More and more evidence points to pivotal events very early in life — during the toddler years, infancy and even before birth, in the womb — that can set young children on an obesity trajectory that is hard to alter by the time they’re in kindergarten. The evidence is not ironclad, but it suggests that prevention efforts should start very early.
It goes on to (very smartly) state that genes are not all to blame, but environment may the largest player:
Scientists like Dr. Birch worry about what are called epigenetic changes. The genes inherited from mother and father may be turned on and off and the strength of their effects changed by environmental conditions in early development. Many doctors are concerned about women being obese and unhealthy before pregnancy because, as they point out, the womb is the baby’s first environment.
One of the most convincing studies on the link between gestational diabetes in the mother and diabetes in her children was done almost 10 years ago among Pima Indians. Siblings born after the mother developed Type 2 diabetes had a higher body mass index throughout childhood and were almost four times as likely to develop diabetes as siblings born before the diagnosis.
“The intrauterine environment of a woman with diabetes overnourishes the fetus,” said the study’s author, Dana Dabelea, an epidemiologist at the Colorado School of Public Health. And that, she added, may “reset the offspring’s satiety set point, and make them predisposed to eat more.”
This is a notion that is just starting to hit mainstream America and I would bet most people reading this still don’t understand how this works to what degree. Epigenetics has been around for decades (since C. H. Waddington coined the term in 1942) but still hasn’t made it into many textbooks, classes, and conversations about biology, genetics, human development, aging, disease, cancer and mental illnesses. Most people believe genetics plays a bigger role in their health than environment, but I believe in the next 30 years that will be completely reversed.
We have all seen epigenetics in action in the example of a larvae turning into a butterfly. The same genes are present, they are just being expressed differently.
If we want to figure out when we develop our traits, behaviors, and tendencies, I think we have to start at the beginning – moment of conception. From that moment on, we are responding to our environment and in response to our environment we are programming our cells and their responses. Bruce Lipton helps explain this process in an interview he did with Planeta Magazine :
During the first few weeks of embryonic development the genes are primarily controlling the unfolding of the body plan of a human (e.g., creating two arms, two legs, ten fingers and ten toes, etc.). Once the embryo takes on the shape of a human, it is called a fetus. In the fetal stage of development, the genes take a back seat to control by environmental information. During this period the fetal body’s structure and function are adjusted in response to the mother’s perception of the environment. Maternal hormones, growth factors and emotional chemistry controlling the mother’s biological response to the environment pass through the placenta and influence the genetics and behavioral programming of the fetus. I refer to this period where the mother’s perception and interpretation of the world are relayed to the fetus via the chemistry of the mother’s blood as “Nature’s Head-Start Program.” This maternally-relayed “information” about environmental conditions allows the developing fetus to adjust its biology so that when it is born, it’s structure and physiology will be more in tune with the world in which the child will live. The “reading” of the environment’s signals (in the womb and after birth) enables the body’s cells and their genes to make appropriate biological adjustments to support and sustain life. Since the environmental signals are read and interpreted by the mind’s “perceptions,” the mind becomes the primary force that ultimately shapes an individual’s life and health.
Now that we understand when many things start – which will hopefully bring about more conscious parenting – we must also realize that this process of epigenetics (our environment and our thoughts effecting our genes) never stops. We are a stimulus response organism and are constantly responding to what we eat, drink, think, feel, and do. And through this process it is being proven that we not only turn on and off genes but can reprogram our DNA. This means: no more blaming your mom and dad for bad genes…time take action if you want to change your life (your body included)!