Epigenetics also have led doctors to encourage pregnant women to eat well, avoid alcohol and smoking, and eliminate as much stress as possible in their environment, he added.
In the future, findings from epigenetic studies could uncover ways to treat depression, cancer and much more by manipulating a person's genetics, Dowshen and Yehuda said.
"When treating depression, instead of treating the chemicals that flow through our neurons using antidepressants, we might be able to tackle more immediate causes for these chemical imbalances," Yehuda said.
People with a family history of cancer may be able to avoid developing the disease through epigenetic therapies that inhibit the expression of cancer-causing genes, Dowshen said. Manipulation of those genes might even lead to a cure for cancer one day.
In the meantime, epigenetics experts say, people today should realize that the lifestyle they lead will affect not only their own health but will probably have an impact on their children and grandchildren as well.
"Environmental factors like eating a healthy diet and physical activity and exercise are very likely influencing not just that individual but several generations emanating from them," Dowshen said. "It's likely that leading a healthy lifestyle will turn out to be understood to have some very direct effects on subsequent generations."
The Nemours Foundation has more on epigenetics.
SOURCES: Steven Dowshen, M.D., chief medical editor, KidsHealth, Nemours Center for Children's Health Media, and pe
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