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Genetic Testing for Heart Disease

Shannon Sinsheimer, ND

Heart disease is the general term used to describe any medical condition of the heart, blood vessels, and arteries. The type of heart disease that affects most Americans is coronary artery disease, or a blockage of plaques in the cardiovascular system which often leads to heart attacks. The most common health advice given to reduce the risk of heart disease is cholesterol reduction with statin medication, diet modification, exercise, and stress management. While these are all excellent suggestions, a secondary way to determine individual risk of heart disease and further treatment advice, is to test genetic predisposition to heart disease.

Our body composition is built upon a series of DNA codes that specifies how to make our individual structure. This is true from the color of our hair and eyes, height, weight, to risk of certain diseases. Of course, not all diseases express themselves (despite genetic composition) and other diseases are present even with a lack of genetic encoding for that disease. The risk and presence of heart disease has a large genetic component; however, not all genetic ‘at risk’ individuals have equal levels of genetic risk. Despite this, most at- risk individuals have very similar prevention and treatment programs. Genetic testing for risk of heart disease can provide data for an individualized risk assessment, analysis and treatment program.

A common genetic test for heart disease risk uses 8 individual genetic markers to determine predisposition to several components of heart disease including: stroke, heart attack, increased cholesterol, coronary artery disease, thrombosis caused by Plavix treatment, drug metabolism rate, effect of statins and aspirin on lowering risk of heart disease, and increased risk of negative side effects caused by statin drug therapy. One of the most interesting parts of the test results is risk rates in percentages (25%, 50%, 75%, etc.). This means two separate individuals may have the same family history of heart disease but their individual genetic make-up puts one person at a 25% increased risk of heart disease and the other at a 75% increased risk. The test may also determine if the first individual with a lower risk may benefit from statin drug therapy, but the higher risk individual may have no benefit from the same therapy. Genetic testing for heart disease is a precise means to navigate individual therapies.

These genetic tests are easily performed and are cost effective. The test is a simple swab of the inner cheek that is then sent to a specialized lab for analysis. The cost of the test is often covered by insurance, including Medicare, and is approximately $80. For the simplicity and cost of the test, the outcome and potential to change treatments and stress factors surrounding heart disease, is more than recovered. With results, natural treatment options, more precise dietary recommendations, and alterations in drug therapy can be implemented for a more positive and personalized treatment approach to heart disease.

Dr. Shannon Sinsheimer is a licensed naturopathic doctor at Optimal Health Center in Palm Desert and can be reached at (760) 568-2598. 

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