Share Some Family Medical History and Pass the Cranberry Sauce


The American Diabetes Association describes a prediabetic person as someone who has blood glucose levels that are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes.

"I would favor the idea of a discussion, because diabetes affects so many people," said Bernstein. "People should begin to share what their propensity for that risk is."

"If you have a bad family history of diabetes, the good news is that you know the history," said Ballantyne.

Cancer in the Genes

In the age of personalized medicine, Dr. John Pierce, director of the Moores Cancer Center's Cancer Prevention and Control Program, said that cancer treatments often take into account certain family histories and cancer-related genes in the body.

"People don't like talking about cancer, but without knowing the family history, we have to make guesses and work from scratch when deciding if treatments are higher or lower risk for patients," said Pierce. "There are a number of drugs for really high-risk people that can reduce risk, but we only want to give those out if they know they're very high risk."

And that's where family history can play a key role in cancer treatment options.

But it isn't all genes and it isn't all lifestyle. Dr. Daniel Blumenthal, professor and chairman of the department of community health and preventive medicine at Morehouse School of Medicine, said that it is important to note that a person's health usually isn't so clear cut.

"Don't be steered wrong by a negative family history," said Blumenthal. "For instance, even if there's no history of lung cancer or heart disease in your family, it's still a bad idea to smoke."

Preventive Measures

So what should you do when you find out Uncle Harry, grandma and grandpa have health conditions that predispose you to illness?

Doctors say that eating healthy and exercising, along with dropping bad habits like smoking, play a huge role in prevention.

Bernstein said it is important to eat carefully and walk, one way or another, about two miles every day. For people who are out and about, shopping and cooking and cleaning, it is pretty easy to get in those two miles a day, but for those who sit at a desk most of the day, it is important to get that necessary exercise.

"People usually pay a little bit of a price when going on medicine," said Bernstein. "But exercise sensitizes your own body to your own insulin. The longer it takes for diabetes to show up in the body, the shorter a period of time that it will have a negative effect on a person's life."

A Healthier Turkey Day

But how about that turkey and all the fixings on Nov. 25? Thanksgiving isn't the healthiest of days for most people. Ades gave some quick tips from his book, "Eating Well Healthy Heart Cookbook," to help cook a healthier meal.

For one, take off the skin before cooking the turkey. Try cooking the stuffing separate from the carcass and meat drippings, minimize sugars and starches and ditch the gravy.

And, in the spirit of the true Thanksgiving, Bernstein made a historically valid health point: "The Thanksgiving meal should be centered around vegetables anyway, because that's mostly what they ate back then."

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