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Women's Health

Blame Your Health on Mom? Not So Fast

Your mom can do a lot to help your health, but don’t be too quick to blame her when it goes wrong.
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WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Sure, you can blame Mom for grounding you on the night of the big high school dance, or for not handing over the car keys when your friends were all going to the beach, but can you really blame her for the extra inches that have settled around your stomach, or the heart disease you've developed in middle age?

It may seem that way when you read health news headlines. New studies often link this disease or that disorder to your mother's genes. But there's more to it than that.

It's true that you are, at least in part, a product of your mother. Whether you're tall and blonde or short and brunette is partly thanks to her genes. How she cared for you, both in the womb and during childhood, also had an influence on how you turned out.

Your health isn't entirely in your mother's hands, though. Heart disease, diabetes, and other illnesses are caused by a complex interaction between the genes you inherited from your mother and father, your diet, and other factors in your environment throughout your life. Some of these factors are so complex that even scientists don't fully understand them yet.

You Are Who You Inherit? Your Mother's Genes

Before you can understand how your mother's genes helped shape your future, you need a little Biology 101 lesson.

Genes are your body's blueprint. They carry the instructions for producing (expressing) all of the many proteins in your body that determine how you look and how your body works. Your genes are housed in structures called chromosomes. Most cells holds 23 pairs of chromosomes, for a total of 46.

You probably learned back in high school that you inherited one set of these gene-carrying chromosomes from your mother and another set from your father, and that the genetic contributions of each parent worked out to be roughly equal. That's why people may tell you that you have your father's eyes, but your mother's smile.

You also can inherit diseases, or a greater likelihood of getting a disease, from either parent. How much of an influence either parent's genes have depends on the disease. If your mom has a condition like Huntington's disease, because of the way the gene is inherited, you'll have a 50-50 chance of also getting the disease. If she has hemophilia, which is carried on the X chromosome, her sons will be at greater risk for the disease because they only have one X chromosome (XY). Girls have two X chromosomes (XX), which essentially dilutes the faulty gene.

With conditions like lupus or diabetes, the equation is a lot more complicated. Though your mom's (or dad's) genes may put you at risk for these diseases, you may also need to be exposed to certain factors in your environment to actually develop the condition.

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