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Are You Destined to Become Your Mother?

You would be happy to inherit your mom's wit, but not her health problems. Learn which genetic risks you face and how to protect your health.

By Stacey Colino
Nancy London and her mother, JoyDitte Isager



According to a study in the Archives of General Psychiatry, if one of your parents was diagnosed with depression, you have about a 40 percent chance of developing it yourself. But you can change your genetic fate in this case. “Establishing good cognitive coping strategies affects the brain at the cellular and neurochemical levels” and can prevent this illness, says Michael Yapko, Ph.D., a psychologist in Fallbrook, California. When sad feelings hit—or when you’re facing a situation that will probably trigger them, such as the death of a loved one or a job loss—put those strategies into action: Add meditation to your day, or write all your thoughts down in a journal. Aerobic exercise and a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids can also help.

Heart Disease

“If your mom developed heart disease before age 65 (or your dad did before age 50), you have a 25 to 50 percent higher risk of getting it, too,” says Nieca Goldberg, a cardiologist in New York City. Still, “only half of cardiovascular disease is explained by these factors,” says Goldberg. The other 50 percent is determined by your weight, diet, and exercise habits—meaning, if you’re mindful, you have a lot of control over whether you will suffer the same heart troubles as your mother.


After examining data from the more than 2,400 females participating in the multigenerational Framingham Heart Study, which began in 1948, researchers at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute concluded that genetics are at least half responsible for the age that a woman starts menopause (and there’s not a whole lot you can do to change that number). What’s more, “your mother’s experience with symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats may inform yours, especially if you have similar body types,” says Owen Montgomery, a gynecologist in Philadelphia.

Migrane Headaches

“If you have a first-degree relative, like a mother or a brother, who gets migraines, your risk for getting them is two to three times greater than someone who doesn’t,” says Elizabeth Loder, M.D., a headache specialist in Boston. That risk is even higher if their migraines started before age 16 or are severe. To minimize these headaches if they do start, keep a close eye on possible triggers, like hormone fluctuations over the course of the month, changes in the weather, a lack of sleep, and dietary triggers, which can include caffeine and alcohol. If you find that any of these trip your migraine wire, you may want to take a preventive medication prescribed by your doctor when you know that you’ll face them.

Read More About:Preventative Health

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