In a new study, researchers found that the offspring of mothers with heart-healthy lifestyles live nearly a decade longer without heart disease than those whose mothers have unhealthy lifestyles.
The finding suggests that mothers are the primary gatekeepers of their children’s health. This maternal influence persists into the adulthood of their offspring.
The research was conducted by a team from Vanderbilt University and elsewhere.
Previous research has shown that parents pass on health to their offspring through both genes and shared environment/lifestyle.
This was the first study to examine whether parents’ heart health was associated with the age at which offspring develop cardiovascular disease.
In addition, it examined the influence of each parent separately.
The study was conducted in offspring-mother-father trios from the Framingham Heart Study—a total of 1,989 offspring, 1,989 mothers, and 1,989 fathers.
Offspring were enrolled at an average age of 32 years and followed over 46 years (1971-2017) for the development of cardiovascular events.
Crucially, the study followed offspring into most of their adult life when heart attacks and strokes actually occur.
The researchers examined the association between parental heart health and how long their offspring lived without heart disease.
Links between each pair were assessed, i.e. mother-daughter, mother-son, father-daughter, and father-son.
The team found the offspring of mothers with ideal heart health lived nine more years free of heart disease than the offspring of mothers with poor heart health (27 versus 18 years, respectively).
Poor maternal heart health was linked with twice the early onset of heart disease compared with ideal maternal heart health.
Fathers’ heart health did not have a strong effect on the length of time offspring lived without heart disease.
The team says the strong contribution of mothers was likely a combination of health status during pregnancy and the environment in early life.
If mothers have diabetes or hypertension during pregnancy, those risk factors get imprinted in their children at a very early age.
In addition, women are often the primary caregivers and the main role model for behaviors.
Sons were more affected than daughters by the mother’s unhealthy lifestyle.
This was because sons had more unfavorable lifestyle habits than daughters, making the situation even worse. It shows that individuals can take charge of their own health.
People who inherit a high risk from their mother can reduce that risk by exercising and eating well. If they don’t, the risk will be multiplied.
The authors state that optimizing heart health among women of reproductive age and mothers with young children has the potential to break the intergenerational cycle of preventable heart disease.
One author of the study is Dr. James Muchira.
The study is published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.
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