"Good health starts at home, and our mothers are usually our first teachers of good health habits, from washing our hands, to eating our vegetables, to getting enough sleep," explained Obstetrician/Gynecologist Angela Doty, M.D.
Like Mother, Like Daughter
"One of the best ways to determine your risk for disease is to have an open and honest discussion with your mom about her health history and that of other family members," Dr. Doty continued. "This information is an important step in fighting health problems that may be inherited, and can identify the need for certain health screenings, which may prevent health problems or detect them early when they're most treatable."
Breast Cancer: According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), having a first-degree relative (mother, sister, or daughter) with breast cancer nearly doubles a woman's breast cancer risk. However, it's important to note that most people who develop breast cancer have no family history of the disease.
About 5-10 percent of breast cancers are believed to be hereditary, resulting from gene mutations passed down by a mother or father. For the most part, abnormalities in either the BRCA-1 or BRCA-2 gene can cause cancer to develop, and women who inherit a mutated gene have a much higher risk of ovarian or breast cancer. "If you suspect you carry this mutated gene, talk with your physician regarding testing," Dr. Doty suggested.
"Keeping a healthy weight, exercising, and drinking only up to one drink of alcohol a day can help lower the risk of breast cancer. In addition, the ACS continues to recommend yearly mammograms beginning at age 40, for those with an average breast cancer risk."
Cervical Cancer: Have a Pap smear every 1 to 3 years if you have ever been sexually active or are between the ages of 21 and 65.
Colorectal Cancer: Get screened for colorectal cancer starting at age 50 or earlier if you have a family history of this disease. Your doctor can help you decide which test is right for you.
Heart Disease and Diabetes: "Many women think of heart disease as a man's disease," she said, "but it is the number one killer of women. An increased risk for heart disease can be passed down from your mother or father. High cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes all have genetic components and are significant risk factors for developing heart disease.
"Women can lower their risk of heart disease and diabetes by eating right, exercising, not smoking, and keeping stress in check. In addition, regular check-ups and screenings for diabetes, cholesterol and high blood pressure are important, so that if any of these conditions do develop, you can get them under control quickly."
Osteoporosis: If your mom has been losing height in her later years or has broken a bone after a minor fall, she could have the bone-thinning disease known as osteoporosis. If she does, your osteoporosis risk is raised as well - this bone disease tends to run in families, and most women have a higher risk for osteoporosis as they age. However, there are ways to lower the risk of osteoporosis and keep bones strong, including:
- Eating a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D
- Not smoking
- Not drinking to excess
"Osteoporosis is called a silent disease because many women don't learn that they have it until they break a bone," Dr. Doty advised. "A bone mineral density test can lead to a diagnosis and treatment. In general, all women aged 65 or older are urged to get tested."
Depression: "Women are twice as likely to experience depression as men," Dr. Doty continued. "Hormones, a chemical brain imbalance, stressful life events, and genetic history all play a part in developing depression. And, if your mom struggled with depression, you may be more prone to it as well. The good news is that medication and counseling can make a big difference, especially if depression is caught early."
Autoimmune Disorders: These diseases overwhelmingly affect women more than men and tend to run in families. If your mom has rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, or other autoimmune disorder, you are at a greater risk of developing any autoimmune disease.
"Autoimmune disorders are not typical genetic diseases where a single gene mutation is to blame," Dr. Doty explained. "Instead, many inherited genes work together to increase a person's risk. As a result, autoimmune diseases tend to cluster in families, and not as just one disease. For example, one family member may have multiple sclerosis, while another has Crohn's disease."
Other Steps to Good Health
"Just because your mother has a certain health condition doesn't mean history will repeat itself in you," Dr. Doty stated. "Your genes make up only a part of your health picture. Lifestyle is also a very important piece - and lifestyle choices are up to you. If you are a mother, you may often put the needs of your family and children first. However, you need to make time to take care of yourself."
Be Physically Active: "Walking briskly, mowing the lawn, dancing, swimming, and bicycling are just a few examples of moderate physical activity," Dr. Doty continued. "If you are not already physically active, start small and work up to 30 minutes or more of moderate physical activity on most days of the week."
Eat a Healthy Diet. Emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk products. Include lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts; and eat foods low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and sugars.
Drink Alcohol Only in Moderation. If you drink alcohol, have no more than one drink a day. (A standard drink is one 12-ounce bottle of beer, one 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.) If you are pregnant, avoid alcohol.
Don't Smoke. If you do smoke, talk with your doctor about quitting.
Manage Stress: Use relaxation techniques to calm your mind and body. Stay organized to help manage your time more efficiently. Talk about your stressful situations with someone you trust and get professional help if you need it.
"Thanks to all of the mothers everywhere who love us, raise us, and work to keep us safe and healthy," Dr. Doty concluded.
Angela Doty, M.D., is a board certified obstetrician/gynecologist and the chief of staff for Salem Community Hospital's medical staff. Her office is located at Salem Women's Care, 2094 East State Street, Suite B in the Salem Medical Center, 330-332-1939.