Epigenetics as a study is still in its infancy. The idea is that genes are also influenced by their environment, rather than a change in the actual gene itself like a mutation.
Researchers found that, led by Josep C. Jiminéz-Chillarón from the Pediatric Hospital Sant Joan de Deu, in Spain, within a single generation, nutrients made an impact. Previously researchers found that children born to parents during the Dutch famine at the end of World War II suffered from glucose intolerance and cardiovascular disease.
In 2010, Jiminéz-Chillarón and his colleagues built upon this research. When examining mice, they found the overfed baby mice developed metabolic problems – glucose intolerance, weight gain, insulin resistance – and passed it on to their children, who displayed the same characteristics even without overeating. Their findings will be in an upcoming issue of Biochimie.
Jiminéz-Chillarón understands that their data fits with previous research, but they remain puzzled by some factors. Most of the time, epigenetic impact is erased after cells divide, or a generation. Why do these remain?
Ram Singh, from the TsimTsoum Institute in Poland, may have found the answer to that question. Singh conducted similar research that has been published in this month’s issue of the Canadian Journal of Psychology and Pharmacology. He and his team studied chromatin, the chemical mixture in which DNA sits. He found that nutrients can create epigenetic marks, as well as mutations.
But there is good news. Nutrients can also change chromatin and epigenetic marks for the better too. While the data is still inconclusive, the research finds that eating well can have positive benefits for your descendants. Singh said that eating more foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, choline, betaine, folic acid, and vitamin B-12 will improve your children's chances for good health and long lives.
Research from Duke University and the University of Houston on mice had shown that nutrition impacts the health and appearance of otherwise genetically identical animals. The 2007 study, conducted by Dana Dolinoy, Jennifer Weidman, Robert Waterland, and Randy Jirtle, gave the different sets of female mice different diets. The diets began before the mice even became pregnant. Researchers found that their offspring had extreme differences in fur color, body weight, and risk for chronic diseases.
Even though those findings were pretty conclusive, researchers were not completely sure if they would translate to humans. (Their apprehension was founded; many findings in animals have not translated entirely to humans, and vice versa.) Now, the two studies have concluded that the Duke team’s findings are completely applicable in humans – though questions still remain.
So next time you have a craving for that second bowl of ice cream, remember – it’s not just you who will feel it. Your kids, and their kids, might too.