While lifestyle and environment are key factors in health and wellness, your ethnic background can also play a role in your health. Understanding how your ethnicity affects your health is an important part of taking care of yourself. Let’s dive into what ethnicity is before we look at the effects it has on our health…
Your ancestry determines where your family/ancestors are from. This can sometimes provide clues as to your genetics. Ethnicity, on the other hand, takes into account your family’s cultures, customs and lifestyle choices. Since behavior and habits play such a large role in ethnicity, it goes to show you that you do have a lot of control over your health, even if your ethnicity has a greater risk of developing a certain disease. Many of the differences in risks have to do with what those ethnicities tend to eat, whether they tend to smoke, etc.
Certain ethnic groups experience more frequent conditions than others. For example, people of Ashkenazic Jewish decent are more likely to develop breast cancer or ovarian cancer due to the presence of BRCA I or BRCA II genes, which is present in one out of 40 Ashkenazic Jews as opposed to one out of 500 people of other ethnicities. People of African American decent are at a higher risk of developing Sickle Cell Anemia and cardiovascular disease, while Caucasians have a higher risk of developing Cystic Fibrosis than other ethnicities. Asian women are more likely to develop osteoporosis, and Hispanic people are more likely to develop diabetes.
The combination of your ethnic background and your family health history provide essential information about the risks you have of developing certain diseases. Getting tested for genes that carry certain disease likelihoods is an important first step for anyone who has family members with those diseases. Once you receive the results, the report will determine if you have the gene that carries that disease. Then what?
If you determine that you do have the gene, you have the opportunity to better prevent that disease by getting screened more frequently and making certain lifestyle changes that can help prevent the disease. This should all be done in partnership with a trusted healthcare provider.
It’s important to note that you aren’t assured you will get the disease if you carry the gene; it just increases your likelihood. By making certain lifestyle changes and staying on top of the risks, many people are able to prevent the disease from ever occurring.
Different ethnic groups experience different side effects when taking certain medications. This is probably due to the fact that certain genetic populations are not able to metabolize certain medications as well as others. While not everyone in an ethnic group will react poorly to a medication, it is helpful for your doctor to be able to take your ethnicity into account when prescribing medications.
Photo Credit: Flickr, Jon Rawlinson, https://www.flickr.com/photos/london/136539453