Epigenetics of Asthma: To The Third and Fourth Generations

The Open Access medical journal, Clinical Epigenetics, is publishing a study indicating that epigenetics not only influences heart disease and diabetes (as has been shown in numerous other research studies), but also impacts lung health.  Krauss-Etschmann et al searched for correlations between environmental influences and rates of asthma and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) in children and grandchildren.  They also searched for biochemical explanations for such correlations.

Epigenetics is a burgeoning field of medicine in which we are discovering how the behavior and health of parents can affect the health of their unborn or even yet to be conceived children.  Diet, illnesses, and environmental exposures of mothers and fathers have been found to increase the risk of their future children developing certain health conditions. Much research has been focused on heart disease and diabetes, linking high fat diets and high glycemic diets to children’s risk of heart disease and metabolic syndrome.  Several mechanisms have been discovered:  methylation of DNA strands, changes in the DNA strands wrapping around histones which help package them, and changes in mRNA produced from stretches of DNA that don’t make any protein.  Without going into detail, just know that God interwove many complexities into not only our genetics, but also into how our heritage is passed on to future generations.  We are only beginning to recognize these amazing mechanisms.

Epigenetic studies of the type investigating heart disease are less common for asthma and COPD, but this research group sought for links between various genes and asthma types and severity.  They found correlations (increased frequency connections that are suggestive, but do not prove a cause – effect relationship) between the methylation (addition of a methyl group to a DNA “letter”) patterns on certain genes and the severity of patients’ asthma.  The specific genes are known to affect inflammation and oxidative stress handling in the body, so a cause-effect relationship is very possible.

Smoking was found to be another major epigenetic factor.  Mom’s smoking during pregnancy increases a child’s risk of asthma.  Such smoke exposure in utero has been linked to epigenetic changes  such as DNA methylation and thus could later contribute to the risk of COPD in adults.  The paper outlines several other studies which link maternal smoking to changes in different genes / enzymes in children’s bodies.  Several other studies are described that link epigenetic changes with children’s prenatal exposure to various environmental toxins.

The paper includes many more intriguing lines of research linking prenatal, even grandparents’ environmental exposures to children’s asthma risk.  Though we don’t have all the answers yet, research appears to be telling us that what we do with our bodies now will have consequences for our children and even our children’s children.  God has created a world where our choices affect our children for generations, yet still holds them responsible for their own health.  In this maybe we can see why it takes 2 or 3 generations to restore a declining culture either spiritually or physically.  We have to overcome our parent’s bad health by taking responsibility for our current choices.  We should recognize the influences of our parents, both good and bad, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, yet then submit them to God’s Word and His creational wisdom.

 Link to Research Paper

Inter- and transgenerational epigenetic inheritance: evidence in asthma and COPD?

Clinical Epigenetics (2015) 7:53  Susanne Krauss-Etschmann et al

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