I love epigenetics! Get me on this topic and add in the microbiome and essential oils, and it’s a hat trick for me…doesn’t’ get any better. For those of you who are new to my geekology references, this is my definition, “In simple terms, epigenetics refers to how different chemical and physical modifications can impact DNA function. That’s right, our environment and lifestyle choices actually modulate how our genes express themselves!”
This is empowering because it means we aren’t victims to our genes. Various environmental influences impact our health and determine how our “book of life is read,” as the renowned expert in epigenetics and functional medicine, Jeffrey Bland, PhD, would say.
So, this month, I was excited to see new studies on how social relationships, food, and prenatal environment all can impact health outcomes, for better or worse. So, I had a do a bonus blog this week, along with my Top Reads of January, to highlight these honorable mentions!
Social Relationships and Health- As Important as Diet and Exercises
This first article explained that not only do diet and exercise have a huge impact on health, but so do our social relationships. It states:
Two decades of research indicate causal associations between social relationships and mortality, but important questions remain as to how social relationships affect health, when effects emerge, and how long they last. Drawing on data from four nationally representative longitudinal samples of the US population, we implemented an innovative life course design to assess the prospective association of both structural and functional dimensions of social relationships (social integration, social support, and social strain) with objectively measured biomarkers of physical health (C-reactive protein, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, waist circumference, and body mass index) within each life stage, including adolescence and young, middle, and late adulthood, and compare such associations across life stages. We found that a higher degree of social integration was associated with lower risk of physiological dysregulation in a dose–response manner in both early and later life. Conversely, lack of social connections was associated with vastly elevated risk in specific life stages. For example, social isolation increased the risk of inflammation by the same magnitude as physical inactivity in adolescence, and the effect of social isolation on hypertension exceeded that of clinical risk factors such as diabetes in old age. Analyses of multiple dimensions of social relationships within multiple samples across the life course produced consistent and robust associations with health. Physiological impacts of structural and functional dimensions of social relationships emerge uniquely in adolescence and midlife and persist into old age. (bold emphasis mine)
Here’s a little part to the hat trick, right? It’s been well documented that the emotional impacts of social interaction can modulate stress and inflammation, impacting our wellness. However, could the health effects also be linked to bug transmission and sharing “microbiome richness?” This chimp study seems to suggest it:
Animal sociality facilitates the transmission of pathogenic microorganisms among hosts, but the extent to which sociality enables animals’ beneficial microbial associations is poorly understood. The question is critical because microbial communities, particularly those in the gut, are key regulators of host health. We show evidence that chimpanzee social interactions propagate microbial diversity in the gut microbiome both within and between host generations. Frequent social interaction promotes species richness within individual microbiomes as well as homogeneity among the gut community memberships of different chimpanzees. Sampling successive generations across multiple chimpanzee families suggests that infants inherited gut microorganisms primarily through social transmission. These results indicate that social behavior generates a pan-microbiome, preserving microbial diversity across evolutionary time scales and contributing to the evolution of host species–specific gut microbial communities.
Just think, this Valentine’s Day you can thank your honey for sharing his/her microbial contents with you! (Remember our microbial cloud-Pig-Pen analogy?)
The Buzz on Social Behavior, is it Epigenetic?
This next study takes a couple propeller hats and some coke-bottle glasses, so let me help out. In simple terms, researchers were able to manipulate epigenetic signaling chemicals in ants to modify their behavior.
What’s neat about this is that foods and nutrients can modify this “histone acetylation” as well. So, what we eat and what our genes are exposed to have an effect on behavior, it’s not all about temperament and DNA coding. (See Food as Epigenome Switches.)
In the new findings, an interdisciplinary research team led by senior author Shelley Berger, PhD, from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, in collaboration with teams led by Juergen Liebig from Arizona State University and Danny Reinberg from New York University, found that caste-specific foraging behavior can be directly altered, by changing the balance of epigenetic chemicals called acetyl groups attached to histone protein complexes, around which DNA strands are wrapped in a cell nucleus. To reveal this exquisite control, the team demonstrated that foraging behavior could be reprogrammed using compounds that inhibit the addition or removal of these acetyl groups on histones (histone acetylation), in turn changing the expression of nearby genes.
Mom’s in Charge Prenatally
It’s all coming together, food, social interactions, behavior, health…now what about prenatal influence? I recently wrote an article for the Natural Path on the impact of mom on baby’s health via the microbiome. Below is more support for mom’s influence on our buggy friends and more.
One rodent study supported how mom’s health effects her baby as its forming:
Researchers have uncovered previously unappreciated means by which epigenetic information contained in the egg influences the development of the placenta during pregnancy. The research, which was performed in mice, indicates that a mother’s health, even before conception, may influence the health of her fetus, and opens questions on how a mother’s age may influence placental development.
Infant Delivery and Gut Composition
In the bug connection, the composition of the microbiome, which impacts our health in many ways, was shown to be modulated by delivery methods.
The composition of the gut microbiome in infants at six weeks of age appears to be associated with the delivery method by which they were born and how they were fed, according to an article published online by JAMA Pediatrics.
(Moms-to-be can learn how to keep their bugs healthy and happy here.)
The Link of Lead to ADHD in Susceptible Kids
I’ve written previously on the link between environmental exposures and children. Now, there’s more evidence of toxic exposure and health outcomes:
Exposure to small amounts of lead may contribute to ADHD symptoms in children who have a particular gene mutation, according to new research. The scientists do not purport that lead is the only cause of ADHD symptoms, nor does the research indicate that lead exposure will guarantee an ADHD diagnosis; rather, the study demonstrates that environmental pollutants, such as lead, do play a role in the explanation of ADHD.
Mother’s Inflammation and Autism Linked
Finally, mom’s inflammatory state may impact baby’s brain development. Thankfully, there are various lifestyle things we can do to modulate inflammation. In the current study, the researchers linked an immune response to autism risk:
A group of researchers found that immune cells activated in the mother during severe inflammation produce an immune effector molecule called IL-17 that appears to interfere with brain development.
Here’s the original article link if you want a game of eye-crossing SNP and biochemical soup.
Isn’t it cool how we can modulate our health in so many ways> Most of the focus is spun to the negative, but we have things we can do to empower ourselves to health in a positive way! This includes healthy social interactions, eating right, taking good quality fish oil (inflammation), and spreading our love and healthy bugs!
Now, read more empowering information on how to shape your life and health for the better here, on my Top Holistic Health Reads for January! For the final ingredient of my hat trick, check out my new essential oils database.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2016; 201511085 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1511085112
Moeller, S. Foerster, M. L. Wilson, A. E. Pusey, B. H. Hahn, H. Ochman. Social behavior shapes the chimpanzee pan-microbiome. Science Advances, 2016; 2 (1): e1500997 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1500997
Science Daily. January 16, 2016. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/01/160116214740.htm
Science Daily, January 25, 2016. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/01/160125125505.htm
Science Daily. January 4, 2016.http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/01/160104080043.htm
Medical Xpress. January 11, 2016. http://medicalxpress.com/news/2016-01-association-infant-gut-microbiome-delivery.html
Science Daily. January 7, 2016. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/01/160107184955.htm
Science Daily. January 28, 2016. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/01/160128152147.htm