Genes Schmeans

Hey, remember how everyone is always telling you that you’re going to turn into your mother? Well, it’s true. You might as well just relax and let it happen. I know I’ve been one to complain that I always inherit the worst traits from my wonderful family members. Propensity to sunburn, and then turn instantly back to white? Thanks Mom! A bunion? Gee whiz Mema, just what I always wanted! Persistent heartburn, to make me feel like a middle aged man? Gramps and Dad taught me a glass full of dissolved baking soda will fix that. I can’t count the times my doctors have asked me to relay my family medical history. And if you tick off all the aunts and uncles in my large extended family who have something wrong with them, well, I’m pretty much doomed.

Until now. Recent studies have countered the impact of common genetic predispositions to actually impact your likelihood of coming down with a disease. New research has discovered the existence of a little thing called the epigenome. The March issue of Women’s Health magazine calls it a snug sweater that clings to your DNA, with the ability to switch certain genes on and off depending on, you guessed it, your lifestyle habits. So, while you may carry DNA to make you genetically predisposed to heart disease, depression, melanoma, or breast cancer (with the exception of the BRCA gene) the way you choose to live your life signals to your epigenome to keep cool and hug that DNA  switch closed, or get all hot an bothered and switch on the alert.

Here’s what you can do if certain diseases run in your family tree:

  • Depression:
    • Drink 2 or more cups of coffee a day
    • Eat a mediterranean diet high in omega 3’s
    • Exercise for 30 minutes five times a week
  • Heart Disease
    • Leave work on time to reduce your stress and leave time to work out
    • Listen to music for 30 minutes uninterrupted a day
    • Smile and laugh, optimism lowers risk for heart disease
  • Melanoma
    • Eat dessert
    • Wear broad spectrum sunscreen
    • Remember, car windows don’t block UVA rays
  • Breast Cancer
    • Drink 3 or less alcoholic beverages a week
    • Eat 2 oz of walnuts a day
    • Make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D

While you still may pick up your mother’s habits of interrupting, cleaning obsessively before company arrives, and talking a little too loud, you don’t have to inherit her health outcomes.

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