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The most common mental health problem among Americans, anxiety disorder, takes various forms, some of which are more inheritable than others. The evidence suggests that what is inherited is not necessarily a specific anxiety disorder but rather a personality that is predisposed to being more highly responsive to stressors. Panic disorder, including panic attacks, is five times more common in individuals who have a first-degree relative with the disorder. Generalized anxiety disorder, however, is less influenced by genetics. Specific phobias, such as fear of insects, have a significant genetic component.

In fact, identical twins raised apart often share the exact same phobia, whether it be to spiders, heights, clowns, or something else. We all know that heredity determines the color of our eyes and our hair and influences other traits, such as height and susceptibility to certain diseases. But many aren’t aware that it also plays a major role in matters such as our personalities and mental health. McLain and his colleagues even speculated that evolutionary pressures may have actually reduced the amount of paternal resemblance in newborns, thus ensuring that a putative father will care for a child even if the father has been cuckolded. That both high and low degrees of paternal resemblance have ready explanations highlights one of the challenges in linking subtle human features to changes that played out over millions of years of evolution.

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But the babies’ mothers tend to say just the opposite, emphasizing the child’s resemblance to the father. Kelly McLain of Georgia Southern University and his co-authors of the 2000 study. “The bias in how mothers remark resemblance does not reflect actual resemblance and may be an evolved or conditioned response to assure domestic fathers of their paternity,” the researchers wrote. This may be why Jeanne Louise Calment, who lived a grand total of 122 years and 164 days put her good health down to her regular chocolate consumption. However, before you go stocking up on chocolate bars, it is worth bearing in mind that one square a day is enough to boost your health.

“It’s kind of hard to distinguish ‘just-so’ stories from things that are really a product of evolution,” French says. Two other studies in Evolution & Human Behavior, one in 2000 and one in 2007, found that newborns actually look more like their mothers than their fathers in the first three days of their lives, as judged by unrelated assessors.

The so-called mood disorders—both unipolar and bi-polar depression—are also highly influenced by heredity. Twin studies, for example, have shown that an identical twin has a 60% chance of sharing his or her twin’s depressive or bi-polar disorder. As would be expected, children in families with such disorders show an increased likelihood of the disorder.

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There are steps you can take to prevent disease, lower your risk, and find problems early when most treatments work best. Considering the evidence for inheritance of personality traits and mental disorders, it may not be surprising that a tendency to be happier, more positive, and more optimistic may also be influenced by genetics. The evidence suggests that we may each have a “happiness set-point,” similar to our weight set-point. Our happiness set-point is a general level of contentment and happiness—or lack of it—where we tend to settle regardless of life events. This set-point is probably established early in life as a result of our genetics, life experiences, and other complex factors.

Mutations can be inherited from a parent to a child (“hereditary”) or they can happen during a person’s lifetime (“acquired”).Acquired mutationscan be caused byenvironmental factorssuch as ultraviolet radiation from the sun. The acquired mutations you develop during your lifetime are in cells calledsomatic cells—the cells that make up most of your body. They may cause problems for you, such as skin cancer, but you cannot pass them to your children. I was able to make important health decisions, like prophylactic mastectomy and oophorectomy to lower my risk of getting cancer again.

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Researchers have not found a specific gene linked to depression, and the evidence suggests a number of genes may be involved in the development of mood disorders. Other mental disorders, such as schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder, also show evidence of being influenced by genetics. Researchers have also found that heredity plays a part in the development of a number of mental health disorders.

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The resources on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Users with questions about a personal health condition should consult with a qualified healthcare professional. A new copy of your genes is made in every new cell that your body creates throughout your life. For example, some gene changes can make you more likely to ketogenic diet get cancer.