MILWAUKEE – Paul Ryan works out and watches his diet, but a new study shows that clean living can only go so far to help people like the vice presidential candidate overcome a strong family history of heart disease.
The study of 4 million people – the largest ever on heart risks that run in families – found that having a close relative die young of cardiovascular disease doubles a person’s odds of developing it by age 50. This risk was independent of other factors like high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes and was even higher if more than one close family member had died young.
Ryan has said his father, grandfather and great-grandfather all died of heart attacks in their 50s, and the 42-year-old Wisconsin congressman has cited that as the reason for his devotion to exercise.
I’d sure like to see him in my clinic, said Dr. Patrick McBride, a preventive cardiology specialist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
Heart attacks can result from genetic factors, an abnormal heart rhythm or a heart muscle problem – not just clogged arteries from poor health habits, said McBride, who had no role in this study but has published other work on the topic.
A Mitt Romney campaign spokesman said Ryan was not available for an interview on his health, and did not answer questions about whether Ryan is taking medicines for heart risk factors such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure.
In an email message, the spokesman, Brendan Buck, said Ryan has never smoked, works out five times a week, eats healthy, gets regular checkups, avoids sweets and limits alcohol consumption.
The Wisconsin congressman joked my veins run with cheese when he was named Romney’s running mate, but it is clear that he takes the health of his arteries seriously.
NBC News correspondent Luke Russert recently described a January 2010 conversation when Ryan asked about Russert’s father, Meet the Press moderator Tim Russert, who died of heart disease at age 58 in 2008.
Ryan urged Luke Russert to increase the cardiovascular level of his workouts and commiserated about the bad aftertaste of fish oil supplements, which some people take to try to ward off heart disease, the younger Russert wrote on an NBC blog.
Ryan’s family history of heart disease is dramatic, and his efforts to modify whatever risks he can control is very wise, said the leader of the new study, Dr. Mattis Ranthe, a scientist at the Danish Ministry of Health.