for lowering blood sugar levels after each meal. Low insulin sensitivity means you need more insulin to lower your blood sugar.
Your body compensates by producing more insulin to keep blood sugar concentrations stable. But unfortunately, high insulin production is associated with various health complications, such as damage to blood vessels, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Knowing you have lower insulin sensitivity allows you to act early—with the help of the recommendations you get with your results. For example; simple lifestyle changes such as drinking green tea and adding cinnamon to your diet can increase insulin sensitivity and reduce blood sugar levels.
So, uncovering your genetic predispositions for diet and nutrition makes it easier for you to take care of your heart the way it deserves.
The heart wants what it wants
Our DNA tests can tell you a lot about your predispositions for heart health. But to see your actual levels of different blood markers, you’ll need a blood test.
Our blood test MyHeart perfectly complements a DNA test. It assesses seven markers crucial for cardiovascular health—total, HDL, and LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, the ratio between HDL cholesterol and triglycerides, glycated haemoglobin, and high-sensitivity CRP. The most common blood markers tested to understand heart health are cholesterol, inflammation marker CRP, and blood sugar.
All of them are vital for understanding your cardiovascular and general health.
If your value is outside of the reference range, this is an early warning sign, and it gives you a push to figure out the cause and address it—before it develops into a disease. To gain optimal control over your health, you should try to repeat the blood test every three months and see if you’ve made any progress.
Give your heart a break
And now the good news. A lot of risk factors for heart diseases are under your control!
Let’s take a look at the ones you can influence, how your genetic predispositions are involved, and what you can do to give your heart a break and make its job a bit easier!
Focus on proper nutrition. Avoid salt, saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, and refined sugar. Instead, fill your plate full of antioxidants that protect your heart. You might be genetically predisposed to high cholesterol, lack of vitamins, or you may have “sweet tooth” written in your genes. Proper nutrition is crucial for protecting you from diabetes which also has a genetic component. All this, along with genetic variants that affect how your body handles fats and carbs, is a solid foundation for adjusting your nutrition to support your heart’s health. Learn more about your genetic predispositions for optimal nutrition, sports, stress management, sleep, and health care with our Premium DNA test.
Quit smoking and avoid cigarette smoke. Smoking is the most preventable risk factor, which increases your chances of suffering from a heart attack twofold. And if it comes to a heart attack, smokers are much more likely to die from it. Did you know you can be prone to nicotine addiction? You can check your predisposition—and our tips on quitting this nasty habit—with MyLifestyle DNA test.
Be active. Physical activity is your ally in ensuring a healthy heart. You should exercise at least 30 minutes each day. The more vigorous the activity, the more it benefits you. Physical activity also helps you keep your blood pressure within an optimal range. But should you choose running or yoga? Consult your genes! Based on your muscle structure and other sports-related traits, you will be able to select the optimal type of physical activity for you.
Manage stress effectively. Did you know that heart attacks happen most often on Monday mornings? Your stress hormones are the highest when you wake up. Add to that the anxiety of having to return to work after the weekend off … No wonder we dislike Mondays! To protect your heart from the dangers of the new week, learn how you respond to and handle stress. And that, too, is determined by your genes, which tell if you are a warrior or a worrier. You can read more about this phenomenon here.
Achieve and maintain a healthy weight. There is a lot of truth in the English proverb “Don’t dig your grave with your own knife and fork”. Food can be either poison or medicine, and a healthy weight means a healthy heart. Weight management starts on your plate, but it is heavily influenced by the yo-yo effect, the fat-burning gene, the risk of obesity, and other genetically predisposed weight-related traits. Knowing them helps you to take off weight faster, more effectively, and permanently.
My heart will go on
Make wellbeing your priority with our Premium package, which gives you the best and the most comprehensive insight into your genome—all home DNA tests in one bundle.
By now, we hope that you are belting out one of the songs we have put into the titles, and have taken our advice to heart. Take good care of it, and it will return the favour by continuing to beat vigorously for you—day after day.