Your Mother and Your Health


What your mom’s health can teach you about your own

By Dr. Scott Saunders

 

Your freckles. Your wavy hair. Your foolproof memory. Your laugh. Your patience

Your mom passed a lot of great things on to you that make you think of her every day. But there are also many things you might have in common with your mom that you may not be aware of. Take the opportunity to have a chat with her about her health so that you can gain a better understanding of your own.

The important thing to remember when assessing your own health, as it relates to genetics, is that you can prevent many problems if you know what to avoid; several of the following risk factors can be greatly minimized or prevented if you maintain a healthful diet, exercise regularly and eliminate dangerous habits such as smoking and drinking.

Many factors contribute to your overall health and they can be divided into two categories: nature (genetics) and nurture (environment and lifestyle).

Women are susceptible to genetic factors in health, so understanding your mother’s milestones and health issues can help you in the long run.

Your mom’s genes can affect everything from your body shape to your energy level to your risk of heart attack, so it’s important to cover a wide scope of topics when talking with her about her health.

For example, studies have shown that a majority of daughters begin their menstrual cycles and menopause at the same age as their mothers. Also, you’re more likely to inherit certain cancer genes, such as those that cause some forms of breast cancer, if your mother or matriarchal relatives had the gene.

BreastCancer.org states that 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers are caused by passed-on genes. The gene that everyone carries (BRCA1 and BRCA2) can be abnormal, but that does not mean a diagnosis is imminent.

Nurture: Environment and Lifestyle

Environmental factors begin to affect you even before you’re born. A mother’s nutritional preferences (what and how much she eats) and lifestyle choices (smoking, drinking, exercise, etc.) have a direct influence on the growth and overall health of her fetus.

After you are born, it is typically your mother who determines your childhood eating habits. Your mother is also often your first role model for healthy or unhealthy habits in life, and many women tend to continue to mirror their mothers’ habits into adulthood. Recognizing your mother’s attitude toward food, exercise, and even personal care can help you understand many things about your own health.

Gathering a Family Health History

The best way to begin learning about your family’s health history is by starting a conversation with your parents. Make a list of topics you’ll want to discuss, or use a form that can be obtained on the Internet or from a doctor’s office. Ask questions about their health, and then expand the conversation to the extended family. Some topics you might want to cover include

  • Cancer
  • Heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, and high blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Asthma
  • Obesity
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Migraines
  • Menses/menopause
  • Allergies
  • Mental illness
  • Addictions (smoking, alcoholism, drug use, etc.)
  • Birth defects (spina bifida, cleft lip, heart defects, etc.)
  • Vision/hearing loss
  • Vaccinations and any adverse reactions

 

When talking with your mom, be sure to find out what ages any of these issues arose, if at all. Share the information you gather with your doctor at your next check-up; together, you can determine which issues should be addressed immediately and which can be monitored over time.

You may always have your mom’s eyes, her clumsiness, or her propensity to organize, but you don’t have to accept all of her health issues as your own.

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Dr. Scott Saunders is the health and nutrition advisor for Barton Publishing. Saunders is the director of The Integrative Medicine Center of Santa Barbara, which balances conventional medicine with alternative healing modalities to achieve optimal wellness.