Healthy Pregnancies: Looking at Epigenetics and the Difference a Healthy Lifestyle Makes

Healthy Pregnancies: Looking at Epigenetics and a Healthy Lifestyle

Friends, fellow blogger Lee from the website, Well Fed Family, is sharing an important message with us today about how the study of epigenetics is showing that our lifestyle choices can indeed make a difference in the health of our pregnancies and the future of our children. This is great news!  As someone who has lost a baby to a birth defect, I think it’s also important to say that this information is not shared to create parental guilt, but rather to give hope that our choices matter. If you have dealt with childhood illness, or the death of a child, you may want to read my post, When a Healthy Diet Doesn’t Translate into a Healthy Baby.

I hope that this post from Lee encourages us that while we can’t control everything and every outcome, that our choices and lifestyle decisions do play a crucial role in the health of the next generations.- Kimi 

By Lee, From TheWellFedFamily

What if it were possible to press a genetic reset button? To wipe away something that has been plaguing generations of your family. To give your children and grandchildren a fresh new future. The key to finding this genetic reset button lies within the science of epigenetics, and then the application of some timeless wisdom.

This article is possibly one of the most exciting for me to write because this topic melds two fields about which I am passionate; these fields intrigue me and make me want to learn more and more and more. The first is the cutting edge field of science called epigenetics, and the second is the historically significant field of ancestral diets. “Cutting edge science combined with dusty old diet studies from 100 years ago or more? How can this possibly excite?” you ask. Well because when you link the new information with the old you have the ability to radically change families, to help parents give their children AND grandchildren the best health possible, in some cases to even save lives.

From two words – “epi” meaning above or on top of, and “genetics” or the study of our genes – epigenetics studies the many layers of chemical signals and switches able to activate, silence or crank up our genes. What many people don’t realize is that just because you have inherited the genes for something doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen. Many genes stay dormant or asleep until something in their environment flips the switch that turns them on. As British writer David Derbyshire explains, “[Epigenetics] is where nature bumps into nurture.”

Dr. Bruce Lipton, considered by many to be the founding father of epigenetics, verifies we now have research showing it is absolutely possible for lifestyle choices and our environment to profoundly affect our genes without actually changing their basic blueprint. Meaning we can control and modify our genes by what we do, eat, breathe, where we live and even what we think. Amazingly these “above genetic” influences can actually be passed from generation to generation.

Although the field of epigenetics is still relatively new there are already real life applications to be made. One thing we know for certain is that there are definite periods during growth and development that are particularly sensitive to these outside influences on our genes. Furthermore the things that happen during these sensitive times are powerful enough to continue influencing our cells throughout their lifespan and beyond as they multiply, grow and make more cells. Nowhere is this more true than with the creation of a new life.

The first sensitive period is during the development of germ cells. If you recall your high school biology, germ cells are types of cells involved in reproduction, the two most well-known being the sperm and the egg. The second extremely sensitive period is during the first five to seven weeks following conception when everything about this tiny life is brand new and full of promise and potential.

Conception and following

Let’s examine the second period first. From the moment of conception the two parent cells fuse and combine into a tiny ball of life and energy growing at amazing speed. It is during this time that old epigenetic information, including baggage epigenetic information inherited from mom and dad, can be removed. Here is that window of opportunity – that reset button! But at the same time this microscopic person is extremely vulnerable to environmental damage. Looking at it optimistically, however, this means this little person is extremely open to positive and protective influences as well.

Parents who take time prior to conception to become as healthy as possible, optimizing their gut flora, cleaning up their diet and eliminating unhealthy habits are setting the stage for positive epigenetic support. Lifestyle changes which reduce or eliminate exposure to both dietary and environmental toxins as well as stress are also particularly powerful.

Germ cells

Depending on whether the baby is a boy or a girl determines when the germ cells, the reproductive cells, begin to develop.

With boys the sperm lie in wait until puberty when they are then able to mature, and from puberty onward new sperm cells continue to be made giving males the gift of being able to make constructive lifestyle choices (including diet) that positively affect each new generation of cells.

With girls, however, these germ cells begin forming even while the baby girl is still within her own mother’s womb. This places mothers of baby girls in the unique situation of having three generations – herself, her daughter and her grandchildren – under the influence of her personal environment and lifestyle choices. How many of us realize this when we are pregnant?

So now that we know all of this, what does this mean? What can we do?

Every choice we make is important – from the time we reach an age of fertility through to the conception, birth and the entire upbringing of our children. Our choices determine not only our children’s health but that of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We hold impressive power for health or disease. If you, or someone in your care, is of childbearing age then begin right now to nourish their bodies and nurture a healthy lifestyle.

Someone once said that the seeds of adult disease are sown in the womb and the first two years of life. I would amend that epigenetics shows us the seeds of disease are sown in the lifestyle choices of our parents as well. You see, a baby is not nourished simply from whatever momma eats once she learns she is pregnant. There are many crucial nutrients needed by baby that come from reserves momma has built up in her body in the years before conception. And not only mothers, but epigenetic studies prove that the lifestyle choices (such as smoking) by the fathers, even before they reached adolescence, can affect their children’s life chances.

This is where respecting the wisdom of traditional cultures, and learning from their lessons becomes a valuable part of this puzzle. Studies of healthy traditional cultures done by Dr. Weston Price  show that these cultures knew to give special care to those of childbearing age to insure continued generations of healthy children. Just as the seeds of adult disease are sown in the womb, so are the seeds for lifelong good health. Giving purposeful, thoughtful preparation for parenthood should be more important than the kind of detailed planning frequently given to the wedding day. The wedding may be expensive, but it only lasts a day. Children are yours for a lifetime.

(I am not a doctor or health care provider, and the above and below are offered for educational purposes only.)

What we can do:

Sources:
Coursera – epigenetic control of gene expression by Dr. Marnie Blewitt, University of Melbourne https://www.coursera.org/course/epigenetics
(Lipton, Bruce, PhD. The Biology of Belief. p 67-68. CA:Mountain of Love/Elite Books, 2005.)
http://www.germlineexposures.org/germline-development.html

Lee headshot2Lee holds a Masters in Music Education from Florida State and was a band director in her past life. Married to her college sweetheart for over 27 years, she has been homeschooling their two children for the last 9 years. A lifelong foodie, her real food journey got a kickstart when her sister took her to hear Sally Fallon speak on Nourishing Traditional Foods in 2007. Together with her sister, she produced a DVD on making nourishing traditional breads using the soaked flour method. Today Lee is co-leader of her local WAPF chapter, and teaches about real food and alternative health topics to her local community. She is busy pulling out the shrubs from her home in the suburbs of Orlando and replacing them with edible landscaping. She also blogs at Well Fed Family, shares videos on the Well Fed Family YouTube channel, and interacts on all the usual social media networks: Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

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I love beautiful and simple food that is nourishing to the body and the soul. I wrote Fresh: Nourishing Salads for All Seasons and Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons as another outlet of sharing this love of mine. I also love sharing practical tips on how to make a real food diet work on a real life budget. Find me online elsewhere by clicking on the icons below!

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  1. says

    To wipe away something that has been plaguing generations of your family. To give your children and grandchildren a fresh new future. The key to finding this genetic reset button lies within the science of epigenetics, and then the application of some timeless wisdom.

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