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Grandmothers’ food intake affect coming generations


New study indicates that the environment has larger effects on genes than previously assumed.

According to recent research, in which scientists from Karolinska Institutet have participated, show that what we eat can have effects on the genetic material and leaves traces in generations to come.  The study, published in BMC Genetics, has investigated whether large fluctuations in food availability during grandparents’ early development influenced grandchildren’s cardiovascular mortality. The researchers have studied transgenerational responses (TGR) to sharp differences of harvest between two consecutive years´ for ancestors of 317 people in Överkalix, Sweden. The village was period wise isolated when the Gulf of Bothnia froze and the people were completely dependant of their crops. In other words the weather determined the access of food and varied from year to year. But that the access of food would change the genetic material of new generations was a suprise.

The researchers found that the confidence intervals were very wide but that there was a striking TGR. There was no response in cardiovascular mortality in the grandchild from sharp changes of early exposure, experienced by three of the four grandparents (maternal grandparents and paternal grandfathers). If, however, the paternal grandmother up to puberty lived through a sharp change in food supply from one year to next, her sons´ daughters had an excess risk for cardiovascular mortality (HR 2.69, 95% confidence interval 1.05-6.92).

The new findings imply that from a larger perspective it would be possible to influence one’s own health. According to the authors behind the study, “results raise a suggestion that studies of the effects of environmental induction of transgenerational response consider the change of exposure, in both directions, in addition to the adverse or beneficial doses. Insight into the character, epigenetic or otherwise, of these responses might lead to new disease preventions and treatments and avoidance of inadvertent harm from va too sudden, short term intervention, having as side effect the disease agent of this study, change of availability of food.”