Before you click away, this is NOT one of those stories admonishing you to eat broccoli and brussel sprouts rather than turkey and all the trimmings. This blog could improve your health without having to forego a single calorie!
Will Grandma be coming up from Florida during Thanksgiving or will Great Uncle Tony be joining you for Christmas? Do you need something other than the Presidential candidates, Penn State sex scandal, or football scores to talk about over dinner?
Well, according to University of Alabama genetics experts you should use this opportunity to learn more about your family health history from the very people who know.
“The holidays are a great time to collect your family history,” says Lynn Holt, M.S., Director of the School of Health Professions Genetic Counseling program. “Most people don’t know much about the family history beyond their first-degree relatives, their own parents and siblings.”
She advises people to talk to their grandparents or great-grandparents about any health problems that they may have had. Also find out about their immediate family such as parents, siblings and children. And don’t just talk, jot down names and their year of birth and death. Ask if any siblings died during childhood and if so, why? While many people don’t like to talk about a sibling who died young, knowing if it happened – and why, can produce very valuable information.
“We sometimes hear people say they’ve been told their mother’s brother dropped dead at age 20, for example,” says Holt. “Was it because of a genetic heart condition that you might have inherited, or is it simply that brother was guilty of some accident that nobody wants to talk about?”
Likewise, if there is cancer in the family, ask about the kind of cancer and at the age at which family members first were diagnosed. Age of diagnosis is more medically valuable than age of death in determining inheritable conditions. Ask similar questions about heart disease, diabetes, mental health conditions and other common conditions. And don’t forget to look into any environmental exposures that may explain family health problems such as occupational exposures, smoking or pollution.
Not only will you learn a great deal, the knowledge you gain can help you protect your own health. As an added bonus, older family members may welcome the chance to share their story and memories of loved ones who have passed away…and it’s a chance to grow closer as a family.
After you’ve collect all this information, share it with your physician to help determine if there are any health conditions, based on your family history, that need further evaluation or monitoring.