Is Good Health Part of Your Genetic Makeup?
The growing cultural interest in unearthing family histories could be good for your health. Your family’s medical history can help reveal what diseases you may be at risk for developing and help you plan a good lifestyle to prevent them.
Ailments including asthma, heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes, and cancer can run in families. To determine whether these might be in your genes, research your family’s medical history. Read death certificates and medical records, if available. Pay attention to the ages of death and the causes of death. Notice whether more than one close family member has the same disease and whether family members develop diseases at a younger-than-usual age. Some combinations of diseases in the same family can also be dangerous: heart disease and diabetes, or breast and ovarian cancer.
Genes can also impact your mental health. Bipolar disease can run in families. Researchers are investigating whether depression can also be hereditary. If a close family member has or had Alzheimer’s, your risk increases. Research into the genetic links of dementia and Alzheimer’s is fairly new, but it’s important information to know.
Genetics can be a factor in non-life-threatening diseases as well. Glaucoma, for example, can run in families. If you have a family history of glaucoma, make sure you get your eyes tested regularly, including for glaucoma.
Your family history can help you determine what genetic tests you want to pursue and can help guide a strategic healthy lifestyle. You can’t change your genes, but you can control your diet and exercise.