DURHAM, N.C. – Medical science often proves the wisdom of the Bible, such as the benefits of fasting and forgiveness. Scripture also talks about God "visiting the iniquity of the father on the children, on the third and fourth generations." Recent scientific studies are proving that true, as well, in the field of epigenetics.
Thanks to DNA home test kits, you can learn about your genes and various health issues by just filling a tube with saliva and sending it to the lab. While those results may reveal a lot, they don't always tell the whole story. We are equipped with a mechanism called the epigenome that tells our genes what to do.
Epigenetics: Light Switch for Our Genes
Epigenetic expert Dr. Michael Roizen, Cleveland Clinic's Chief Wellness Officer and author of Age Proof, told CBN News epigenetics is like a light switch. Our behavior can silence our genes or activate them.
"And which of your genes are on or not are, to a large degree, your choices, by things you do," he said, "So is epigenetics important? Absolutely."
Our DNA is made up of genes. Our behavior, such as what we eat, smoke, even think, dispatches marker to the top of our DNA which tell our genes to turn on or off.
"So if you're stressed and not managing it, you're going to turn certain genes on that cause inflammation," Dr. Roizen explained.
Pregnant mothers can dramatically influence their baby's genes, such as those that tell the body to hang onto fat.
Dr. Roizen gave this example. "If you don't get enough food during pregnancy, your body, the baby's body, says 'Hey I'm going to come out to an environment that's sparse in food, so I'm going to turn on the genes that allow me to save food and allow me to be, if you will, very efficient.' That means that when you eat food after you're born, you're going to gain a lot more weight."
The Agouti Mouse Study
The reverse is also true. Even if a female in unhealthy before pregnancy, she can turn things around for her offspring if she adopts a healthier lifestyle while she's pregnant, as was proven in a pivotal study. The new field of epigenetics began at Duke University in 2003. Dr. Randy Jirtle proved DNA is not destiny with his landmark Agouti mouse study.
The mice carried the Agouti gene, which caused obesity, disease, and jaundice. But when Dr. Jirtle fed pregnant females lots of vitamins, her offspring ended up thin, health and brown, despite still carrying the gene.
"I feel like we made a contribution to science that will be there literally forever," Dr. Jirtle told CBN News. Dr. Jirtle compares epigenetics to programming a computer.
"The deterministic part in our system is the DNA. That's the stable part," Dr. Jirtle explained, "The free will part comes in through the software that tells that deterministic how to work. We are in effect a programmable computer. That's how we were made."
Dr. Jirtle says the behavior of both parents can alter their child's gene expression and sometimes these changes stick.
"You can see that, in effect, what God I think was telling us, is that, 'This is the way you're made, and if you mess with this system you're not going to alter the genome so much, but you're going to alter your programs," Dr. Jirtle said, "And those, since they're not totally erased necessarily, as they go from generation to generation, as they go through the egg and the sperm, can literally give rise to problems in the next generation, and the following, and the following, out to four and five generations."
As epigenetics research proceeds, scientists hope to pinpoint how specific areas of the genome are affected. They also are trying to develop drugs that can manipulate the epigenome safely. Still, one thing is certain: lifestyle choices can bring out the best or worst in our DNA, changes that can be passed on to our children, grandchildren and beyond.