The Myth of Family History and Genetics

by Steven Carney on June 19, 2012

I often hear people say they have the same health issues their parents had (weight, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, arthritis, etc.).

Health forms, insurance applications, and online calculators often ask about your family history. Medical providers and patients both seem to think that those family histories, and related health problems indicate genetics, and that you inherit those problems from your parents. But that is largely a myth!

The missing element is the influence of family lifestyle and culture on your health status, because the way you grow up tends to be a significant influence on your life choices later on. In coaching, we call it your comfort zone because it’s what you know, and you will tend to gravitate toward familiar and comfortable behaviors. For example, thinking about your family culture and experience, do you:

  • Celebrate the same holidays in largely the same way?
  • Eat many of the same foods, especially rich, comfort foods/snacks?
  • Eat in similar restaurants or enjoy similar restaurant foods?
  • Smoke or drink if your parents and relatives did?
  • Watch sports or movies with similar snacks and drinks?
  • Follow similar habits for meals, snacks and deserts overall?
  • Have similar activity levels (or inactivity) as your parents?

These types of family lifestyle family and cultural influences are critical for your health (good or bad), and I often notice that people carry on their family’s bad habits, one’s they learned as children. Often, family culture legitimizes bad nutritional and lifestyle habits (it certainly happened in my family)! But that’s not genetics!

Genes are not your destiny, your lifestyle is!

Many experts say that genes are not your destiny and that lifestyle habits have a greater influence on your health status compared to genetics. In fact, 70% or more is the number used by many experts. This is supported by analysis showing that about $3 of every $4 healthcare dollar (75%) is for preventable, lifestyle-driven conditions, such as excess weight, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease/stroke, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, and even cancer! Yes, these are mostly lifestyle-driven health problems! Even if they are genetic, the power to change or resolve your issues lies in changing your lifestyle (you can’t fix your genetics but you can help you odds significantly). You do have the power of choice!

My family history

I live very differently from my parents and siblings. My parents drank and smoked heavily for many years (I’ll never forget the time my dad made a whole batch of martini’s. He and his second wife carefully poured out a shot or two of Tanqueray into glasses, carefully replacing the gin with an equal amount of vermouth in the gin bottle, which was very gently mixed and placed in the freezer, along with 2 glasses!). Yikes!

Growing up, we ate lots of meat and rich foods with butter, cream, cheese, salt, and sugary/carby snacks and deserts. Both parents were significantly overweight in their 60s and 70s (some of my siblings followed suit with similar lifestyles), and neither parent was very active or in good shape.

Mom smoked all day and coughed constantly. When she was in her early 70s, she couldn’t walk a block without coughing and being badly winded. She died of lung cancer and a stroke, and had other health problems, such as chronic gum disease and arthritis for years.

Dad also had multiple health problems, including kidney stones (several times), a TIA/stroke in his mid-60s, skin cancer (multiple times/surgeries), and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system. He had tumors the size of eggs in his neck and didn’t even realize it! He had those surgically removed. He never fully recovered from his cancers and died of pneumonia. He scorned fruits and veggies, going for huge steaks and potatoes swimming in butter and sour cream. I gave him expensive vitamins as a gift, but he refused to take them!

It’s sad to say it but both of my parents died of ignorance, like many people do everyday: An unhealthy lifestyle can kill you if you don’t learn how to treat your body well and live in a state of optimum health!

I’ve been researching health and disease for a good 20 years and I follow a radically different lifestyle than my parents and family did. I eat no red meat and far less meat overall (less than half). I also eat more fruits and veggies and with very few sugars/refined carbs/fried foods. I’m active most days (walking, jogging, weight lifting, exercise ball, Yoga, etc.), and take a whole variety of vitamins, minerals and supplements. My BMI is around 21, and my BP runs around 115/75, both very healthy!

In fact, I’ve had none of the problems my parents had, which is what I expect! I’ve had ultrasounds on my carotid arteries and they are normal with no blockages (strokes are often caused by blockages in the carotid arteries). I don’t have gum disease, arthritis or skin cancer, and I’ve never had kidney stones (good hydration, less meat and salt, good overall nutrition and health, and a balanced vitamin/mineral intake are helpful for those).

Medical forms lack science!

To me, it seems so unscientific when I fill out medical forms or online calculators because my family history is assumed to be predictive when it’s not! and when I’ve seen doctors in the past, they never asked about my current lifestyle, whether my parents lead a healthy or  unhealthy lifestyle, or whether mine is better than my parents and siblings! They don’t seem to make these critical connections at all! Even the typical definition for “family medical history” indicates assumed genetic connections or inheritance!

That lack of family lifestyle and cultural awareness reflects a big failure of the medical system because they translate family culture into actual genetics, a very unscientific leap (though it does help to sell more drugs)!

Chronic, lifestyle conditions are rarely genetic. It’s more likely that children are simply (and blindly) carrying forward the unhealthy habits of their parents and family. That’s why they can end up with many of the same health problems, one’s which are mostly preventable!

Remember, destiny is yours to choose!

You can change your destiny in a matter of a few weeks. You don’t need to face a future of chronic ailments, pain, and early death, even if your parents had heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, and cancer!

Work with me as your partner and coach to chart a new course. I’ll help you live a longer life, filled with energy, activity, and good health! You can make that choice today!

As always, if you have questions or comments, drop me a line anytime! And for a limited time, I’m offering a special 2 for 1 price of just $29.00. You get 2 coaching sessions/calls (1 call per week) with some follow-up e-mails.

Helpful links:

I saw this on 2/6/13 and I decided to add (it showes the power of tradition):

© 2012 by Steve Carney/End Sickness Now

{ 1 comment }

Cedric February 19, 2013 at 10:47 PM

Have you ever thought about publishing an e-book or guest authoring on other
sites? I have a blog centered on the same ideas you discuss and
would really like to have you share some stories/information.
I know my visitors would enjoy your work. If you
are even remotely interested, feel free to shoot me an e mail.

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