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Lifestyle You Lead Today May Affect Generations to Come
Date:6/8/2011

e listening to beautiful music and somebody mutes it. The music might still be playing, but it won't be heard. Or you can amplify that music."

Evidence of an epigenetic influence on human health and development include studies that found:

  • Hormonal differences in children born to mothers who had suffered extreme emotional and physical trauma. The differences make the children more susceptible to such mood disorders as anxiety and depression. The changes have been observed in second- and third-generation offspring of Holocaust survivors, as well as in the children of women who were pregnant on Sept. 11, 2001, and were evacuated from the World Trade Center, Yehuda said.
  • Extended longevity in people whose grandfathers suffered from malnourishment or starvation as children. This came from a landmark Swedish study that found that children raised in years when the harvest was bad produced grandchildren who lived longer than children who had plentiful food during their formative years, Dowshen said.
  • An effect on offspring from such behaviors as smoking and overeating. Dowshen said that such behaviors can predispose a person's children to systemic diseases, including diabetes and obesity.

Epigenetic effects aren't necessarily generational, however. There is evidence that trauma and stress may affect a person's psychological health by fiddling with the genetics that regulate body chemicals, Yehuda said.

"We think that epigenetics may be very informative in helping us understand why environmental events like trauma may be so transformative," she said. "When people undergo watershed life events, they say they are changed by them. What does that mean? This might help explain that."

The medical benefits of an epigenetic view of health and human development are not some pie-in-the-sky notion. Doctors already are putting this view of genetics to work in the treatment of patients.

"We're probably using epigenetics al
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