The study of epigenetics is the latest and greatest scientific breakthrough in the field of genetics. It is commonly known that DNA, the carrier of genetic information, is inherited and passed on from one generation to the next. Previously, scientists believed DNA was the only thing that could be inherited. However, with growing research in epigenetics, scientists are beginning to understand that genetics are not as simple as passing on DNA to offspring.
Epigenetics is the study of how outside, environmental factors control, change, and affect gene regulation and activity. In other words, the environment can change how genes are expressed. These changes do not occur in the actual genetic code. Instead, they occur in the cellular material, such as enzymes and proteins, which surround DNA.
The Latest Research in Epigenetics
Dr. David Crews of the University of Texas at Austin recently published an article on epigenetic transgenerational inheritance. In an interview with Natural News, Dr. Crews explains how epigenetic influences of older generations can be inherited by younger generations. In simpler terms, this means that changes in your grandmother’s gene expression due to the environment she was exposed to are heritable and could be directly influencing the way your genes are being controlled today.
Dr. Crews shares how in every individual’s life, he/she is influenced by what was inherited and what has been experienced during day-to-day living. The experiences and exposures of everyday living are what constitute epigenetics. For example, imagine if your parent was diagnosed with cancer. You would be aware that this could mean you may have a genetic predisposition to cancer. However, thanks to epigenetics, this also means that it may not be a genetic predisposition, but rather, your parent may have been exposed to cancer causing chemicals that affected the area surrounding the DNA. Which also means that you may have inherited these affects, and your offspring may inherit these affects as well.
In the interview, Dr. Crews goes on to describe three periods of extreme sensitivity to the outside world. The first is the prenatal period, the second is the postnatal period during infancy, and the third is during adolescence. The environment of a pregnant mother, including her nutrition and diet, can greatly affect how her and her baby’s genes are regulated.
You are what your mother ate during her pregnancy. A study in the FASEB Journal found that if your mother ate improperly during her pregnancy, you are more likely to be struck by diabetes, cardiovascular problems, growth retardation, obesity, etc. The study showed how when rats were exposed to a poor diet while in the womb, they entered the world primed to continue living in an environment with poor nutrition – this led them to be of a smaller stature and increased their risk of many serious health problems. Scientists believe that this same situation applies to humans because the same cellular mechanisms occur in rats and people.
Everyone wants healthy children right? Well, to ensure that your kids are as healthy as possible, consume a well-balanced diet and avoid processed, impure, and modified foods. This is also where choosing organic food options comes into play. Organic is always best because it has not been exposed to the pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and chemical additives that can compromise the genetic environment.
The effects of prenatal development and exposure carry over into adolescence. Dr. Crews’ study found that adolescents who were exposed to chemicals and/or poor nutrition during prenatal development behaved very differently than those less affected by the epigenetic mechanism.
In a sense, nutrition during pregnancy has a domino effect that can classify as either positive or negative. Because experiences during adolescence shape how adults respond, react, and approach today’s challenges and situations, eating right during pregnancy may set your children up to experience a positive adolescence, which in turn will lead to less stress and a healthier genetic environment. On the other hand, the study found that poor nutrition during pregnancy led the adolescents to behave almost neurotically, with more autistic and anxiety-like behaviors.
Dr. Crews also touched on the current issue of BPA found in many plastic and canned items, such as canned food, formula, and plastic water bottles and baby bottles. BPA is a synthetic, organic compound used during the manufacturing process that seems to have a large imprint when it comes to epigenetics. One study found that in a group of genetically identical mice, the mice exposed to BPA during the prenatal period and during the early years of life were growing up to be obese.
The study also found that nutrition has a protective element. Supplementing the mothers’ diets with important vitamins and antioxidants, such as vitamin B12 and folic acid, was found to counteract the consequences of BPA to an extent.
What You Need to Know
The epigenetic mechanism clearly demonstrates how profound of an effect the environment can have on gene activity and expression. Within your everyday environment, nutrition plays a large role. Therefore, choosing a healthy diet is an investment in your future and your family’s – your genes and progeny will thank you.