Happy Family Health History Day
Yes, and Happy Thanksgiving as well as they are one in the same. If you've been following me for a while, you know that I write on this topic every year. If you just type in "Health" in the blog search box above, you'll come up with the blogs I've written since I re-vamped the site in 2018. Since 2004 the Surgeon General of the United States has declared Thanksgiving Day to be Family Health History Day. Why that day? It is the day that most families get together and what better time to discuss the topic that affects all of us.
When I began my genealogical journey, this was one of the questions I was looking to answer. My 4 year old niece died of Cystic Fibrosis in 1974. That was the first time our family had heard about this disease. It is a recessive disease meaning that both parents must carry the gene and pass it to the child in order for them to have the disease. If only one parent carries the gene, they are a carrier and can pass on the gene, but not the disease. That meant that both my older sister and my brother-in-law carried the gene, and that there was a one in four chance with any subsequent pregnancy that the child would have the disease. At the time there was no test for a carrier. In the 1990s a test for carriers was developed and I am a carrier. My younger sister is not. Of my three girls, the oldest and youngest are carriers, my middle daughter is not. This is likely not a surprise to you today as we have become well educated on how DNA gets passed down.
As research continues in all areas of medicine we are constantly learning about genetic connections to other diseases. In addition to just running in families, they also run in ethnic groups. For example, Cystic Fibrosis is primarily found in Northern Europeans and Ashkenazi Jews. Ireland has one of the highest incidences of CF as it also does of Celiac Disease. I follow a gluten free diet mostly to cut down on inflammation from arthritis and have no problem getting gluten free foods in Ireland! Sickle Cell Anemia is found predominantly in African Americans and Tay Sachs is mostly in Jewish populations. There's also another phenomenon with these diseases. Those with CF have an immunity to Cholera; Sickle Cell to Malaria; and Tay Sachs to Tuberculosis. During the Cholera epidemics in the 19th century, whose who carried the CF gene survived in great numbers intensifying the gene pool. Today, most early pre-natal tests, as well as new born screenings test for these genes.
We now know that many cancers, mental illness, Alzheimer's and other diseases are linked to genetics. Many of these illnesses are also multi-factorial, meaning a combination of genetic and environmental factors so just because you carry a particular gene does not necessarily mean you will develop the disease. The more you know about your health and the health history of your family the more proactive you can be about your own health. Early on in my research, l discovered a history of stomach cancer in my family...both maternal and paternal...that went back four generations. When I first tested in the 1990s I already had a pre-cancerous condition that led to a protocol of medication and testing every 18 months. I'm happy to say the condition has not progressed in 20 years. If I hadn't known this, I would not have been able to take the pro-active steps.
So this Thanksgiving, share your research with your family and encourage them to share whatever information they have. You never know, you may save a life. (And remind them to get their Flu Shot and COVID Booster.) Below are some links to help you get started.
Family Health History Checklist from the CDC
Collecting a Family History from the AMA
Knowing is Not Enough—Act on Your Family Health History
Surgeon General's My Family Health Portrait
Here is the link for Registration for the 2023 Ireland Research Trips.