Cardiovascular diseases — including coronary artery diseases, cardiac arrest, high blood pressure and stroke — claim more lives than all forms of cancer combined, according to The Heart Foundation. Many people think such diseases are caused only by poor diet, but could heredity play a part took?

A major global study has just been published revealing 31 new gene regions linked with blood pressure and hypertension, which are two major risk factors for cardiovascular disease and premature death. Researchers investigated the genotypes of around 347,000 people using their health records to find links between their genetic makeup and cardiovascular health.

Around 200 investigators from across 15 countries worked together on the study — which examined participants from the U.S., Pakistan, Bangladesh, the U.K., Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Estonia.

"The sheer scale of our study has enabled us to identify genetic variants carried by less than one in a hundred people that affect blood pressure regulation,” said study author Dr. Joanna Howson from the University of Cambridge. While we have known for a long time that blood pressure is a risk factor for coronary heart disease and stroke, our study has shown that there are common genetic risk factors underlying these conditions."

The results showed that variants in three genes, which appear to be rare in the population, have up to twice the effect on blood pressure.

"Large scale genetic studies continue to expand the number of genes that may contribute to the development of heart disease, or risk factors such as high blood pressure. But so far most of the genes discovered in these studies individually have only very small effects on risk — though they may still provide valuable clues for new drug targets,” said Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, which partly funded the research.

"This study has increased the number of genes implicated in control of blood pressure to almost 100 and, in the process, has also identified three genes that have larger effects on blood pressure than previously found,” Pearson explained.

Source: Howson, J MD, Pearson J. Trans-Ancestry Meta-Analyses Identify Rare And Common Variants Associated With Blood Pressure And Hypertension. Nature Genetics. 2016.

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