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      HomeLatest newsHealth & wellnessDo heart disease, diabetes, or prostate cancer run in your family tree? Experts share how you can help reduce your risk
      A family tree graphic surrounded by DNA

      Do heart disease, diabetes, or prostate cancer run in your family tree? Experts share how you can help reduce your risk

      Your DNA doesn’t have to determine your medical future if you consider taking some steps to help lower your chances of developing these conditions, which tend to have genetic ties.

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      Look around your family dinner table this holiday season and you’ll probably notice some recurring characteristics that have been passed down from generation to generation through the genes in your clan’s DNA, whether it’s green eyes, freckles or a gregarious personality.

      What’s probably less obvious to you are other less visible traits that are also inherited—like a greater likelihood that you’ll develop certain health conditions.

      The good news: Your genes don’t have to be your destiny.

      “This is not a fait accompli—genes interact with your environment, so there are things you can do to help lower your risk of developing certain diseases,” explains JoAnne Foody, M.D., Therapeutic Area Head of Cardiovascular Medical Affairs, Janssen Pharmaceuticals.

      Diseases like type 2 diabetes, prostate cancer and heart disease, which are known to have a strong genetic component. For Men’s Health Week, we spoke to experts on each of these diseases to learn what you can do to help keep them at bay—even if they don’t run in your family tree.


      Heart disease and stroke

      If you have a family history of heart disease—generally defined as having a father or brother who had a heart attack by age 55, or a mother or sister by age 65—then you’re at greater risk yourself.

      In fact, people who are at a high genetic risk for heart disease have almost double the risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke than those with no such risk, according to a 2016 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

      This may sound grim, but “even if you have a strong family history, there are many proactive things you can do,” Dr. Foody says. Case in point: That same study found that people at high risk were able to cut their odds of having a heart attack or stroke by nearly half through such changes as quitting smoking and changing their eating habits.

      Steps You Can Take to Help Lower Your Risk

      Consider adopting a more plant-based diet. Instead of always having an animal protein as the main component of each meal, try to substitute a plant-based protein, such as beans, when you can. In one UK study, researchers looked at over 450,000 adults and found that those who followed a diet that was 70% plant-based had a 20% lower risk of dying from heart disease or stroke than those whose diets centered on meat and dairy.

      Exercise as much as possible. The American Heart Association recommends either 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (like brisk walking) each week, or 75 minutes of such vigorous-intensity aerobic activity as jogging, as well as muscle-strengthening activities (like resistance training) twice a week. The more of this you do, the more benefits you’ll see: Fit people with a genetic high risk for heart disease had a 49% lower risk for the disease compared to those who were out of shape, according to a study published in the journal Circulation.

      Know your numbers. For the best health protection against heart disease and stroke, your LDL (“bad” cholesterol) should be under 100, your BMI should be under 25, your blood pressure should be 120/80 or lower, and your waist circumference should be under 35 inches if you’re a woman and under 40 inches if you’re a man, says Dr. Foody.

      If any of these numbers are off, talk to your doctor about what steps you can take to get them more into your target range. You may need medications to lower blood pressure, for instance, or statins to reduce your cholesterol, in addition to making lifestyle changes.


      Type 2 diabetes

      Cartoon gif on avoiding diabetes, heart disease and more

      Hannah Warren / Jelly London

      Studies in twins show genes play a strong role with the disease: When one twin develops type 2 diabetes, the other twin has a three in four risk of also developing it, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA).

      If you have a family history of the disease—environmental factors can also predispose you to it, like growing up in a couch-potato household—there’s plenty you can do to help reduce your chances of developing type 2 diabetes, says Dr. Foody.

      Each hour spent in a sedentary position—whether you’re glued to your laptop or watching TV—increases your odds of getting type 2 diabetes by 22%, according to a 2016 study in the journal Diabetologia.

      Steps You Can Take to Help Lower Your Risk

      Lose a little weight. People with prediabetes who lost 7% of their body weight by eating less fat, consuming fewer calories and exercising for 150 minutes a week reduced their risk of developing full-blown diabetes by 58%, according to the landmark Diabetes Prevention Program study.

      Limit your “sit” time. Each hour spent in a sedentary position—whether you’re glued to your laptop or watching TV—increases your odds of getting type 2 diabetes by 22%, according to a 2016 study in the journal Diabetologia.

      Stay on top of screenings. The ADA recommends that everyone over the age of 45 get screened for type 2 diabetes annually. If you’re younger, you should get tested every year if you have such risk factors as a family history of the disease or being overweight. And since people with either prediabetes or diabetes are at higher risk of developing heart disease, make sure you’re up to date on all your heart health tests, too.

      Talk to your doctor about possible medications. If you have prediabetes, most of the time you can get it under control through lifestyle measures. But if you have full-blown type 2, then you may need to consider other treatments in consultation with your physician.


      Prostate cancer

      About 5 to 10% of all diagnosed prostate cancers can be traced to genetics. If you have one first-degree relative who’s had prostate cancer—say, your father or brother—then you’re two to three times as likely to develop it compared to someone with no family history. And if you have two or more close male relatives who’ve been diagnosed, your risk increases more than fourfold.

      Some prostate cancers result from inherited mutations of genes involved in the repair of your DNA, such as BRCA2, ATM and CHEK2. And these mutations may make prostate cancer more aggressive, notes Tracy McGowan, Medical Affairs Lead for Prostate Cancer, Janssen Pharmaceuticals. One study of almost 700 men with metastatic prostate cancer published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that almost 12% of them had one of these mutations.

      While behavioral changes aren’t as effective in combating prostate cancer as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, there are things you can do to be proactive about the disease.

      Steps You Can Take to Help Lower Your Risk

      Aim for a healthy lifestyle. It’s a good idea to limit your consumption of red meat and high-fat dairy products, as both appear to slightly increase your risk of getting prostate cancer. And be mindful of your weight—men who are very overweight seem to be more prone to getting a more aggressive form of the disease.

      Consider counseling. If you have multiple close relatives who’ve had prostate cancer, a close family member who was diagnosed before age 55 and/or developed metastatic prostate cancer, or a family history of prostate cancer along with another cancer, seek genetic counseling, advises McGowan. This can help prepare you to make the best treatment decisions.

      Discuss screening options with your doctor. If you have a family history, your physician may recommend PSA screening. This blood test isn’t recommended for all men, because it has a high false positive rate, but if you’re already at risk for the disease, it’s important to discuss the pros and cons of the test with a professional, stresses McGowan.

      Another Way to Help Lower Your Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke

      Learn about a treatment that could make a difference for people with these and other health conditions.

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