The path to overcoming ‘hereditary’ diseases

The path to overcoming ‘hereditary’ diseases

Diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s were once thought to be hereditary. New research, though, is showing that we are often able to modify gene expression through environment and behaviors, meaning we have more control of the future of our health than previously thought.

Lifestyle plays a significant role in the development and progression of various diseases, and encompasses a wide range of daily behaviors and habits. Different factors can have an effect on different diseases, including:

CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE
Diet. High intake of saturated fats, trans fats, salt and processed foods can increase the risk of hypertension, hyperlipidemia and atherosclerosis.

Physical activity. A sedentary lifestyle contributes to obesity and reduces cardiovascular fitness, while regular exercise lowers blood pressure, improves lipid profiles and enhances overall heart health.

Tobacco and alcohol. Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are major risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, including coronary artery disease, heart failure and stroke.

TYPE 2 DIABETES
Diet. Poor dietary habits, characterized by high sugar and refined-carbohydrate intake, contribute to insulin resistance and metabolic dysfunction.

Physical activity. Regular exercise helps improve insulin sensitivity, glucose control and weight management, reducing type 2 risk.

Obesity. Excess body weight, particularly visceral fat, is strongly associated with insulin resistance and the development of diabetes.

CANCER
Diet. Certain dietary patterns – including high consumption of red and processed meats,
sugary beverages, low intake of fruits and vegetables – have been linked to an increased risk of cancers.

Tobacco. Smoking is a leading cause of lung cancer, while tobacco use in any form increases the risk of developing several other types of cancer, including oral, esophageal and pancreatic.

Alcohol. Heavy alcohol consumption is associated with an elevated risk of cancers of the liver, breast, colon and others.

MENTAL HEALTH
Stress management. Chronic stress can contribute to the development or exacerbation of anxiety disorders, depression, PTSD and other conditions.

Sleep. Inadequate sleep or poor sleep quality can impair cognitive function, mood regulation and stress response, increasing susceptibility to mental health disorders.

NEURODEGENERATIVE DISEASES
Diet. A diet rich in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids and certain vitamins may help protect against diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Physical and cognitive activity. Regular exercise and mental stimulation through activities like reading, puzzles and socializing can support brain health and reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

AUTOIMMUNE DISEASES
Diet. Certain dietary factors, such as gluten with celiac disease or specific foods with inflammatory bowel diseases, can trigger or exacerbate autoimmune responses.

Stress. Chronic stress may influence immune function and exacerbate conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

Healthy behaviors and preventive measures can significantly reduce the burden of chronic diseases and improve overall health outcomes, regardless of genetic predisposition.

Army veteran Jennifer Campbell is a certified personal trainer with a master’s degree in nutrition education. She is past commander of the California Legion’s 24th District and Hollywood Post 43.