Secret garden No1: the ghost in your genes*

The ultimate secret garden is the future. We will never know what will happen to our grand-grand-children. Will they live till one hundred and fifty, will they have conquered today's incurable diseases, and will they be healthier and happier than us?

 

In any case, there is not much we can do about their individual well-being ... At least this is what we generally tend to believe.

Nothing could be more wrong.


Increasingly compelling evidence indicates that our environment and behavior during our lives will directly influence the health status of our unborn children, that of their unborn children and so on. Our descendants’ health is correlated to what we eat, breath, drink and myriads of other events that make our lives unique.

 

Psychogenealogists take this for granted. The problem however is that psychogenealogy is not a science, but a psychotherapeutic method at best, and is thus not amenable to rigorous analysis. But things are changing. It appears that transgenerational non-genetic inheritance is not solely about the psyche, it is about something that can only be described as a very rational science... chemistry.

 

Epigenetics. Please remember this word because it may well revolutionize medicine. Simple chemical changes (methylations) that can occur at every C of our DNA (billions of positions) and on the protein scaffolds that hold DNA (another billion of positions) are known to affect transcription and can thus lead to imbalances in gene expression, a prelude to disease. What is absolutely remarkable is that such changes are influenced by the environment at key stages in our lives: for women it is in late fetal development (when oocytes, the precursors of ovules are created) and for men, in early puberty (when spermatocytes, the precursors of sperm are generated). No wonder it is all inheritable!

 

There are two key messages in this first secret garden:

1. Your health status is in part predetermined by the lifestyle of your parents and immediate ancestors when their bodies generated reproductive cells.  Because the same holds true for your descendants, if you want them to be healthy, you should take good care of yourself while in the reproductive age.

2. If we, as a global society, need to rethink healthcare - all of it - perhaps the realization that individual behavior today can change what happens inside the bodies of our descendants should be the starting point of a new way to look at medicine.


*There is a fascinating BBC show called  precisely “The Ghost in your genes”. You can find it on Youtube