Have you noticed your eye or hair color, the feature of your hands or feet, your eye blows, lips or your nose resemble one of your grandparents? My look mostly came from my dad, but my nose is more like my grandmother on my mom’s side. So, your physical appearance and traits may come from your parents and/or ancestors, your health condition my also be coming from them. I am not talking about genes, it is about epigenetics, and how epigenetics passes on from generation to generation. Thus, not only is your great-grandmother’s environment affecting your health, but the chemicals she was exposed to may have left a fingerprint that scientists can actually trace.
I have explained epigenetics several times, but if you want to learn again, this video might help you.
Peoples exposure to toxic chemicals has been increasing since convenience and mass production took over our society. We are exposed to hundreds of harmful chemicals every day. There are flame retardants in our beds, sofas and home insulation; there are pesticides in our food; there could be PFAS in our drinking water; and there are phthalates everywhere. The scary fact is that less than 1 % of the more than 40,000 chemicals used in consumer products in the US have been rigorously tested for human safety according to EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).
A biochemist, Michael Skinner Ph.D. from Washington State University, accidentally discovered that environmental toxins can alter the epigenome in pregnant rats and those alteration are subsequently passed down for four generations without mutating DNA. Originally, Skinner’s team was working on a different experiment by exposing the rats to the pesticide methoxychlor, an endocrine disruptor, during the time the fetal tissues were developing into ovaries and testes, to see if it would affect sex determination in the pups. This experiment failed because there was no obvious impact on sex determination. Instead, the team found that 90 percent of the first-generation (F1) male offspring had abnormal testes and most of their sperm were dying. Then, one of Skinner’s postdoctoral fellows accidentally bred the F1 rats with normal lab rats. This accident lead to a new discovery that 90 percent of the second generation (F2) males had the same testicular abnormality. After running the experiment another 15 times, Skinner and the team learned that generation after generation showed the same abnormally at the same rate.
In one study, the researchers tested the transgenerational impacts of mixtures of chemicals that people are commonly exposed to in everyday life, including bug repellents, plastics additives and jet fuel. After exposing pregnant rats, they bred three subsequent generations of animals with no exposure to the contaminants. Despite no direct exposure to the chemicals, the third-generation rats had damaged reproductive systems. Females had an earlier onset of puberty and fewer undeveloped eggs in their ovaries. Male rats had higher levels of dead sperm.
So, what you do today could affect the health and behavior of your grandchildren, just as what your grandparents did affects your health today. Also you know, unlike heritable diseases that are caused by the irreversible mutations in DNA, epigenetic traits can be reversed. You have a hope now that your health situation which seems to be inherited from previous generations can be reversed and stopped at your generation. I believe it is really crucial to re-evaluate our exposure to all the toxic chemicals we encounter daily and eliminate them from our lives as much as possible. This way we can pass on a positive epigenome to our future generations.