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Epigenetics & How To Create Generational Health
Giving Generations of Good Health
Many people have this idea that our genetics are some esoteric aspect that determines who we are and how our bodies develop that we have no control over.
In recent years, we’ve fortunately figured out that is simply not the case. The decisions and health choices you make today not only directly impact your own genetic code, but that of your future offspring, AND EVEN future generations.
Yes, the decisions you make TODAY affect how genetically healthy your lineage will be generations from now—this is a huge responsibility you should not and cannot neglect, just look around at the modern world.
It comes down to a concept called “epigenetics”.
What Is Epigenetics?
The clinical definition of epigenetics is:
“Epigenetics is the study of how your behaviors and environment can cause changes that affect the way your genes work. Unlike genetic changes, epigenetic changes are reversible and do not change your DNA sequence, but they can change how your body reads a DNA sequence.”
You literally are a product of your environment, lifestyle, and health choices down to the genetic level. This affects both you and any offspring you plan to have and their subsequent development.
Ever notice how healthy people with healthy lifestyles end up with healthy kids, typically more advanced than their peers academically and in many cases athletically? How many obese and/or people with poor lifestyles end up with children that end up, well, just like them?
It’s because this is where “nurture” and “nature” both meet, sure we can find many outliers here, but by playing the statistical game, you are setting yourself, and more importantly future generations ahead by making the smart decisions now—there is nothing more a parent wants than this, correct? (If “no”, I’d advise against procreating and polluting the gene pool).
This effect is so profound that scientists have even found epigenetic memory passed down 14 generations1 in some species... chew on that for a second… the choices you make now could affect your family a thousand years from now. This is a HUGE responsibility and one that too many take extremely lightly.
So what exactly can we do to try to attempt actual genetically superior babies?
Picking the Right Partner
This is gonna upset a lot of people. Who you reproduce with will undeniably predict what your child will be like.
“You can’t be so picky!” But seriously, why not?
People in our generation have the lowest set of standards when choosing who they’re going to mate with as if it isn’t that important…
You are creating another human being with the person you choose to settle down with. Their health issues become your child’s health issues. Their susceptibility to certain diseases, medications, allergies, etc. becomes a part of your children as well.
These characteristics matter.
When you’re planning for your future, you need to be selective. Not just with looks, but with behaviors as well. If you choose someone that “looks good” now but doesn’t have any ambition to take care of themselves in the future, you aren’t doing your next generation any favors. Whatever lifestyle habits they have will directly affect your child(ren).
A great example is having a kid with someone who is naturally athletic-looking but doesn’t exercise or eat a balanced diet (which I will discuss more in-depth coming up).
In this example, I’m referring to the person that wakes up first thing in the morning to crack open a pack of candy, smash it, wash it down with iced coffee, and follow it with a drag of nicotine. You don’t understand how their skin is still somewhat youthful and their physique is unaffected, but ultimately it’s just their genes.
These genes don’t get passed down because they are slowly being broken down, and they will feel it over time.
Externally this person looks healthy, but internally things are not going so well. These are the people you read about dying at age 40 from fatty liver disease or something like a heart attack.
“What’s on the inside matters most” is pretty accurate. Sure, we all want an attractive counterpart, but we also want someone with spectacular genetic health.
Preparing Sooner Rather than Later
Most newsletters like Healthline or Mayo Clinic will say you only need 3 months to a year to prepare for starting a family. Realistically your body (your wife’s body) needs about 2-3 years of preparation for any meaningful effects to occur.
This is because the mother needs to give herself ample time for her body to build itself up with all the necessary nutrients for childbearing—and fully replenish itself for every child after the first, otherwise child number two and so forth may not be as healthy as their eldest sibling.
Think about it this way: pregnancy lasts anywhere from 9-10 months. It takes the human body nearly a year to produce a baby ready for life outside of the womb.
That’s a year of nutrients being diminished, and the body going through a traumatic transformation, so it only makes sense to give that amount of time plus some for her body to recover and prepare for future children.
Some things that you should do in preparation for conception:
→ Frequent blood tests and getting hormone levels checked in the early stages are major keys to conception (healthy conception at that).
→ Getting Diet in check—balanced macronutrients, whole foods, and eating sufficient amounts.
→ Exercise regularly! This entails cardio (endurance) and lifting weights.
→ Ditch any recreational drugs (alcohol, smoking, etc.)
Getting Your Diet On Point
Surely you’ve heard “you are what you eat”. I have stressed this in the past, but diet plays a major role in your overall health—your diet changes how your genes work in general.
So how exactly does what food you consume matter when it comes to your kid? Genetic momentum.
What you consume can and will change your DNA. Certain foods can break down your genes just like certain foods can rebuild and repair your genes.
Take Person A vs Person B.
Person A has three specific meals every day: Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner.
This “diet” is mostly empty carbs, high fats, and little or no protein.
→ Breakfast is a Donut with an Iced Coffee drizzled with chocolate.
→ Lunch is their choice of local fast food joint (usually a fried chicken sandwich with fries and a large soda).
→ Dinner is a greasy burger with fried onion rings and a pitcher of beer at the local bar.
Person B has a much different approach to “diet” though we’ll stick to the Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner theme.
Person B eats protein-dominant meals with sufficient carbs and fats.
→ Their meals usually look like eggs and steak for breakfast (with milk).
→ Chicken, rice, and broccoli for Lunch.
→ Salmon, asparagus, and potatoes for Dinner.
Person A is more susceptible to fatty liver disease, accelerated aging, and immune disorders. Whereas, Person B has little to no risk of disease, and aging is delayed.
Increased risk of Diabetes, metabolic disorders, cardiovascular diseases, and other types of chronic issues are a result of diets consisting of mostly saturated fats, empty carbs, and little or no protein. This kind of diet neglects the body of essential nutrients and vitamins necessary for DNA metabolism and methylation.
Our cells are extremely sensitive to the specific nature of the chemical messages we send them every time we eat. By altering the blends of nutrients (or toxins) in our food, we can actually control whether our cells function normally, or convert to fat, or turn cancerous.
The nutrients and chemicals we consume in effect tell our cells what to do—when to divide, which protein to manufacture, and even what type of cell to become.2
Imagine having all of this power to sculpt yourself into a superhuman and not taking advantage of it.
So when we add in no exercise with a poor diet and you have a recipe for disaster transferring to your child. Don’t choose this way.
*In this post here, Heifer goes over what specific Nutrition/Supplementation You'll Need For Each Stage of Pregnancy (Preconception to Postpartum). In this post here, she focuses on the Preconception lifestyle—nutrition and exercise.*
Exercise and diet go hand in hand. Without one, the other is almost pointless in the role of epigenetics.
Our cells react to the signals we send them through diet and activity in combination. Eating in a way that doesn’t cause inflammation in the body enables exercise to tell your body what to do with the food it gets.
Resistance Training is not only beneficial to your health, but it’s also extremely important for your offspring. Don’t take my word for it—my son is living proof that lifting weights and regular cardio will enhance your child’s physique (yes, it’s noticeable even as a newborn).
It’s not a mystery that many suffer from metabolic diseases like obesity, insulin resistance, inflammation, cardiovascular diseases, etc. and this is mostly due to poor diet AND inactivity. Different forms of exercise fix this:
Resistance and Endurance training, specifically, are associated with many aspects of epigenetics including energy metabolism → in how our body uses the calories we consume, insulin sensitivity → our body using insulin more effectively, and the increase in the activity of mitochondria, among other things.
Building muscle (in other words, resistance training) increases blood flow to shuttle more nutrients and oxygen which produces more mitochondria → this generates more energy. Changing our sedentary genes to active genes. This boosts our metabolisms.
See this review here:
Resistance exercise in humans induced epigenetic changes in pathways associated with energy metabolism and insulin sensitivity, contributing to healthy skeletal muscle.
Endurance exercise also caused modifications in biomarkers associated to metabolic alterations through changes in DNA methylation and the expression of specific miRNAs.
However, both resistance and endurance exercise are necessary to obtain a better physiological adaptation and a combination of both seems to be needed to properly tackle the increasing prevalence of non-communicable pathologies3.
Positive Emotional Environment
Toxic environments and people are quite literally toxic to our health. If we are consistently stressed and experiencing trauma, that stress and trauma can be passed down for generations leading to a number of physical and mental health issues.
Your goal should be to limit yourself and then your children from the traumas of the world, shielding might not be the answer, but exposing yourself/them to these unnecessarily is a recipe for issues that can often never truly be healed.
Your behaviors become important here.
Are you mean after hitting the bottle?
Raise your voice and lash out during arguments?
Constantly arguing with your spouse/family/those around you?
Whatever it may be, the issues you have that you haven’t dealt with or the issues of those around you will creep their way into your epigenetic status and offspring.
Life isn’t rainbows and unicorns, but you can control your reactions and remove yourself and your family from environments where this is commonplace—also leading us to point 1 about choosing the right mate.
Raise Your Children Well
As noted, these effects are malleable throughout our lives and especially important during the developmental periods of your children. It’s pertinent during their development that their diet, exercise, environment, and lifestyle needs are also being reinforced in a positive way by their parents.
This doesn’t end when your children are born either, think about where they will get their nutrients during the first period of their life. Ideally, it is from milk from the mother. Her diet during breastfeeding is crucial for supplying your baby with the right nutrients and avoiding the wrong nutrients to ensure optimal development with no issues to their development.
By taking the proper steps to ensure you are passing down the best genetics you can, it’s your job to instill the habits to take advantage of these advantages and continue the line of good epigenetics for generations—generational health.
So, as you can see, behaviors and environment can cause changes that affect the way your genes work on a multitude of levels.
You truly determine what your future looks like, what your kids’ future looks like, what their kids’ future looks like, and so on.
Making better choices can enhance us individually and generationally!
This is not Legal, Medical, or Financial advice. Please consult a medical professional before starting any workout program, diet plan, or supplement protocol. These are opinions from a Cartoon Ox.
Jaenisch, R, Epigenetic regulation of gene expression: how the genome integrates intrinsic and environmental signals, Nature Genetics, 33, 245-254 (2003).