Heredity & Chronic Illness

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.

 

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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!

 

 

Reference Links:

Chronic disease: Genes matter, but so does environment

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4841510/

https://www.medicinenet.com/genetic_disease/article.htm

https://www.cdc.gov/genomics/famhistory/famhist_chronic_disease.htm

https://www.webmd.com/cancer/features/precision-medicine-dna-lifestyle#2

https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/family_history.htm

https://www.who.int/genomics/public/geneticdiseases/en/index3.html

Epigenetics – How the Environment Influences Our Genes

https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2011/11/how-health-and-lifestyle-choices-can-change-your-genetic-make-up/247808/

https://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/features/why-7-deadly-diseases-strike-blacks-most#1

*Photo by Tregg Mathis on Unsplash

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When Childhood Haunts You: ACEs & Chronic Illness

When most people are diagnosed with a Chronic illness, there is a moment of disbelief. On one hand, you are hearing the doctor. On the other, you just can’t wrap your head around it. As reality sinks in, fear and anxiety often accompany it. Life is, to say the least, changing fast. And at some point, rest assured, you will say, “How did this happen to me?” That’s a good question. But the answer may not be what you suspect. Chronic illness has long been attributed to things like an unhealthy diet, a sedentary lifestyle, tobacco use, alcohol, infectious agents, some environmental factors and genetics. But we also know that trauma, experienced before the age of 18, is linked to it as well.

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This trauma, known as an Adverse Childhood Experience or ACE, is an encompassing term for numerous traumatic experiences from childhood cancer to sexual abuse. Severe traumatic events are believed to have the greatest effect on our long-term health. The toxic stress that they create within a child’s body is consuming and powerful.

In fact, your risk of having mental and physical health problems goes up with the number of events that you have experienced. For example, your risk for health problems is much higher if you’ve had three or more of these ACEs:

  • physical abuse
  • sexual abuse
  • emotional abuse
  • physical neglect
  • emotional neglect
  • witnessing domestic violence
  • substance abuse within the household
  • mental illness within the household
  • parental separation or divorce
  • incarceration of a household member

Other traumatic events may not meet the exact criteria of an ACE, but still have life-altering consequences. For example, a car accident or school shooting can lead to health issues beyond the initial injuries, i.e. depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A 2010 study, published in the journal of Clinical And Experimental Rheumatology, noted that Holocaust survivors were twice as likely to have fibromyalgia than individuals who had lived in Europe during the Nazi occupation.

This does not mean that every Chronic illness can be linked to an Adverse Childhood Experience. It’s just not that simple. There are other variables. But we do know that the biological impact of childhood adversity is real. It can also be difficult, sometimes impossible, to reverse. Experiencing two or more ACEs significantly places a child at a higher risk for developmental, behavioral, or social delays. Sadly, it can even place them at a greater risk for committing acts of violence. And these risks follow them into adulthood.

If you are looking for answers as to where your Chronic illness came from, talk openly with your doctor. If you or your child has experienced an ACE, discuss that trauma/s candidly. It will help your doctor/s to better treat your condition. Whether you are the patient or a concerned parent, it just may offer some insight that can help you to understand, cope, even manage Chronic illness. With any Chronic disease, management is the key to better living. And it starts at home — with you!

May God Bless … 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.who.int/chp/chronic_disease_report/media/Factsheet1.pdf

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3153850/

ttps://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/past-trauma-may-haunt-your-future-health

https://www.healthline.com/health/chronic-illness/childhood-trauma-connected-chronic-illness#7

Trauma-Responsive Schools Must Be the New Gold Standard in Education

Chronic pain and childhood trauma

*Photo by Chinh Le Duc on Unsplash

Heat, Meds & Chronic Illness … Oh, my!

Being diagnosed with a Chronic illness isn’t the end of the world. But it does change your world rather quickly. Most patients will tell you that finding the right doctor and medication/s were difficult. And adjusting to those medications? Honey, that’s a completely different story. Still, it’s a must-do. So, instead of wallowing in denial, play it safe. Ask questions. Read labels. Use commonsense. And avoid those medical setbacks. You don’t need the hassle.

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In the summer, we can get very hot weather. It’s the nature of the season. Even the flowers in my garden are praying for a little relief! How that heat can negatively effect you is important. Hot weather puts added stress on your body.

If you have a Chronic illness, you’ve probably been instructed to do some form of exercise. And kudos to you, if you are! If your exercise can be done indoors, i.e. Pilates, Tai Chi, yoga, swimming, etc., heat is not a concern. You are utilizing a climate-controlled environment. Just don’t overdo it. Always respect your body’s limits. For those who are exercising outdoors:

  • Monitor the weather. Exercise in the coolest times of the day & avoid that mid-day sun.
  • Dress appropriately. Lightweight clothing helps sweat evaporate & keeps you cooler.
  • Wear Sunscreen.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration is a key factor in heat-related illnesses.
  • Have a Plan B. When the weather is flirting with triple digits (or the heat index is already there), find an indoor alternative. It will come in handy, in the worst of winter too!

Next, you must respect your medical condition & medications. Many can increase your risk of a heat-related issue, i.e. Heart disease, Obesity, Lupus, Graves disease, Lung disease, Kidney disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Epilepsy, Hypertension, Diabetes, etc. Medications usually have warnings right on the label. So, by all means, read yours. If in doubt, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

Yes, you have a Chronic illness. Approximately, 133M Americans do. But you still have a life; remember? Your illness shouldn’t define you. It’s just a part of who you are. So, learn to work with it. Manage it. Enjoy life. Because you still have a lot of living to do. And because it’s summer … glorious, fun-filled summer … with longer days … vacations … explorations … weddings … cook-outs … weekend plans … beautiful, sunny mornings … and romantic starry nights. Don’t miss a thing!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20048167

https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/medical.html

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325232.php

https://www.goodrx.com/blog/avoid-the-sun-if-you-take-these-drugs/

https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/heat-exhaustion#2

https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/sun-sensitizing-drugs#1

*Photo by Sarah Cervantes on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

The Casualties Of Agent Orange

I’m a Baby-boomer. Born in 1960, I grew-up during the Vietnam conflict. Members of my family served in that undeclared war. I remember the tears shed for those who were leaving … and for those who were lost. And I remember the tension … the protests … the disclosure of the Pentagon Papers. I would use the term “turmoil”, but the era was more than that. It was also a time of rude awakening. One of the worst being the true impact of Agent Orange.

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For those who aren’t certain what Agent Orange actually is, I’ll add a little background on the subject. Agent Orange was a powerful herbicide used by the United States military, in Vietnam. It contained significant amounts of a dioxin known as TCDD. We now know that it was the most dangerous of all dioxins used at the time. Approximately 20M gallons were sprayed over Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in a decade (1961-1971). Many of those who came in contact with it suffered severe consequences, i.e. various forms of cancer, birth defects, type 2 diabetes, ischemic heart disease, chloracne, damaged immune systems, neurological problems, etc. It became a health issue not only for veterans, but their children and even their grandchildren. Consider this fact: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., displays the names of over 58,000 U.S. servicemen and women who died in that war. What it doesn’t mention is the 2.8M veterans who served and later died from exposure to Agent Orange. They too are casualties.

There were no tests to confirm if a patient had been exposed to Agent Orange. So the Veterans Administration looked at where he or she served and when they served, to determine if the patient’s condition was the result of exposure. While the method may sound unconventional, it is the norm when dealing with a “presumptive disease”.

Since 1978, the Agent Orange Registry has been an ongoing program administered by the VA for veterans who qualify and are willing to participate. These veterans receive a free medical exam, lab tests and referrals if necessary. Disability compensation is also available to veterans with some types of cancer. To learn more about these benefits, you can contact the Department of Veterans Affairs by phone at 1-800-749-8387, or online at    https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/.

To borrow a line from a Billy Ray Cyrus tune, “… All Gave Some, Some Gave All.” And some are still paying the price, over four decades after they served this nation. May God bless them.

 

Reference Links:

https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/dioxins/index.cfm

https://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war/agent-orange-1

https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/agent-orange-and-cancer.html

https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/conditions/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/nicolefisher/2018/05/28/the-shocking-health-effects-of-agent-orange-now-a-legacy-of-military-death/#7652311c21c6

https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/dioxins-and-their-effects-on-human-health

https://www.warhistoryonline.com/war-articles/agent-orange-american.html

https://www.google.com/search?q=lyrics+some+gave+all&rlz=1CAZBMY_enUS683US685&oq=lyrics+some+gave+all&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l5.6971j0j8&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

*Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

 

 

 

Living With Parkinson’s

For millions who live with a chronic illness, it’s easy to recall life before the diagnosis. It’s equally easy to remember the day that the diagnosis was given — falling like a ton of bricks over them. Those living with Parkinson’s Disease understand this. They’ve been there. In fact, for many living with Parkinson’s, there were little if any symptoms in the beginning. But as the disorder progressed, their symptoms worsened. And there was no denying the obvious … something was wrong.

Parkinson’s Disease is caused when nerve cells, called neurons, break down or die in the brain. This loss of neurons leads to abnormal brain activity and many of the symptoms associated with Parkinson’s, i.e. slowed movement, tremors, speech changes, behavioral changes, rigid muscles, sleep disruption, impaired balance, etc. The exact cause of Parkinson’s Disease is unknown. However, research has proven that genetics and environment can play a role. And age is a clear risk factor.

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At present, there is no known cure for Parkinson’s. But there are interesting strides being made in medical research. In August of 2018, a clinical trial began treating Parkinson’s patients with stem cells. This trial, conducted at Kyoto University in Japan, is the first of its kind in the world. It follows a highly successful restoration of brain cell function via stem cells, in animal subjects, in 2017.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, it’s essential that you manage your disease. Though no special diet is required, healthy eating is always beneficial. Try to plan a period of rest, in your day. It will help offset fatigue. Avoid a heavy schedule. This will help minimize stress. Avoid extreme physical activity. If you need help, ask a family member or friend to pitch in. Patients with chronic illnesses, like Parkinson’s, need a good support system to lean on. Find yours. Talk to them. Take your medication as directed. Keep those appointments with your doctor and/or therapists. Simple, commonsense remedies, i.e. massage, warm baths, heating pads, etc., help immensely. So, don’t ignore them. Try them. You might be pleasantly surprised. 

Living with Parkinson’s, as with most chronic illnesses, involves change. The more that you are willing to adapt, the easier it will be to manage and live with your disease. Yes, there will be tough times. But, with an optimistic approach and a feasible game-plan, there can be good times as well. Go for it!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/parkinsons-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20376055

http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2018/worlds-first-clinical-trial-treat-parkinsons-disease-stem-cells/

https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/parkinsons-disease

https://www.webmd.com/parkinsons-disease/guide/parkinsons-daily-activities#4

https://www.michaeljfox.org/foundation/news-detail.php?cdc-selects-parkinson-as-one-of-the-first-diseases-included-in-new-database

*Photo by Sandra Ahn Mode on Unsplash.