But what of the future? Obesity is 27.7% in the US
and climbing rapidly, 22% in Europe, and rising fast in
China and India, not to mention rates of diabetes. Fetal
development and the first 1,000 days of life are the most
important time, the days of greatest plasticity. Everything
is essentially programmed from there; certainly there is
still room for impact and for change, but there is much
less flexibility after this.
A majority of the literature and calls-to-arms is about
how to move forward with treatment. But with the work of
these two investigators, we can clearly see that the causes
are deeply seated in early life development, and only further
disturbed by the modern diet. This substantially changes the
nature of the traditional concept of “treatment”.
Prevention and metagenomics are, it seems, the way
ahead. That means you have a personal profile of your
epigenetic marks and your microbes, how you got them
through birth and breast feeding, your first foods, episodes
of antibiotic use—which collectively shapes the gut, and
therefore long term health. In our view, the more we adapt
to seasonal food patterns, diversity of diet and whole
foods, the better our chances for health for ourselves and
Presently Dr Waterland is collaborating with Richard
Simerly at University of Southern California in the US to
study epigenetic mechanisms regulating the formation
of hypothalamic neuronal pathways12. In an attempt to
disentangle the methylation patterns associated with
healthy pathways and healthy gene expression in foetal and
early post-natal life, they will be profiling DNA methylation
in genes that regulate differentiation of specific classes of
hypothalamic neurons. If this team can build a picture of
the dysregulation—the epigenetic marks on genes that
alter neuronal development that lead to obesity—perhaps
they will be able to find a way to normalise these patterns
before they affect the developing child.
Professor Waterland is an optimist. He is betting that it is
possible to modulate the mechanisms of disease, because
epigenetic mechanisms are inherently malleable.“It might
be possible, for example, to prescribe pro-methylation
supplements during critical developmental periods, to
prevent the epigenetic dysregulation (obesity) from
continuing”, he says.“In time we will find the answers that
will help break the trans-generational cycle of obesity”.
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Laura E. Kelly L.Ac is a Primary Care Physician
in Los Angeles, California in the US. She is presently
undertaking a research project on the epigenetic effects
of the immortality herbs in the Chinese materia medica.
Helen Kelly is an ALN World Contributing Editor
reporting on news in biomedical science, health and
management worldwide. HelenKellyLtd@aol.com
feature | Nutritional Genomics