National Family History Day: Knowing is the Key to Prevention

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National Family History Day

Did you know the the stories you’ve heard from your family can give you important and helpful insight about your long-term health and wellness? It’s more than just using DNA tools to discover your ancestry; it’s about focusing on your family’s health history. Research shows that “96% of Americans believed that knowing their family history is important, but only one third have actually gathered their family history,” but that only 1/3 of us gather and record this information. On November 22, you can do more than celebrate Thanksgiving with your family. You can accept the challenge of gathering and recording their important health concerns in celebration of National Family History Day.

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable

National Family History Day

When I read the above statistics, they made perfect sense. I know hundreds of funny, inspiring and even embarrassing stories about my family, but when I had to fill out an extensive form about their health history for my annual exam, I drew a blank. Last year, I was texting my sister from the doctor’s office so that I could provide accurate answers. It was an eye-opening experience indeed. I wish I would’ve known about the National Family History Day initiative

The next time I sat down with my family, I started taking notes about everyone’s health history. It quickly got rather depressing because there are so many people in my immediate family who have had cancer, and the only survivor is my mom. Three out of four of my grandparents died from cancer. It was impossible not to fear for my children’s future health.

But despite my increasing anxiety, I continued to take notes and ask questions. In hindsight, I’m so thankful to have all of this information documented. And I plan to ask for updates each year on National Family History Day/Thanksgiving. 

Inherited genetic conditions and inherited traditions 

In the world of prevention and wellness, healthcare professionals have know for a long time that both common and rare diseases can run in the family. Chances are that if your blood relatives had heart disease, cancer, diabetes or high blood pressure that you may face an increased risk of facing the same medical challenges. Even rare diseases like hemophilia, cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia can be passed down from one generation to the next. For a list of diseases that commonly run in families, click here

But it’s important to note that while genes play a role in our health concerns, our lifestyle choices do as well. Having a genetic pre-disposition to disease does not mean it will manifest. Traditions in choices such as what (and how often) we eat and our activity levels are passed down too.

If our families have traditions that focus on unhealthy foods and that don’t encourage physical activity and we continue with them, we put ourselves at risk for poor health and conditions such as cancer and heart disease. In fact, “inherited genetic mutations play a major role in about 5 to 10% of all cancers.” It’s crucial to our health to know what we are pre-disposed to, but we mustn’t overlook the traditions we keep alive and how they may be more likely to bring on illness and disease than our genes.

National Family History Day

A history of chronic pain

Genetics are thought to play a role in many debilitating conditions, including complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), fibromyalgia, sickle cell anemia, arthritis and sciatica. In CRPS and fibromyalgia, genetics is considered a possible factor. Sickle cell anemia, on the other hand, has been proven to to an inherited condition.

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