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All in the Genes

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Managing daily stressors is key to warding off hereditary health diseases. 

By Lauryn Lax

Families share many traits. You may inherit curly hair from your mom, a hot temper from your dad, your grandmother’s loving compassion, Uncle Rick’s mathematical brain or Aunt Alice’s artistic creativity. But one trait no one wants to share is hereditary or genetic disease.

Hereditary Disease: Fat or Fluke?

“What’s your family health history?” It’s one of the first questions any doctor—optometrist, dermatologist or gynecologist—asks during an appointment.

According to many physicians, we are byproducts of our DNA. If Grandma Doris had “it,” you are flagged as having a risk factor for all sorts of diseases. In recent years, at-home genetic testing through such companies as 23andMe and Ancestry has become popular, giving individuals more insight into the hereditary diseases and health conditions they are most likely to develop. Are you doomed to get “it”—whatever “it” may be—if it runs in your family? The answer: Possibly. As with most any genetic condition, if one family member has a genetic disease, your risk increases by as much as 50 percent. According to national statistics, some of the top hereditary diseases include:

> heart disease. The No. 1 killer of women, heart disease claims the life of one woman every 80 seconds.

> diabetes. Nearly one in three people have diabetes, and 84 million people are prediabetic.

> hypothyroidism. One in eight women will develop hypothyroidism in her lifetime, and women are five to eight times more likely than men to have thyroid problems.

> Alzheimer’s. At age 65, women without Alzheimer’s have more than a one in six chance of developing Alzheimer’s during the remainder of their lives, compared with a one in 11 chance for men.

> cancer. Every year, almost 850,000 American women hear the terrifying words, “You have cancer.” Breast cancer is the most common form, with 250,000 women—one in eight—in the U.S. diagnosed annually.

> obesity. More than one in three Americans are overweight, and if trends continue, by 2035, 95 percent of all Americans will be in this category, kids included.

> autoimmune disease. Women are twice as likely as men to develop an autoimmune condition, from rheumatoid arthritis and celiac disease to lupus and multiple sclerosis, and approximately one in four women are diagnosed in their lifetime.

But there is good news: Genetics may not play as big a role as we thought. “Yes, it’s essential to know your health history and know critical health umbers like blood pressure and cholesterol, but 80 percent of heart disease can actually be prevented with six words: Eat better, move more, don’t smoke,” says the American Heart Association’s Rosalyn Mandola.

A 10 to 20 Percent Chance

Contrary to popular belief, in the big picture of health, genetic factors contribute to only about 10 to 20 percent of our total health. The other 80 to 90 percent is in uenced by environmental, lifestyle, physical and mental stressors. In short, genes load the gun. Stressors pull the trigger.

So, you may have your mom’s slow metabolism, your dad’s mutation for celiac disease or your aunt’s gene for breast cancer, but these genes will only be fully expressed if stress triggers those conditions.

Addressing Stress

When we typically think about stress, we think about psychosocial and emotional stress, but stress goes far beyond the mental stressors of losing a job or a loved one, dealing with divorce or meeting deadlines at work In our modern sedentary, coffee-guzzling 9- to 10-hour workdays, the human body is not in its ideal element, as nature intended. But you don’t have to live in a bubble. When you recognize the most common stressors wreaking havoc on your health, take proactive steps to counter them.

Here are five act-now habits to put you in the driver’s seat:

  1. Live by the unsexy diet. Let food be thy medicine. Just like the body was meant to thrive on less stress than we face in modern times, the body was also meant to eat real, whole foods. No crazy, sexy diets or overthinking are necessary.
  2. Get drunk—on clean and filtered water, that is. Each day, you should drink half your bodyweight in ounces. If you have a difficult time wrapping your head around why so much water is necessary, think about it this way: What does a healthy, thriving plant need to survive? It needs sunshine, rich soil and water. What happens if you pour Diet Coke, tea, sports drinks or coffee on the plant? It doesn’t thrive.
  3. Eat dirt. The gut is the gateway to health. Unfortunately, three of four Americans have some sort of gastrointestinal dysfunction. If your gut is unable to digest, absorb or deliver nutrients to your cells, organs and tissues, your body may suffer from infection, deficiencies, in ammation and autoimmunity. Ingesting healthy bacteria, found in probiotics, is a great way to improve the health of your gut microbiome. Love your gut by regularly taking a soil-based probiotic, like Primal Probiotics or Garden of Life’s Primal Defense Ultra, along with a prebiotic fiber powder.
  4. Get your beauty sleep. One in three Americans sleep less than six hours per night. Sleep is when your body restores, detoxifies and goes to battle against stress. Aim to sleep seven to nine hours per night in a cooled, blacked-out room.
  5. Breakup with MAC. Have a heart-to-heart with your beauty, hygiene, cleaning and kitchen products. If there are ingredients you don’t recognize, chances are your body doesn’t either. The FDA has approved more than 85,000 chemicals in such products that are still banned in other countries or have not been fully tested. While your makeup, toothpaste, conditioner, glass cleaner and plastic food containers may seem innocent, unrecognizable chemicals add up. Gradually toss and replace as you run out of products and plan an environmental overhaul.
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