Blame Your Great-Grandmother for Your Flu Symptoms
The study of epigenetics marches forward in unearthing previously unimagined connections between our ancestors and our health. Several organ systems have revealed their transgenerational effects of ancestral environmental exposure (see a few in studies listed at end). In a recent study by Post et al, the immune system confesses to such transgenerational effects as well.
No one is surprised when a chemical exposure affects an animal or person immediately. Neither are researchers surprised when a chemically exposed mother’s offspring also shows effects. But when the offspring’s own offspring, even grandchildren show objective health effects, that gets everyone’s attention.
In this study, researchers examined how a toxin called dioxin could affect the succeeding generations of experimental mice through the AHR gene. This toxin, common in the environment, was given to mice moms and effects were monitored down further generations. The amount given to the first mice was not enough to cause their any harm or measurable effects.
The AHR (aryl hydrocarbon receptor) gene is involved in sensing various chemicals and increasing other enzymes involved in their metabolism. The protein, when bound to either exogenous or endogenous chemicals, triggers downstream challenges altering how fast the chemicals are metabolized.
The study worked through a few different iterations and permutations to determine if dioxin would influence the immune response of subsequent generations to influenza infections. The ultimate answer is yes. The study indicates that dioxin could alter the CD8 immune cell response through the AHR gene’s activation in the grandchildren of exposed mice. Though the mice had not been exposed directly to the toxin, they had a suppressed immune response to the influenza A. Interestingly, female grandchildren demonstrated a more pronounced suppression than males.
What does all this mean for you? From a functional medicine standpoint, it means that what you eat and what toxins that you encounter may have an effect on your grandchildren’s chance at living a healthier more abundant life. Health becomes a serious “family matter” in contrast to the world’s philosophy that one should just live for himself or herself.
Christina M. Post, Lisbeth A. Boule, Catherine G. Burke, Colleen T. O’Dell, Bethany Winans, B. Paige Lawrence. The Ancestral Environment Shapes Antiviral CD8 T cell Responses across Generations. iScience, 2019; 20: 168 DOI: 10.1016/j.isci.2019.09.014
Thanks to Science Daily
University of Rochester Medical Center. “Environmental toxins impair immune system over multiple generations.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 October 2019. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/10/191002144257.htm>.
Others studies cited linking maternal exposures to subsequent exposures:
Heindel J.J. The developmental basis of disease: update on environmental exposures and animal models. Basic Clin. Pharmacol. Toxicol. 2018; 00: 1-9, Rattan et al., 2018
Rissman E.F. Adli M. Minireview: transgenerational epigenetic inheritance: focus on endocrine disrupting compounds. Endocrinology. 2014; 155: 2770-2780
Skinner M.K. Endocrine disruptor induction of epigenetic transgenerational inheritance of disease. Mol. Cell Endocrinol. 2014; 398: 4-12
Skinner M.K. Manikkam M. Guerrero-Bosagna C. Epigenetic transgenerational actions of environmental factors in disease etiology. Trends Endocrinol. Metab. 2010; 21: 214-222
van Steenwyk G. Roszkowski M. Manuella F. Franklin T.B. Mansuy I.M. Transgenerational inheritance of behavioral and metabolic effects of paternal exposure to traumatic stress in early postnatal life: evidence in the 4th generation. Environ. Epigenet. 2018; 4: dvy023
Walker D.M. Gore A.C. Transgenerational neuroendocrine disruption of reproduction. Nat. Rev. Endocrinol. 2011; 7: 197-207