'Eat your veggies', our grandmothers used to say. As it turns out, their words were even more important than we thought. They cared about our health. What they maybe didn't know, is that they cared for the health of the next generation as well.
Nutriepigenomics is a new field of research which looks at the effects different types of food and various nutrients have on the human body via epigenetic modifications.
We already knew that prenatal diets high in folate, vitamin B-12, and other nutrients containing methyl groups (which have the ability to alter gene expression) help the baby in utero thrive optimally and that not enough of these nutrients can lead to an increased risk of asthma and brain and spinal cord defects in children.
But the newest research shows that Mom’s healthy diet epigenetically affects her children’s development through the expression of genes, reducing their risk of many health problems later in life such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Mom’s healthy diet appears to play a part in IGF-1 gene expression and because this gene modulates growth and insulin sensitivity, a healthy diet will promote healthy growth and normal carbohydrate metabolism in her children.
Before you start to blame your grandmother and your mother for your health problems, let me tell you this. Your genes are not your destiny. That is where epigenetics comes in. Simply put, certain circumstances in life can cause genes to be silenced or expressed over time. In other words, they can be turned off (becoming dormant) or turned on (becoming active). Take broccoli for example. It has been shown that cruciferous vegetables like broccoli or cauliflower help to counteract the epigenetic effects that can lead to cancer. Isn't it fascinating that with every bite you can affect not only your own genes but the genes of your yet unborn grandchildren? It also means that we could prevent or better target age and lifestyle related diseases by individualized epigenetic diets and this field is currently very attractive for many scientists.
Even if we still have a lot to learn in the field of epigenetics, one thing is clear - epigenetic changes are reversible. Don't blame yourself for that one decadently unhealthy food you ate when you were pregnant. You can change your and your child's health right here and now. Numerous holistic paediatricians will confirm you that they cured children with seemingly untreatable diseases just by changing their diets. Don't despair, hope is there.