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Gene mutation may explain heart disease risk among African-Americans

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MONDAY, Dec. 2, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- A genetic mutation associated with an increased risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and other health problems is common in Africans and people of African descent worldwide, according to a new study.

The findings may help explain why Africans and people of African descent are more likely to develop heart disease and diabetes than many other racial groups, the Weill Cornell Medical College researchers said.

The mutation in the ApoE gene is linked to increased levels of triglycerides, which are fats in the blood associated with conditions such as obesity, diabetes, stroke and heart disease.

The researchers' analysis of worldwide data revealed that the "R145C" variant of the ApoE gene is found in 5 percent to 12 percent of Africans and people of African descent, especially those from sub-Saharan Africa. The variant is rare in people who are not African or of African descent.

"Based on our findings, we estimate that there could be 1.7 million African-Americans in the United States and 36 million sub-Saharan Africans worldwide with the variant," study senior author Dr. Ronald Crystal, chairman of genetic medicine at Weill Cornell, said in a college news release.

On average, African-Americans with the mutation had 52 percent higher triglyceride levels than those without the variant, according to the study, which was published online Nov. 18 in the American Journal of Cardiology.

"The prevalence of the ApoE mutation may put large numbers of Africans and African descendants worldwide at risk for a triglyceride-linked disorder," Crystal said. "But we don't yet know the extent of that risk or its health consequences."

"Inheriting this genetic variant does not mean a person is going to get heart disease and other diseases," he said. "It increases their risk, and screening for fats in the blood -- both cholesterol and triglycerides -- as well as maintaining a healthy lifestyle is important."

"There are many factors at work in these diseases," Crystal said. "This may be one player."

More information

The American Heart Association has more about black Americans and heart disease and stroke.

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