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Protect Your Health for Your Great Grandchildren

generationsNature v. nurture is an important debate in both psychology and adoption, my two careers. I think it can be pretty big in discussing weight gain and weight loss as well. Is our body shape pre-determined by our genes or a result of the environment in which we are raised? I have generally taken the stance that we have certain genetic pre-dispositions; however, those can be altered through our behavior and environment. Apparently the relationship between genetics and environment is even more complicated than that.

In Time magazine’s list of the Top 10 Scientific Discoveries of 2009, I learned that not only can we alter our own genetics through certain behaviors and environmental exposures, but it is these altered genes that are passed down to our biological children. The example given was that those who smoke may have grandchildren who enter puberty early as a result of that behavior changing the grandparents’ genes. Apparently, this theory of epigenetics has been debated for many years, at least as far back as Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. A friend explained that the theory says that because giraffes had to stretch to reach the leaves their babies had longer necks.

Smoking, obesity, processed foods, trans-fats, and more can all effect our genes in a negative way. If you won’t make your health a priority for yourself, will you do it for your kids? Your grandchildren? Your great grandchildren? Making healthier choices now can give your progeny (and yourself) a healthier future. How you nurture yourself now can effect the nature you provide to your biological children.

January 31st, 2010

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Brooke Randolph

Thanks for sharing, Doctor J. It's never easy to summarize complicated research for a short summary in a way that most people will understand.

posted Jan 31st, 2010 11:50 pm

Doctor J

The nature vs. nurture debate is getting more interesting as modern genomics research reveals the role BOTH processes can play in gene expression (via epigenetics).

I would like to clarify one point you make. Epigenetic mechanisms change gene expression, but do NOT change the genes themselves. A change in the actual make-up of a gene is considered a mutation.

One of the key concepts in epigenetics is the idea of fetal programming of gene expression. In utero, within the first few days after conception, the entire genome is epigenetically reprogrammed. This programming (sometimes called "imprinting") changes the expression of certain genes and may "program" the infant for the development of chronic diseases as an adult. Thus, the nutritional, stress, and chemical environment of mom and the fetus, affect the gene programming process, which may have a major impact on the health of the fetus as an adult.

posted Jan 31st, 2010 7:41 pm


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