Have you ever thought that dumb decisions like smoking and overeating not only can truncate our own life but also predispose our kids – before they are even conceived – to disease and early death? I've come across an interesting article which made me think about how the choices we make when we're even as young as 10 years old can affect our future generations. The article "Why Your DNA Isn't Your Destiny?" was published in Times magazine in January 2010. You can read the whole article by clicking article.
In summary, the author introduces new fascinating direction in genetic science called epigenetics. “At its most basic, epigenetics is the study of changes in gene activity that do not involve alterations to the genetic code but still get passed down to at least one successive generation. These patterns of gene expression are governed by the cellular material — the epigenome — that sits on top of the genome, just outside it (hence the prefix epi-, which means above). It is these epigenetic "marks" that tell your genes to switch on or off, to speak loudly or whisper. It is through epigenetic marks that environmental factors like diet, stress and prenatal nutrition can make an imprint on genes that is passed from one generation to the next.”
One of the studies analyzed historical and agricultural records of a remote population in Norrbotten, Sweden in 19th century. There were years with poor harvest when people suffered from starvation and over-abundant years when people gorged themselves for months. So children and grandchildren of “kids who went from normal eating to gluttony in a single season” had shorter life span by as much as 32 years.
Another study showed that fathers who started smoking before age 11 – just before puberty- had sons with “significantly higher body mass indexes than other boys by age 9. That means the sons of men who smoke in prepuberty will be at higher risk for obesity and other health problems well into adulthood.” This study also “have offered several important insights: baby lotions containing peanut oil may be partly responsible for the rise in peanut allergies; high maternal anxiety during pregnancy is associated with the child's later development of asthma; little kids who are kept too clean are at higher risk for eczema”.
If by now you began to feel doomed because your parents and grandparents were smokers and/or were on "see-food" diet, here’s more encouraging study. “In February 2009, the Journal of Neuroscience published a paper showing that even memory — a wildly complex biological and psychological process — can be improved from one generation to the next via epigenetics. The paper described an experiment with mice led by Larry Feig, a Tufts University biochemist. Feig's team exposed mice with genetic memory problems to an environment rich with toys, exercise and extra attention. These mice showed significant improvement in long-term potentiation (LTP), a form of neural transmission that is key to memory formation. Surprisingly, their offspring also showed LTP improvement, even when the offspring got no extra attention.”
We can't blame our parents or change our past but the good news is there is a Crossfit for that (meaning our present). No matter how late we start we can affect the health of our future generation whether by setting an example of a healthy lifestyle, or by developing a healthier epigenome prior to having kids. Wishing everyone to reach their peak genetic expression in the upcoming year!