Understanding genetic risk

All nuts are seeds, but not all seeds are nuts. That’s how it feels when trying to explain the differences between genetic, inherited and genetically predisposed. It gets really confusing, really quickly. Let’s reference this basic chart to help our understanding.







All living things are made of cells. Within each cell are genes, an even smaller unit that tells your cells how to function. Changes in your genes are called mutations, and sometimes these mutations can be passed on or inherited. Lifestyle and environment are two factors that play a large role in a person’s health. For example, if your father has high blood pressure it does not mean you will get blood pressure. His high blood pressure could be due to his diet, not genetics. Even though you share genes with him, if you control your diet and environment, your risk of getting high blood pressure could decrease.

Having a genetic predisposition simply means you may have an increased likelihood of getting a certain condition. Knowing your family history can remind you which health screenings you may need to have more often. Scientists are trying to single out particular genes associated with common diseases like cancer, obesity and mental illness If you do not have the history of your biological family, it is still useful and important to gather information about the family with whom you identify. Remember, that health has much to do with cultural, social and environmental influences.

Always keep an open dialogue with your doctor about these risk factors. You are made up of trillions of brilliant cells. Be smart and know your medical history as much as you can, but live life in the fullest and healthiest ways possible to reduce your risk.

This blog was written by Catherine Roth, Certified Community Health Worker with the Lovelace Labor of Love program.

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