As part of my contribution to FEMME Women Healing the World, please see my interview with Emmanuel Itier on the importance of the first 9 months of life. But in truth we are actually the recipient of those individuals and their experiences not just their genes, that came before us. We are all also responsible for many generations into the future. This is now called Epigenetics. Here is what I offer in FEMME.
I feel it is so important to continue to share with parents how every aspect of their planning to have babies , their pregnancy and the years following birth that we parents and grandparents who influence and raise these babies, is so important to the future healing of our planet generationally. The following is a quote which accompanies a 5 part Youtube series that shares the full BBC presentation called The Ghost in your Genes. This is so well written that I didn’t want to change a word of it. If you have seen our film FEMME you will appreciate the passion I have for the importance of motherhood as do many of our speakers in our film. You can watch the BBC documentary called The Ghost in your Genes, here.
“Biology stands on the brink of a shift in the understanding of inheritance. The discovery of epigenetics hidden influences upon the genes could affect every aspect of our lives.
At the heart of this new field is a simple but contentious idea that genes have a ‘memory’. That the lives of your grandparents the air they breathed, the food they ate, even the things they saw can directly affect you, decades later, despite your never experiencing these things yourself. And that what you do in your lifetime could in turn affect your grandchildren.
The conventional view is that DNA carries all our heritable information and that nothing an individual does in their lifetime will be biologically passed to their children. To many scientists, epigenetics amounts to a heresy, calling into question the accepted view of the DNA sequence a cornerstone on which modern biology sits.
Epigenetics adds a whole new layer to genes beyond the DNA. It proposes a control system of ‘switches’ that turn genes on or off and suggests that things people experience, like nutrition and stress, can control these switches and cause heritable effects in humans.
In a remote town in northern Sweden there is evidence for this radical idea. Lying in Överkalix’s parish registries of births and deaths and its detailed harvest records is a secret that confounds traditional scientific thinking. Marcus Pembrey, a Professor of Clinical Genetics at the Institute of Child Health in London, in collaboration with Swedish researcher Lars Olov Bygren, has found evidence in these records of an environmental effect being passed down the generations. They have shown that a famine at critical times in the lives of the grandparents can affect the life expectancy of the grandchildren. This is the first evidence that an environmental effect can be inherited in humans.
In other independent groups around the world, the first hints that there is more to inheritance than just the genes are coming to light. The mechanism by which this extraordinary discovery can be explained is starting to be revealed.
Professor Wolf Reik, at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge, has spent years studying this hidden ghost world. He has found that merely manipulating mice embryos is enough to set off ‘switches’ that turn genes on or off.
For mothers like Stephanie Mullins, who had her first child by in vitro fertilisation, this has profound implications. It means it is possible that the IVF procedure caused her son Ciaran to be born with Beckwith-Wiedemann Syndrome a rare disorder linked to abnormal gene expression. It has been shown that babies conceived by IVF have a three- to four-fold increased chance of developing this condition.
And Reik’s work has gone further, showing that these switches themselves can be inherited. This means that a ‘memory’ of an event could be passed through generations. A simple environmental effect could switch genes on or off and this change could be inherited.
His research has demonstrated that genes and the environment are not mutually exclusive but are inextricably intertwined, one affecting the other.
The idea that inheritance is not just about which genes you inherit but whether these are switched on or off is a whole new frontier in biology. It raises questions with huge implications, and means the search will be on to find what sort of environmental effects can affect these switches.
After the tragic events of September 11th 2001, Rachel Yehuda, a psychologist at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, studied the effects of stress on a group of women who were inside or near the World Trade Center and were pregnant at the time. Produced in conjunction with Jonathan Seckl, an Edinburgh doctor, her results suggest that stress effects can pass down generations. Meanwhile research at Washington State University points to toxic effects like exposure to fungicides or pesticides causing biological changes in rats that persist for at least four generations.
This work is at the forefront of a paradigm shift in scientific thinking. It will change the way the causes of disease are viewed, as well as the importance of lifestyles and family relationships. What people do no longer just affects themselves, but can determine the health of their children and grandchildren in decades to come. “We are,” as Marcus Pembrey says, “all guardians of our genome.”
Poulter, who said there needed to be a new focus on preventive care, said David Cameron was fully supportive of the aims of the cross-party manifesto. He said the government was investing in 4,000 more health visitors – a 50% increase.
The minister said: “We want to give each and every child the very best start in life and ensure we improve the quality of care available in terms of both physical and mental health available to mums and around childbirth … We want to make sure we can move away from a model of care that sometimes waited for mums and families to struggle and pick up pieces and move towards a model of care that is much more proactive and having much more of a holistic focus on recognising that the bond between mum and baby is so very important in determining a child’s future life chances.
“It is a changed approach from a reactive model of care to a proactive, supportive and preventive approach which pays the exchequer back many times over by this early investment. It is good for the taxpayer but more importantly it is much better for all families but particularly very vulnerable families.”
Burstow told the Guardian: “The evidence is really compelling. It shows that the support, particularly of the mother, but actually, in those very early formative days and weeks and months, of the family, to be able to really connect and for their baby to be really able to connect with them, makes a huge difference to the way in which the child develops, their brain develops and their life chances.”
Field said: “We are trying to get the political parties to agree a no-child-falls-behind commitment in each of the general election manifestos. We list the key moves to break that link between parental poverty and a child becoming a poor adult.”
Lucas said: “There is so much evidence now that demonstrates that early intervention not only makes a huge impact in terms of a child’s life chances but is extremely cost effective as well. At a time of economic difficulties lots of interventions can be deemed by this government to be too expensive. But this is one where if you intervene early you are saving costs well down the line. So that makes it an initiative that has real political traction.”
It’s time to become conscious of the fact that we all matter and consider the lovely quote called The Butterfly Effect, which comes from chaos theory, “It has been said that something as small as the flutter of a butterfly’s wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world.”
Be inspired to act for the changes you wish to see now by watching Femme.
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