Regardless of your genes a healthy lifestyle cuts stroke risk

24 October 2018        

Category: Research

People who are at high risk of suffering a stroke due to their genetics could still cut their risk by adopting a healthy lifestyle, according to new research that we funded, published today in the BMJ.

Person running in Autumn sunset

Stroke is a complex disease caused by both lifestyle factors and genetics. While a person’s genetics are fixed from birth, lifestyle can be changed for the better.

An international team of researchers set out to determine whether adhering to a healthy lifestyle could offset the effect of genetics on a person’s stroke risk.

DNA is not necessarily the same as destiny

Researchers from Germany and the University of Cambridge developed a risk score for stroke using patterns in the DNA of genes which had been previously linked to stroke.

They first used the risk score to predict whether people would have a stroke in an actual population of 306,473 men and women from the UK biobank. The UK biobank is a huge database of biological information about over half a million British volunteers.

They also looked at how a person’s lifestyle impacted on their overall risk of having a stroke, and whether this was different depending on their genetics. The lifestyle factors they looked at were whether someone smoked, ate a diet rich in fruit, vegetables and fish, their weight and whether they exercised.

People with high risk patterns in their DNA were at 35% higher risk of stroke than those with low risk patterns in their DNA – regardless of their lifestyle.

People who had an unhealthy lifestyle were at 66% higher risk of suffering a stroke compared to people who had a healthy lifestyle. The same trend existed at all levels of genetic risk.

The main finding of the study was that, regardless of a person’s genetics, having a healthy lifestyle was linked to a substantially lower risk of suffering a stroke. 

The researchers say the findings “highlight the potential of lifestyle measures to reduce risk of stroke across entire populations, even in those at high genetic risk of stroke.”

Our Associate Medical Director, Professor Metin Avkiran commented on the study:

“DNA alone does not necessarily determine destiny. Our risk of developing disease is often down to a combination of our genes, our environment and our lifestyle. This research suggests that, regardless of whether your genes put you at higher or lower risk of suffering a stroke, adopting a healthy lifestyle reduces the overall risk.

“In the UK, around 38,000 people die each year after having a stroke and another 1.2 million people are living with the cruel and debilitating after-effects of this disease. Even with modern medicine, our ability to prevent and treat strokes remains limited. Only through funding more research can we offer hope for the future.”

Read more about our research into stroke