Americans today are faced with a number of health issues, mainly as a result of poor diet, lack of exercise, and lifestyle choices; but, of course, genetics does play a part. My family, for example, has a history of several issues. My father suffers from diabetes and asthma, which my children have as well. My older sister and I both suffer from stress, which is most likely causing our chronic heartburn and my headaches; and, both my husband and I are borderline obese, which is a gateway disease to many others.
While some of these issues are linked genetically, many of them are due to lifestyle, which can be viewed as both negative and positive. Negative because we brought these ailments onto ourselves, but positive because we can still turn things around. Type 2 diabetes My father, who just turned 75, has been suffering from diabetes for about 15 years. He was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in his early 60s, having symptoms of frequent urination, unusual thirst and hunger, and extreme fatigue and irritability. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes.
Millions of Americans have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and many more are unaware they are at high risk. In type 2 diabetes, either the body does not produce enough insulin, which is the hormone needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life, or the cells ignore the insulin. My father now has to monitor his blood glucose levels daily, using a meter and keeping a log of his results, and carefully watches his diet while participating in regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight.
He also has been instructed to take medication, including insulin, to control his diabetes. By following his treatment plan and making the recommended lifestyle changes, my father can prevent or delay the onset of complications associated with diabetes. These can include heart disease, nerve damage, kidney damage, amputation, blindness, as well as gum disease and sleep apnea. Acquiring type 2 diabetes is dependent on both genetic and environmental factors. Because my father has type 2 diabetes, I am at high risk for developing it.
In addition, if I consume a diet high in fats and low in carbohydrates and fiber, and do not exercise, I increase my chances of getting the disease even more. This is why I am taking action now by trying to make better food choices and getting regular exercise. (Currently, I am enrolled in walk/jog and pilates classes. ) I am also trying to teach my children better eating habits as well and encouraging more activity in the day by enforcing a “no television during the day” rule.
Hopefully, this behavior decreases both mine and my children’s chances of developing type 2 diabetes. Asthma Asthma is another disease my father suffers from, which we were not aware of until his early 60s as well. Asthma is a common chronic inflammatory disease where the airways narrow and swell, resulting in variable and recurring symptoms, such as wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and shortness of breath. This disease cannot be cured, but symptoms can be prevented by avoiding triggers, such as allergens and irritants, and by inhaling corticosteroids, or steroid hormones.
If an asthma attack does occur, treatment is usually consists of taking albuterol in form of an inhaler or nebulizer. Albuterol relaxes the muscles and dilates the bronchial passages, opening up the airways and making breathing easier. My father suffers from both exercise- and allergy-induced asthma. If he engages in certain physical activities too long or is exposed to high levels of dust or pollen, he experiences bouts of coughing and wheezing, preventing him from sleeping at night.
My mother tries to prevent my father from experiencing asthma attacks by reminding him not to overexert himself and by keeping their house clean. They had to give away their cats, install air filters and must regularly dust and vacuum the furniture and floors. However, he also has flare-ups when the weather is extremely hot or cold, which is an uncontrollable factor. This results in severe attacks, requiring a trip to the hospital emergency room. As stated earlier, my three children also have asthma, which is in no doubt genetically linked to my father— their grandfather.
Fortunately, they have mild symptoms, and inhalers are only needed during cold and flu season as a preventative measure. However, they are at higher risk of developing pneumonia or bronchitis due to their asthmatic predisposition, and unfortunately, there has been previous winters when this has happened. Because of this, as soon as any of the children have signs of a cold, they are immediately treated with their inhalers. Stress Stress is simply a fact of nature—forces from the outside world affecting the individual. These forces are related to both internal and external factors.
External factors include the physical environment, such as one’s job, school, or home, relationships with others and all the situations and challenges one confronts on a daily basis. Internal factors include one’s overall health and fitness levels, diet, emotional well-being and the amount of sleep one gets. How an individual responds to these factors vary, as well as the symptoms associated with it. My sister and I both have stress for various and different reasons, but we do share similar symptoms. We have both reported sleep disturbances and lack of sleep, as well as chronic heartburn.
Other symptoms I have experienced are moodiness, headaches and bruxism (grinding or clenching of the teeth), which has resulted in my developing temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD), the chronic inflammation of the joint connecting the mandible to the skull. Because of my TMJD, I suffer a dull, aching pain in my face and jaws, neck and shoulder pain and sometimes have discomfort chewing my food. Doctors have told me the reason for my headaches, bruxism and TMJD is stress as they are unable to find anything physically wrong with me.
Even my chronic heartburn can be attributed to stress as even when I cut out any trigger foods (i. e. fried or spicy dishes, caffeine, alcohol, etc. ) I still suffer from it. These signs and symptoms of stress are present often due to the fact that I manage my stress poorly. My sister, who as previously mentioned suffers similar symptoms as I do, manages her stress more efficiently as she does not suffer them as often. Through exercise and taking several vacations throughout the year, she can combat certain symptoms of stress. I, on the other hand, have not yet found an effective way of dealing with my stress ssues and symptoms; therefore, I am constantly fighting an emotional and physical battle. Hopefully, regular exercise and keeping a journal, both of which I have started doing again, will help me manage my stress better thus reducing any signs and symptoms I am suffering from. Obesity Both my husband and I are short people, so looking a chart of healthy weights for our stature, we certainly borderline obese. Obesity, defined as a body mass index of 30 or greater, increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancers.
During the past 20 years, there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States and it is the number two cause of preventable death in this country. There are several reasons that contribute to today’s obesity—increase of food portions, lack of physical activity, the adoption of less strenuous pastimes such as watching television and surfing the Internet—but fortunately, people are becoming more aware of this growing concern and are slowly becoming more health conscious. For example, my family and I are participating in more physical activity and are eating better.
As I have already mentioned, I have began exercising regularly and limit my children’s television and computer time. My husband and children are learning martial arts, which keeps them active, and I am trying to find new ways to introduce and incorporate different fruits and vegetables into our meals. I have also replaced white rice, a stable amongst Asian American families, with brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat pastas. My husband and I have a long way to go before we reach a healthy weight, but by changing our habits now, we are hopefully preventing our children from reaching that point.
The future With the growing number of health issues today, it is imperative we know our family’s health history as well as recognize any lifestyle habits that need to be changed in order to achieve optimal health. There are many conditions that we are predisposed to genetically, in my case, diabetes and asthma, but there are several others, such as stress and obesity, we acquire due to unhealthy behaviors. Knowing what we are up against and how to combat them are first steps in leading a longer, healthier life.