Diseases run in families; learn from your parents

March 10, 2011

By Dr. Norman K. Brown

UTU medical consultant

UTU members and their families have access to excellent wellness programs through health- insurance providers that help control and eliminate many bad habits such as poor nutrition, smoking and lack of exercise.

But there are certain health-related matters we cannot control because they are part of our hereditary makeup — our genes.

From our parents we inherit a huge package of genes — both positive and negative. Our ability to repair machinery, play sports, solve math problems or communicate clearly are all partly inborn. Most of us are very good at some tasks, but not so good at others. Those abilities are, in large part, associated with our genes.

For example, genes have a lot to do with the fact that three brothers — Benji, Jose and Yadier Molina — are three brothers whose skills propelled them to major league baseball teams as catchers. Sandy Alomar Jr. and Roberto Alomar followed their father, Sandy, into major league baseball.

Sure, education, training and hard work also affect our abilities, but let’s focus here on genes, that we share with our parents and siblings.

There is big value in studying and thinking about our parents, grandparents, siblings, even aunts and uncles, in planning for the best possible life for each of us.

When blood-related loved ones have illnesses or even die — as a result of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes — I recommend learning all you can about what happened. We know some of the genetics for common diseases, but knowledge in this area is exploding as I write.

It is not possible here to detail preventive steps in each instance, but here are a few general principals.

In some cases — such as obesity, which is partly genetic — we can takes actions to counteract genes. Recent studies show that the amount of amylase, the enzyme in our saliva which splits up starches, varies based on our genetic makeup. As a result, the same food may taste much better to one of us than another, perhaps contributing to overeating, so resisting the tendency will need even more effort.

Here are other methods to counteract negative genes.

  • Many drug stores have equipment to measure your blood pressure without charge.
  • A canister of test strips can be purchased from a pharmacy to put in your urine to check for sugar. A twice-a-year check after eating a rich meal can detect potential diabetes.
  • A family history of lung, breast or skin cancer would be an excellent reason to avoid smoking, schedule mammograms and avoid lengthy exposure to the sun.
  • Cancers of the colon and prostate run in families, so ask your doctor how to monitor for these.

Please consider for your next doctor’s visit bringing along a list of all the medical conditions among your family members to offer your doctor the opportunity to make recommendations for your better health in the short and long term.

Learn all you can about your own genes — your partners for life — so you can be your very best with them.