Information: Induction of Genetic Expression
December 5, 2005
Subject : Exposure to specific food and chemical structures during pregnancy and infancy sets genetic expression for life. Bisphenol exposure increases risk of diabetes. Time to throw out those Nalgene water bottles
William Mitchell, one of the most respected practitioners of herbal medicine in the naturopathic profession, often uses the word “inform” to describe the action of an herb on the human brain.
This image fascinates me. Rather than thinking of an herb as having a pharmacological, drug like action temporarily on the body, the herb imparts knowledge, it teaches the brain a new way of thinking, it somehow affects the brain's chemistry so that from that time forward it has a new perspective on the world. Dr. Mitchell speaks of the human need to experience these different lessons from the herbal world as a necessary part of emotional and spiritual development for the person to learn to see themselves and their life more fully.
Recent developments in biochemistry suggest that Dr. Mitchell's image of plants “informing us with knowledge,” that is being able to teach us lessons may have some merit. Unfortunately it also suggests the mechanism by which exposure to toxic pollutants in our environment can cause lasting damage.
I was first reminded of Dr. Mitchell by an article appeared in the November 17 th issue of New Scientist: http://www.newscientist.com/channel/health/mg18825264.800.html
Entitled, “ The food you eat may change your genes for life,” the article reviews some of the current research on gene expression. The information is fascinating. To give you one example, research on rats suggests that bad parenting causes lasting detrimental affects on the offspring that persist through life. In rats giving the amino acid l-methionine to infants will produce the same results. Both of these results are triggered by induction of a specific gene in the rat's brain which codes for the receptors of stress hormones. Poor parenting or a dose of l-methionine leaves these infants more susceptible to stress for their entire lives.
This information if it holds true for people has a number of implications. Obviously women who are pregnant or nursing should avoid excess l-methionine. If we can chemically turn on a gene this easily, we should also be able to find ways to turn it off. Will it be possible to turn off the effects of ‘bad parenting' that persist into adulthood?
A mother's diet during pregnancy affects gene expression in her offspring. Another article in New Scientist, this one from August, 2003 reviews some of this research: http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn4017
Feeding pregnant rats vitamin supplements changes the color of their offspring's coats, making it darker. These rats all have the same genes, the same DNA. The changes are the result of gene expression, which genes are chosen to act as blueprints for the proteins in the body.
In other words slight variations in nutrition, in the vitamins and amino acids either a mother consumes during pregnancy or a child during infancy can affect which genes are utilized throughout life.
These exposures “inform” the body throughout life. This is pretty cool to think about. Now for the bad part.
It appears that at least a few chemicals we are adding to our environment can also affect gene expression, in some cases in a way we don't want. Yesterday's broadcast of Living on Earth on National Public Radio included an interview with John Myers. He's the Chief Scientist and founder of Environmental Health Sciences, and co-author of the book Our Stolen Future , which explores the science of endocrine disruption. You can read, or listen to the full interview at: http://www.loe.org/shows/shows.htm?programID=05-P13-00048#feature1
According to Myers, chemicals in polycarbonate bottles, bisphenol compounds, affect gene expression, often in a way we would prefer they didn't. He mentioned a recent Spanish study on rats exposed to bisphenol compounds. After four days of bisphenol exposure, at levels comparable to normal human exposure, the rats developed insulin resistance, the first step in developing diabetes. When people develop insulin resistance, 25% go on to become diabetic. About 95% of the American population has elevated bisphenol levels. You can read a detailed description of this study at Myer's website: http://www.ourstolenfuture.org/NewScience/oncompounds/bisphenola/2005/2005-0921alonso-magdalenaetal.htm
The actual journal article is still in press. You can download the full text free from:
This link between bisphenol compounds and diabetes is not new and this is not the first article to describe it. One diabetes website reviews and posts 66 abstracts on this topic: http://www.foxriverwatch.com/diabetes_pcbs_dioxin_1.html
Polycarbonates include those pretty colored Nalgene water bottles that some of us have used for years. The bisphenol compounds leach out from the plastic into the water we drink. I need to come up with an alternative water bottle as I'm about to consign our shelf of Nalegene bottles to the recycling bin.
My spell check tells me that “disinform” is not a real word but it might be a good description of how these chemicals act. Rather than helping healthy gene expression, they provide false knowledge and cause inappropriate genetic expression.
The question now is whether early exposure to the natural chemicals found in plants can ‘inform' genetic expression early and set up a lifelong pattern of function that will limit the effect of theses other disinformation sources later in life.