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Genes and Epigenes
The genetic theory does not tell the whole story. Because many people born with healthy genes do eventually fall seriously ill. They also bear children and grandchildren who get weaker and weaker with each passing generation.
With the discovery of epigenes, however, doctors and scientists now have a fuller picture of how our genetic strengths and weaknesses unifold in our lives. Epi is a Greek word meaning "outside". So epigenes might be understood as outside influences that could modulate our genetic expression.
To use a modern analogy, our genes might be likened to the basic operating system of a computer that defines what the computer can and cannot do, as well as how effectively it functions. Epigenes are like additional software that enhance the capabilities of the computer.
Epigenetic programming failings in modern day lifestyle
Epigenetic programming occurs to help the body cope with changes. This might happen, for example, when you change from a nutrient-rich to a calorie-rich diet, or vice versa. For the past 1,000 generations, any epigenetic programming was minimal as there were minimal changes to the human diet and the environment.
The pace of change started to quicken with the industrial revolution that began more than 250 years ago. In the last two generations, however, both our diet and the environment have undergone) tremendous changes. The food we eat has become less nutritious and more artificial. At the same time, certain foods like sugar and vegetable oils that were eaten in small amounts previously have become major components of the modern diet.
Meanwhile, the environment has become more polluted with chemicals that can disrupt hormonal and brain functions. As a result, a lot of epigenetic programming has taken place. Yet this programming has not been enough to help us cope with modern life. This is why people are increasingly experiencing degenerative diseases.
Epigenetic programming starts at birth
Epigenetic programming starts in the womb. There, a foetus begins life with the original genetic blueprint that has remained basically unchanged for at least 2.5 million years.
The foetus today, however, likely to face a strange environment in the womb that is quite different from what it was programmed to cope with. For instance, if the mother has gestational diabetes (high blood glucose environment e during pregnancy) then the womb fluids would have excessive glucose. This abnormal raise the blood glucose level of the foetus, as well as its insulin levels. The foetus eventually grows into an obese infant with insulin resistance. This big infant would have developed an epigenetic program resistance that will lead to obesity and diabetes later in life.
Similarly, when the mother has chronic inflammatory disorder or if she consumes excess pro-inflammatory fats during pregnancy, the foetus will carry the new epigenetic imprint to develop similar inflammatory disorders later.
Just as serious, a mother carrying toxic chemicals from eating contaminated foods will unload them to her foetus. For instance, chemicals like BPA (bisphenol A, a chemical commonly used in plastics). which disrupt hormonal functions, can easily penetrate the barrier of the placenta. BPA can influence the reproductive organs and sexual orientation of the foetus. These changes can reduce fertility and increase cancer risks later in life.
When a mother is unhealthy, this will not only impact the health of her children, but her unhealthy children will, in turn, impact the health of future generations. In other words, epigenetic programs, just like genes, can be transmitted to future generations.
This content is adapted, with permission, from Book 1 of 2 : The Wonders of Nutrition by Dr Ang Poon Liat. MBBS, M.MED (PAED), MRCP (UK PAED), FAMS, MD.