Up to one in five men is carrying a gene from their father that increases their risk of coronary heart disease by 50 per cent.
A study has found that men can inherit a form of heart disease from their father via the Y chromosome.
As many as one in five British men carry this version of Y. The increased risk is independent of other factors such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the UK's biggest killer, around one in five men and one in seven women die from the disease. CHD causes around 94,000 deaths in the UK each year.
Dr Maciej Tomaszewski, from the University of Leicester, and colleagues studied 3,233 biologically unrelated British men who were already enrolled in other medical studies investigating heart risk.
After carrying out genetic tests on the men they found that 90 per cent possessed one of two common versions of Y chromosome, named haplogroup I and haplogroup R1b1b2.
The risk of coronary artery disease among the men carrying the haplogroup I version was 50 per cent higher than in other men.
The male Y chromosome is only present in men and is passed down the male line. Scientists believe the variant affects the man’s immune system and causes inflammatory reactions, which in turn increase the heart disease risk.
Writing in The Lancet, scientists say that it could help explain the higher incidence of heart disease in men and its earlier onset.
Dr Tomaszewski said it was too early to suggest men should be tested for the gene. But its identification could lead to new treatments. "It could become a therapeutic target for the future," he said.
In the meantime, he said men should focus on risk factors that they already have the power to modify themselves, such as getting enough exercise and eating a healthy diet to keep their blood pressure and cholesterol down.
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© ActiveQuote Health Ltd. 2012