Ever wondered why animals rarely have heart attacks?
It’s a question that’s baffled scientists, because many have skyhigh cholesterol and barely exercise. This includes chimpanzees whose genetics are almost the same as us, yet they rarely have heart attacks.
Well, a new study may have revealed the reason why. It’s all to do with a genetic mutation ONLY humans have.
It’s all to do with a ‘switched off’ gene
There’s no doubt that not getting enough exercise, smoking, and not enough fruit and veg don’t help. But about 1 in 12 people who have heart attacks have NONE of these risk factors.
Well, scientists have now discovered the answer.
It’s all to do with a gene called CMAH.
This gene’s job was to produce sialic acids. And sialic acids were used by the body to keep levels of fats, cholesterol, and other harmful substances under control.
Humans once had this gene. But it’s now thought it got ‘switched off’ 2-3 millions years ago.
As a result, we have low levels of the sialic acids we need to stop fats and cholesterol clogging up our arteries.
This could explain why heart attacks and strokes now cause a third of all deaths worldwide, despite rarely happening in the animal kingdom.
Cholesterol Rockets 240% in Mice
The damage having an inactive CMAH gene may have caused to our health was revealed in a shocking experiment by a team of scientists from the University of Michigan Medical School.
They genetically modified mice to reduce their levels of the sialic acids this gene produces. This caused the amount of fats and cholesterol in their arteries to rocket.
But the scientists then went a step further…
They then fed the mice a high-fat diet. This made their cholesterol levels shoot up 240% more than that of unmodified mice.
Can Reactivating the Gene Prevent Heart Attacks?
Based on this study, you’d think all we need to do is reactivate the CMAH gene to produce more sialic acids to get cholesterol under control?
But scientists have already thrown cold water on this idea.
“This is a permanent mutation in humans – we can’t reverse it,” said Prof Ajit Varki at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, who’s also led research into the genetic mechanism.
Switching on and off genes in mice is also one thing. Trying to do it humans is whole other ball game.
“The changes seen in a mouse may be very different from those in a human. In a mouse study, the disease is greatly accelerated, so there needs to be much more work done on the association with humans.”Dorian Haskard, professor of cardiovascular medicine and rheumatology at Imperial College London
But the breakthrough discovery of the role of the CMAH gene is not without hope.
Because scientists from University of Michigan Medical School now plan to develop an antidote that allows people to eat red meat without sending their cholesterol rocketing.
It could be a long time before you can pick this antidote up in BBQ sauce form from grocery store shelves, though.
So in the meantime, the best strategy for lowering the risk of heart attacks remains the same: Eat more fruit and veg, exercise, and get unhealthy habits under control.