Updated: Mar 14, 2020
Epigenetics literally means “on top of the genes.” Almost every cell in our body contains DNA and all of the genes that make up who we are, which is our genome. That genome is controlled by the layer of epigenome upon it. This could be compared to an orchestra: our genome is the music, and our epigenome is the conductor. Within Part 1, I laid a foundation for this concept regarding our wellness, and then explained how degeneration has occurred in the last one hundred years as a result. Within this article, I will share with you examples that have demonstrated this truth.
Interestingly, throughout our lifetime our genes never change. However, our epigenome is constantly changing. The epigenome determines what genes are turned on or off (expressed or not expressed). Sometimes these changes happen when our body goes through major physical changes such as puberty or when a woman is pregnant. Other times, our environment plays a major deciding factor. Rather than each generation starting with a fresh epigenome, those changes can get stuck and passed on to our children.
One example of this is referred to as the Dutch Hunger Winter Syndrome. The Netherlands experienced a devastating famine during WWII, particularly during the winter of 1944-45. Babies who were prenatally exposed to this famine had an increased risk of metabolic disease later in life and had different DNA expression when compared to their same-sex siblings who were not exposed to the famine. These changes continued in the lineage of these individuals for six decades. 
Likewise, descendants of holocaust survivors seem to have a gene expression more vulnerable to stress. The survivors themselves had lower levels of cortisol, a hormone that helps the body return to normal after trauma. This was particularly the case when the survivor experienced post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Consequently, their offspring inherited this adaptation to their epigenome and are more likely to be vulnerable to trauma and symptoms of PTSD. 
This scientific data can be very alarming as we purpose to move forward in our health. Many of us undergo stress--from both chosen lifestyles and circumstances beyond our control. Either way, this could leave an imprint on the health of future generations. That is the potential devastating truth of epigenetics. However, there is another side to this that is incredibly hopeful. We can positively determine much of our environment!
Next week, we will discuss how to navigate our health with the considerations of both genetics and our environment. We will learn to leverage epigenetics to our advantage in a practical and simple fashion.
If you have questions or comments for Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, Maria Adam, contact her at thrivinghealthNY.com.