Celebrate Your Independence from Genetic Ignorance and Learn More About Your Family History!
Every family has a story to tell. Some of these stories may be riveting, educational, hilarious, devastatingly sad and some may even include a health-related tale that could impact your future… or quite possibly, save your life. Learning about our past, especially as it relates to our genetics, can help us learn more about ourselves and what may lie ahead. While discussing health history at the family barbecue may not sound like as much fun as setting off firecrackers (and let’s face it, it’s not), it’s still important.
At Phosphorus, we encourage being proactive about your health and it’s this kind of information that can you help you, your doctor and your children make decisions around nutrition, medication, physical activity and preventive care. This is why, as we celebrate Independence Day, we encourage you to step out of the darkness of the unknown and educate yourself genetic history.
What Family Genetic History Should I Be Asking About?
There is so much information and history contained in our genes. There are the obvious physical traits like eye color, curly hair, being tall, but of course, conditions such as asthma, cancer, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes can run in our family histories. Finding out who had what, how old they were when they were diagnosed, how they are related to you and on which side of the family they are all on can be immensely helpful to your health.
In general, asking about your grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and siblings current and past health is the best place to start. If any of your relatives have passed away and you have access to their death certificates or medical records, that information can be used to provide insight. Should they have been diagnosed with a specific disease, knowing the age they began experiencing symptoms or when they were diagnosed would be helpful.
Other factors and/or patterns you to make note of are:
Any family member who had a disease that occurred at an early age meaning, approximately ten to twenty years before one would typically be diagnosed with these diseases (Example: colon cancer is usually diagnosed around age 60. If any of your relatives were diagnosed with this disease around age 40, you would note this)
A close family member who has been diagnosed with a disease that does not typically does affect a certain gender (Example: breast cancer in a male)
Certain combinations of diseases within a family (Example: breast and ovarian cancer, or heart disease and diabetes)
If more than one family member has been diagnosed with a certain disease (Example: Several in your family are diabetic)
What if My Family Isn’t Certain of Our Own History?
It’s not uncommon that either our parents can’t exactly remember what happened to their elderly aunt or perhaps they suspect that their parent was never properly diagnosed. Or you may be in a situation where you simply do not have access to your genetic relations to ask them these questions. Another very vital factor is our health is always evolving and changing. You can ask your family a bunch of questions today about their current health but a few months or years from now, a relative may be diagnosed with something that the family should be made aware of that no one even knew was a genetic concern. Family health and genetics should be an ongoing conversation as our health is an ongoing project.
You can and should get an annual exam and there are screening tests such as mammograms and colorectal cancer screens that can help detect these diseases at an early stage. There are also screening tests for high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which can be treated to reduce the chance of heart disease.
We offer Phosphorus One, which is a comprehensive at-home DNA kit that can help you understand your risks for cancer, heart disease, vision loss, infertility, dementia and more.
What Should I Do with This Genetic Information?
While medical technology is constantly evolving, altering your genes remains impossible. Though, once you know your genetic background and family health history, you can speak to your doctor about the steps you can take in terms of diet, exercise, medication, additional tests and behavioral modifications to either reduce the risk or help manage the disease of concern proactively.
You can also stop any unhealthy habits like smoking, poor eating habits or not getting enough exercise. If you find that a very specific disease runs in your family, you may want to get involved in a non-profit organization around that group to receive support, educate yourself on future options or, if appropriate, enter related future clinical trials, developments or advocacy efforts. Overall, in many cases, developing a healthier lifestyle can reduce your risk for a great deal of diseases that affect many families.
So, as you swim in the pool, have a hot dog (or two) and spend time with your family, make sure to ask them about their health history. That way, when the fireworks roll around, you’ll know they are just for you as you celebrate your independence from genetic ignorance!