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Are You Turning Into Your Mom?

How to cut your odds of breast cancer, osteoporosis, depression, and immune diseases -- even if your mom had them.

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis isn’t quite as strongly genetically linked as breast cancer can be, but there are family factors that put you at higher risk.

Smaller-framed Asian and Caucasian women are at particular risk for osteoporosis. So if you inherited that body type from your mom, you need to take particular care of your bones.

“If your mom had a hip fracture, or what we call ‘the dwindles’ -- literally shrinking as she gets older -- there are things you can do,” Chung says.

Of course, much of the groundwork for good bone health is laid during the teen and young adult years, when many young women can’t be bothered with worrying about what their skeleton will be like when they’re 50 or 60.

But even if you're past the peak bone-building years, women who feel they may have inherited a propensity to develop osteoporosis from their mothers can try to minimize bone loss by:

  • Making sure you get enough calcium and vitamin D, either through diet or supplements. (Being cautious about too much sunlight is important to avoid skin cancer, but just 15-20 minutes of direct sunlight a day in total can give you most of the vitamin D you need.)
  • Avoiding smoking.
  • Getting regular weight-bearing exercise.
  • If you are at particularly high risk, your doctor may recommend prescription drugs, which can both treat and prevent osteoporosis, in addition to the lifestyle measures listed above.

Baseline bone density scans are recommended for all women aged 65 and older and those of menopausal age with risk factors, but if your mother, grandmother, great-aunt, and other relatives all had osteoporosis, especially if it was severe, Chung advises talking to your doctor about starting bone scans at a younger age.

“We all know people who’ve had a hip fracture and it’s turned into much worse,” she says. “That’s what you want to try and prevent. You don’t necessarily have to follow in your mother’s footsteps.”

Autoimmune Diseases

Autoimmune diseases like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and thyroid disease tend to be more common in women than in men, and they definitely run in families, Chung says.

“There are genetic types that are more frequent with certain conditions. Just because you inherit a susceptible haplotype [gene variant], it doesn’t mean you have a 100% chance of getting thyroid disease or lupus, but it does increase your risk significantly," Chung says. "For some of these disorders, if you inherit a susceptible gene from your mother -- or your father, because men do get these too -- it may boost your risk by anywhere from five- to 20-fold.”

The bad news: There's not much you can do to prevent getting many serious autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.

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