Tracing one’s ancestry has become a very popular thing, these days. It’s fun. Surprising. Sometimes, even a tad mysterious. Folks can’t seem to get enough of their past. They want to know more. In doing so, we inevitably look at old photographs and compare our likeness to those of our ancestors. Mom’s auburn hair. Dad’s deep-blue eyes. We admire military service. We notice things like multiple births, activism, alma maters. And we smile at those reoccurring “family names”. Personally, I represent the sixth generation to utilize some variant of “Julia”, i.e. Julie, Juliette, Juliana, even a Julian. Obviously, the paternal side of my family likes the name.
We also marvel at other things that we share with the generations before us, i.e. personality traits, dimples, freckles, receding hairlines, etc. In some cases, even professions like medicine, teaching, or law enforcement transcend the generations. All connect us. But how many of us are paying attention to the illnesses that run through our family tree? Like hair color, height, etc., our health is genetically linked to our ancestors. Which is why many Chronic illnesses run in families. And also why millions of dollars have been devoted to genetic research, in the last two decades.
Although 70% or more of our disease risk can be linked to our environment, genetic factors also play a role. We may not be born with a specific disease, but our genetic predisposition or susceptibility may place us at a greater risk of acquiring it in life. There are four types of genetic disorders:
- Single gene inheritance
- Multi-factorial inheritance
- Chromosome abnormalities
- Mitochondrial inheritance
The World Health Organization has done extensive work regarding noncommunicable diseases, i.e. Cancer, Diabetes, Heart disease, Mental illnesses, etc. This research and that of others (CDC) tells us that it isn’t just our shared genes. Many families share common environments and lifestyles, i.e. smoking, diet, drug or alcohol use. Gender, age, race or ethnicity can also effect our risk. For example, Diabetes is 60% more common in Blacks than in Whites. Blacks are also more likely to die from Asthma than Whites. Fighting this problem goes beyond genetics. It means we must change the system for testing new drugs. We must improve health education. And we must overcome disparities in healthcare.
If you haven’t taken the time to consider your family medical history, I encourage you to do so. Everyone should. Share this information with your doctor/s. It’s possible to work together and prevent some diseases. If you have been diagnosed with a Chronic illness, remember that early treatment can help you to better treat/manage your condition. That’s extremely important.
Our genes are comprised of DNA. It’s the molecule that is the hereditary material found in all living cells. And the genome is the sum total of any organism’s DNA. It’s complex, I know. So, just keep this in mind … the way our genes work can be positively influenced, i.e. good nutrition, exercise, avoiding substance abuse, etc. We don’t have to inherit everything, good and bad, from our ancestors. We have options. It’s time to utilize them. Choose to live well!
*Photo by Tregg Mathis on Unsplash