Like Mother, Like Daughter

You have your mother’s eyes, her boisterous laugh, and her curly brown hair. But you also may have inherited her health—for good and bad. And when you’re looking for links, it’s important to think whole-body.

Of course, some health issues are specific to women. But those shouldn’t be the only areas where you look for a hereditary link, said Heidi S. Weaver, MD, an obstetrician-gynecologist (Ob-Gyn) at the Bingham Memorial Women’s Center. Dr. Weaver sees patients in Pocatello and Blackfoot.

“We’re trying to move away from what we call ‘the bikini approach,’ where we just check your breasts and the female anatomy below the navel,” she explained. “We need to take a more comprehensive approach to women’s health.”

Having a conversation and knowing your mom’s health history can guide you toward a healthier future. Here are some possible mother-daughter health connections worth paying attention to and talking to your doctor about.

If your mom suffered from heart disease or stroke, your risk of developing heart disease, which is the No. 1 killer of American women, is increased, Dr. Weaver said.

What you can do: Start blood pressure and cholesterol screenings as early as the teenage years. Limit salt and saturated fats, eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and fiber, and exercise regularly. Dr. Weaver also recommends getting adequate amounts of vitamin D and discussing the use of birth control pills with your doctor, because of a possible link between estrogen and heart disease.

If your mom never allowed sugary or diet soda in the house when you were a kid, that’s good! Carbonated soft drinks are tough on the kidneys and can interfere with calcium absorption, which may contribute to osteoporosis, Dr. Weaver said. Sugary soda also is a sure way to put on excess weight.

What you can do: Stick to your no-soda routine. Instead, opt for water, juice, or milk.

If your mom started menstruating at an early age or went through menopause at an advanced age,chances are, your pattern will be the same. “This could put you at increased risk for breast cancer and heart disease,” Dr. Weaver said.

What you can do: Ask your doctor if you should start getting mammograms or heart-related screenings earlier than is generally recommended.

If your mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in her 30s or 40s, that’s important to know. “When it occurs at such a young age, breast cancer tends to be more aggressive,” Dr. Weaver explained. “It means you are at a higher risk.”

What you can do: Start clinical breast exams early and begin mammograms sooner than the typically recommended age of 40. Dr. Weaver also advocates monthly breast self-exams and a low-fat, healthy diet.

If your mom prepared balanced meals and maintained her girlish figure, that’s respectable. As such, you probably developed a taste for good-for-you foods and know how to stick to an exercise routine.

What you can do: Keep filling your plate with a colorful mix of vegetables. Eat plenty of fiber and go easy on meat products. Watch your weight, but don’t let it be an obsession. Eating disorders are serious and often hereditary. If your mother dieted to extremes, or if you feel “fat” even at a fit and appropriate weight, talk to your doctor.

If your mom experienced complications during pregnancy, such as premature delivery, high blood pressure, or gestational diabetes, that’s good to know. “There can certainly be some links between mother and daughter as to how their pregnancies go,” Dr. Weaver said.

What you can do: Plan your pregnancy by talking to your doctor before conception. Ensure the healthiest possible pregnancy with preparation, including taking folic acid supplements, exercising, and being at the right weight for your body before attempting to conceive.

If your mom has osteoporosis, that’s important to know, too. Osteoporosis has a hereditary component, so you are at increased risk.

What you can do: Get plenty of calcium and vitamin D and exercise regularly for good bone health. Be aware that certain medications, such as proton pump inhibitors for acid reflux & stomach ulcers, antidepressants and steroid drugs, weaken bones, so ask your doctor about them.

Ultimately, you’re going to inherit both the good and the bad from your mother and your father. “You can’t control your parents’ health history,” Dr. Weaver said, “but knowledge is power.”

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