Harvard Heart Letter

Nature trumps nurture for heart disease

Everyone knows that heart disease "runs in families," cropping up across generations and extended families. Genes play a role, of course. But families are bound together by more than DNA. Family members live together, eat together, and influence each others' attitudes toward smoking, exercise, weight, and a host of other factors that influence heart health and disease.

Swedish researchers have taken a crack at the nature (genes) versus nurture (family environment) question using Sweden's detailed registry of adoptions along with the country's comprehensive health records. They examined health records of all 80,214 children born in Sweden after 1931 who were adopted, along with the records of their biological parents and their adopted parents.

Adoptees were more likely to have had a heart attack, angina (chest pain with exercise), or another manifestation of clogged coronary arteries if they had a biological parent with one of these conditions than if an adoptive parent did. The odds were even higher if both biological parents had heart disease (American Heart Journal, published online, July 18, 2011).

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »