Your uncle, who's pushing 65, smokes like a belching mill, pigs out on double omelettes, oily parathas, mutton chops and chicken biryanis, is addicted to his double round of chhota pegs, and for exercise nods off regularly before DD II. Yet, there he is, surviving — and thriving.
You can't help but contrast his fortunes with the luckless destiny of the 20-something footballer who clutched his chest and fell dead on the field in the middle of a game.
Apart from the fact that there's no justice in the world, is there anything more rational to explain your uncle's insouciant grip on life while a young, clear-eyed, fit-looking youth is felled dead out of the blue? There well may be. Some years ago, researchers at the Bowman Gray School of Medicine in the U.S. identified a common genetic mutation that makes people resistant to dietary cholesterol, allowing them to eat even 1000 mg. a day without raising the level of cholesterol in their blood.
On the other hand some people, because of their genes again, inherit a disorder called hypercholesterolemia due to which their bodies are unable to efficiently dispose of excess blood cholesterol, setting them up for heart disease. Researchers have managed to identify one gene (known as apo E4) which increases the tendency for those who have it to also have high cholesterol levels and a greater risk of heart disease.
But it's not only our genes that throw the switches that decide the fate of our hearts. In fact, there are far too many pieces still missing in the jigsaw puzzle that adds up to heart disease - and eventually a heart attack. The more we learn, the more we realize how much more we need to learn. Two decades ago, a leading cardiac researcher in the United States predicted that in a few years we'd have the problem of heart disease licked. An over-optimistic prophesy, of course; heart disease today afflicts more numbers of people worldwide than ever before.
The good news is that we are today well enough informed to significantly cut our risks of getting heart disease. We also have better drugs to prevent heart disease and better drugs to treat attacks.