WEDNESDAY, Oct. 1, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Genes may interact with stress to trigger heart disease in some people, a new study suggests.
The genetic risk occurs in about 13 percent of people, but only in those who are white. The finding could help these people reduce their heart disease risk through simple measures such as exercise, a healthy diet and stress management, the Duke University researchers said.
The study authors analyzed genetic data from nearly 6,000 people and found a strong link between variations in the EBF1 gene and higher levels of central obesity, as measured by hip circumference. In people with these gene variations, their hips grew wider as their stress levels increased.
Further investigation revealed a "significant pathway" to high blood sugar levels, diabetes and heart disease, most notably a narrowing of the arteries.
"These findings suggest that a stress reduction intervention, along with diet and exercise, could reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and may be most effective in individuals with this specific genotype," study co-senior author Dr. Redford Williams, director of Duke's Behavioral Medicine Research Center, said in a university news release.
While the research found an association between genes, stress and heart disease, it did not prove a cause-and-effect link.
The study was published online Oct. 1 in the European Journal of Human Genetics.
"We need to figure out how these genetic factors influence the increased accumulation of fat in the central body and increased blood glucose levels in persons exposed to high life stress, and why there are also differences with ethnicity," study co-senior author Elizabeth Hauser, director of computational biology at the Duke Molecular Physiology Institute, said in the news release.
"This knowledge could help identify targets for behavioral and drug interventions that could reduce disease risk," she added.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health explains how to reduce heart risks.