A new study published in the journal Nature Communications suggests that offspring inherit the negative epi-genetic changes of their parents’ and grandparents’ dietary habits. The choices a parent makes ultimately create molecular signatures that modify their own DNA and the DNA of their offspring for generations to come. Scientists from Sanford Burnham Presbys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) discovered an epi-genetic marker in fruit flies that influences two genes that causes obesity and heart disease. One of the best places to study epi-genetic changes is in fruit flies because eighty percent of the genes that communicate disease in humans are also present in fruit flies.
The scientists found out that the epi-genetic marker originates from a parent’s high-fat diet and it can negatively impact the genes of the children and grandchildren. In the study, the fruit flies were fed a high-fat diet for one third of their lifespan. They not only became overweight but they also developed traits that mimic human lipotoxic heart disease. There was also a marked accumulation of fat in their heart cells, which led to irregular heartbeat, arrhythmia and early heart failure. In this generation of flies, the scientists identified an epigenetic marker called trimethylated lysine 27 in histone 3 (H3K27me3). This epigenetic marker was passed down to the next two generations of fruit flies and caused the same health problems that the parents had, even when the offspring were fed a normal diet.
The scientists also found that the epi-genetic marker could be successfully reversed through the over-expression of two genes that protect future generations from the heart problems passed on from the parent’s diet. The study offers hope for individuals who are predisposed to a life of obesity and early heart failure. Rolf Bodmer, Ph.D., senior author of the paper and director and professor in the Development, Aging, and Regeneration Program at SBP, said, "Our findings reveal an inheritance mechanism behind heart failure fueled by a high-fat diet. We also uncovered an epi-genetic factor and genetic targets that could be explored to protect individuals from the effects of their parents' or grandparents' poor diet."
The high-fat diet also “turned down” two genes that govern metabolism. The high-fat diet caused the genes, bmm and PGC-1, to go mute across three generations of fruit flies. When the scientists revitalized the flies’ metabolism, the genes began to express themselves again, offering protection from heart problems and arrhythmia. By activating these genes, the second generation flies reversed the damage that their parents had caused, while also conveying heart-protective benefits to the third generation. The study proves that genetic expression is malleable from one generation to the next. By targeting the right genes with the right instructions, individuals can enjoy their lives free of chronic illness.
The biggest culprit of a high-fat diet is partially hydrogenated oil, a trans-fatty acid that lowers good cholesterol levels and heightens bad cholesterol levels in the blood. Partially hydrogenated oil is found primarily in baked goods such as cookies, pie crusts, canned frosting, and shortening. It’s also prevalent in potato, corn, and tortilla chips, the kind that are often consumed en masse at Mexican restaurants. Canned biscuits, cinnamon rolls, pizza crusts, non-dairy coffee creamer and fried foods are some of the worst offenders.
When a generation grows up on nutrient-void foods, their cells do not receive the instructions they need to run efficiently and communicate with genes in a positive way. Refined flour and sugars, stripped of their nutrients, do not provide the cells with anything of significance to help the body heal.
Phyto-nutrients and healthy fats, on the other hand, help the cells build a strong cell membrane and make waste removal within the cell more efficient, encouraging healthy cellular processes and increased energy in the body. Phyto-nutrients are like medicine to the body’s genetics, altering genetic expression in a way that encourages human survival. For instance, the phyto-nutrient curcumin, from turmeric root, effectively activates the genes that allow for increased glucose uptake. A 2009 study found that curcumin suppresses gluconeogenic gene expression in hepatoma cells, allowing for glucose production in the liver. Curcumin shows promise as a genetic medicine to help patients with Type 2 diabetes. When the phyto-nutrient is isolated into tetrahydrocurcuminoids, it is up to 100,000 times more effective than common diabetes drug Metformin in allowing for healthy glucose regulation. Curcumin is just the tip of the iceberg, for adapting genetic expression to help the body heal.