Over the past 20 years, hundreds of diseases have been linked to mutations in certain genes. A growing number of these mutant genes can now be detected via a simple blood test.
How much influence does your genetic makeup have over your health? What can you do if a hereditary ailment runs in your family? Who should undergo genetic testing.
For the answers to these and other questions, we spoke with Yale genetic counselor Ellen Matloff...
*To what extent is illness determined by "bad" genes? We shouldn't really call these genes "bad." We all have genetic mutations. Each of us is probably predisposed to at least one disease...whether it's cancer, heart disease, high cholesterol or a blood disorder.
Having a mutation that has been linked to a specific illness doesn't guarantee that you'll develop that illness. It just means you're at high risk.
In many cases, you can minimize the risk by adopting a healthy lifestyle...and by keeping an especially close watch on your health.
With some genetic defects, including those causing certain types of thyroid and colon cancer, risk of developing the disease in question can be close to 100%. That means anyone with the mutant gene who lives to age 85 is almost certain to develop the cancer unless the organ is removed...no matter what other preventive measures are taken.
With other mutant genes, the risk is less certain. If you have one of the recently identified genes linked to breast cancer, for example, you have an 85% chance of getting breast cancer by age 85. The general population of women face a 10% risk of breast cancer.
These mutations are also associated with a 50% to 60% lifetime risk of ovarian cancer (versus a 1% lifetime risk for the general population).
Hormones & Herbal Solutions
Most of the health problems that are specific to women can be traced to their endless cycle of hormones. Some of us ride natural hormonal changes like crests a wave, while others feel more as though they are being pulled into the undertow! If you fall into the later group, keep in mind that you have plenty of company. In fact, estrogen, the name for the primary female hormone, comes from the Latinword oestrus, which means "frenzy" in English.
For those of you whose hormonal cycles drive you into a frenzy, I have good news: Alsomost every woman I know who has tried herbs and supportive nutrition gets some relief. And though natural remedies may involve some trial and error to discover which herbal formula works best for you, finding the right combination will help you move gracefully through most health problems specific to women, from monthly cycles to menopause. You must be patient, though...it may take a while before you begin to see real improvement.
Before plunging into an herbal healing program, you need to determine what is wrong. Your gynecologist or health care clinic can help you do this. You may even have a local clinic that specializes in female problems. If you discover that yours is a serious disorder, be sure to work on the treatment with a professional health care practitioner. Female hormones are indispensable... they help maintain physical and emotional well-being, as well as physical endurance and sex drive. If you alter their delicate balance, your body will let you know in a variety of ways. At times, hormonal problems can seem very complicated, since an increase in production of one hormone can lead to a decrease in others. This can place you on a hormonal seesaw! To make it even more puzzling, your hormone levels fluctuate throughout the month and even throughout the day.
Fortunately, herbs can help still the seesaw. While herbs do not contain the hormones found in our bodies, some of them do contain substances that influence our hormonal activity. How they do this is not completely understood...in fact, there is much that medical science still has to learn about hormones...but we do know that herbs sometimes mimic, activate or block natural hormonal activity. And some herbs make your body more or less sensitive to its own hormones.
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