Researchers have suggested that offspring of mothers who adopt heart healthy lifestyles live nearly 10 years longer without cardiovascular disease than those whose mothers engage in unhealthy lifestyles.

A recent study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology presented such findings. Study author and postdoctoral scholar James Muchira, RN, PhD of Nashville’s Vanderbilt University said, “Our study suggests that mothers are the primary gatekeepers of their children’s health. This maternal influence persists into the adulthood of their offspring.”

Previous studies have indicated that parents pass on health to their offspring through both genes and shared environment and lifestyles. This latest research represents the inaugural examination into whether parent’s heart health is associated with the age at which offspring develop cardiovascular disease. The study examined the influence of each parent separately.

Conducted among two parents plus offspring groups included in the Framingham Heart Study, the study analyzed information related to 1,989 mothers, 1989 fathers and 1,989 offspring. Offspring were enlisted at an average age of 32 and were followed over a period of 46 years, from 1971 to 2017, to track the development of cardiovascular events. “Crucially, the study followed offspring into most of their adult life when heart attacks and strokes actually occur,” Muchira said.

Researchers rated cardiovascular health of mothers and fathers according to seven lifestyle factors, including eating a healthy diet, remaining physically active, not smoking, maintaining a normal body mass index, controlling blood pressure, controlling cholesterol levels, and maintaining blood glucose in an acceptable range. Scores were assigned as poor (achieving 0 to 2 factors), intermediate (achieving 3 to 4 factors), and ideal (achieving 5 to 7 factors). Researchers evaluated the link between parental cardiovascular health and the length of time their offspring lived without cardiovascular disease. Analysis included links between each pair, such as mother-son, mother-daughter, father-son, and father-daughter.

Results indicated that offspring of mothers with ideal cardiovascular health lived nine or more years free from cardiovascular disease than did offspring of mothers with poor cardiovascular health. Poor maternal cardiovascular health was associated with twice the risk of early onset cardiovascular disease compared with ideal maternal cardiovascular health. Fathers’ heart health had no statistically significant effect on the period of time offspring lived without cardiovascular disease.

Research indicated that sons were more frequently affected than daughters by a mother’s unhealthy lifestyle. “This was because sons had more unfavorable lifestyle habits than daughters, making the situation even worse,” Muchira said. “It shows that individuals can take charge of their own health. People who inherit a high risk from their mother [sic] can reduce that risk by exercising and eating well. If they don’t, the risk will be multiplied.” Muchira surmised that the robust contribution of mothers was likely due to a combination of health status during pregnancy and environment in early life.

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