New evidence suggests that if you could choose your parents, you could reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. Researchers from the long-standing Framingham Heart Study (FHS), a program of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health, report that people whose parents live longer were more likely to avoid developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease in middle age than their peers whose parents died younger. They also found that the risk factor advantages persisted over time.
According to the researchers, this is the first study to examine cardiovascular risk factors in the offspring of longer-lived individuals using independent and validated measurements of risk. The findings are consistent with other studies that have linked lower cardiovascular risk with parental longevity based on self-reports of family history.
"Characteristics of Framingham Offspring Participants with Long-Lived Parents," appears in the March 12 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.
In the study, researchers examined 1,697 offspring age 30 and older (average age 40) whose parents participated in the original FHS and had reached age 85 or died before January 1, 2005. They compared cardiovascular risk factors among the offspring based on whether both parents, one parent, or neither parent lived to 85 years or older. The risk factors included age, sex, education, cigarette smoking, blood pressure, cholesterol, and body mass index (BMI). In addition, they compared the offsprings' Framingham Risk Scores, a summary score based on the combined contribution of traditional cardiovascular risk factors.
In general, the group in which both parents survived to age 85 had significantly fewer participants with high blood pressure or who were current smokers, compared to those in which both parents or one parent had died. In addition, the middle-aged children of long-lived parents had significantly lower levels of blood pressure and blood cholesterol, and they had lower Framingham Risk Scores than those in which one or both parents had died. Overall, parental longevity did not significantly affect BMI. After 12 years of follow up, the offspring of longer-lived parents were also less likely to progress to high blood pressure and to generate higher risk scores, the researchers report.
NHLBI's Framingham Heart Study has studied the health of many of the Massachusetts town's residents since 1948. The community-based research program has been the source of key research findings regarding the contributions of hypertension, high cholesterol, cigarette smoking, and other risk factors to the development of cardiovascular disease. Now assessing a third generation of participants, Framingham Heart Study investigators are expanding their research into other areas such as the role of genetic factors in cardiovascular disease as well as the use of novel biomarkers and new diagnostic tests to identify individuals at high risk.
Daniel Levy, M.D., Director of the Framingham Heart Study, and other FHS investigators are available to comment on the study's findings as well as how modifiable risk factors can lower cardiovascular disease risk.
To schedule interviews, contact the NHLBI Communications Office at 301-496-4236.