Most people don’t realize how strong the link is between our health and genetics. Sure you see that everyone in your family has a potbelly or they are predisposed to certain health issues. But do we really connect that our relatives are our fate? Can we really do anything to head off any health problems that we are heading towards due to our genetic makeup, or are we stuck with it? If you don’t have real information on a parent or grandparent, consider doing a “people search” to begin the process.
What am I in for?
Knowing your family history is the key. By mapping out the medical issues that your family on both sides has gone through, you can look through it to see a pattern. If you want something more specific, there is genetic testing that can be done with for identifying adult-onset inherited diseases. Some people may not want to know what diseases they may be harboring but those who do may be able to influence a disease’s outcome by taking preventative measures.
Types of Genetic Screening
There are recommendations for all types of genetic inquiry but some may be at a higher risk than others. The current recommendation is to screen for breast, ovarian and colon Cancers. There is also screening for diabetes. General screening is for the general population, next there is testing for people with a family history of a specific health issue. Lastly there is advanced screening for those who have already been diagnosed to carry the BRCA gene or hereditary colon cancer syndrome. You can actually do your genetic testing through online programs such as gtldna.net and 23andme.com, and there are genetic counselors at nsgc.org who can help you to interpret your results.
Nature vs. Nurture
Scientists believe that our health and behavior can be described by two different theories. The first being Nature, that everyone is genetically predisposed to their health and behavior—and Nurture, that everyone is shaped by their environment. Most people fall somewhere into the middle of this theory, with genetics shaping us but with the environment pulling the trigger on our genetics. That being said, if you know your genetics it doesn’t mean that you can never influence it by changing your environment. Largely diet and exercise will be the main factors in improving your health, but there may be other environmental changes you can make too—such as staying out of the sun or avoiding stressful environments.
Changing your Risk – Can lifestyle changes help me?
Firstly, just because you’ve determined your genetic risk, doesn’t mean that it’s “written in concrete” it will happen—it is after all only a risk. Say if you are predisposed to developing heart disease, you would follow a heart healthy diet as well as exercise. Same if you have a gene to develop skin cancer, you would stay out of the sun and keep protected by sunscreen. Knowing your genetics isn’t a magic bullet for determining your health outcome but it can help you to be more diligent about the environment to which you are exposed.
The Future of Genetic Testing
Genetic screening is in place for all of the major diseases that we are plagued with currently. However, there are now tests popping up for all facets of our well-being. At 23andme.com for example, you can find out your true ethnicity, which can have an effect on your health as well as predispositions to certain diseases. There is also testing that can be done for nutritional purposes. Many of us know by a certain age that we have to diet more than our friends do, but now a DNA test is available to identify the correct nutrition for your body at inherenthealth.com.
There are still many studies in process to determine the relationship between genetics and health. Primarily, you still have the choice to change the outcome of your health by making the right choices. And science can work with environment to create the best outcome for everyone.