Dr. Bianca Garilli, ND
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I had an interesting exchange with a patient recently and it went something like this, “I make very good food choices when I am away from home but once I get home, food choices are much more difficult. I have two teenage children and keeping junk food in the house is a must, there isn’t an option. That’s what kids eat these days.”
I hesitated only briefly as a feeling of sadness washed over me; I then proceeded with a monologue which included the alarming fact that the generation of children growing up right now will be the first generation in history to potentially live a shorter life expectancy than their parents’ generation. It also included the reasoning behind this jaw-dropping information – this toll will be due to the rise in a host of lifestyle-related chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.1
Every day as adults we make choices for our children whether we (or they) like it or not. We make these choices as parents, coaches, teachers, daycare providers, neighbors, playdate monitors. As checkers at the grocery store or tellers at the bank, as the local dry cleaners and as team parents. As adults, we have a role to play in our children’s lives including daily role model, financial provider, life educator, health coach, and so much more. We also hold the key to the household kitchen pantry, the snacks handed out at sporting events, the “treats” given away at local businesses, the quality of the snacks packed for play dates, and the birthday goodies taken into school classrooms.
I believe it IS our responsibility as parents and adults in our local communities to model healthful eating habits, and yes, this includes the snacks we choose to eat at home and the snacks we purchase for our home, regardless if our children are teenagers or not. The health of our children’s generation, I would contend, is more important to the future of our world than any other generation’s health currently alive. After all, these children will not only grow up to be the next generation of adults, they will also be modeling healthy (or disease-promoting) lifestyle choices for their children. And, even more profoundly, the health of our children may have an impact on up to three future generations2,3 Are those bags of chips, candy bars, energy drinks and sodas worth the health of multiple generations? I say no. Which means we, the adults of today’s world, must take a stand on changing the course of future health through the snacks we purchase for our kitchen pantry.
Impacting Future Generations: Epigenetic Transgenerational Inheritance
Lifestyle and environmental factors in one generation can lead to changes in what is known as methylation patterns on DNA. These methylation patterns change the expression of DNA by acting like an “on and off” switch. These on/off switches can be passed on from generation to generation in a process called epigenetic transgenerational inheritance. Poor diets, stress, chemical exposures and a host of other environmental and lifestyle factors affect the placement of the on/off switches or the methylation of the DNA and will subsequently change DNA expression into future generations. For many children, through less than optimal quality of their current lifestyle, on/off switches are being placed throughout their human genome. These are passed on to their progeny leading to future generations with increased risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and many other chronic illnesses. These chronic illnesses will lead to fewer years of living and more years of suffering.4
Let’s change the trajectory. Schedule a “pantry date” and do some spring cleaning – throw out the items that are not meant for human consumption; bring back food that not only nourishes your body, but the bodies of your children…and your grandchildren…and possibly your great-grandchildren.
Dr. Garilli is a former US Marine turned Naturopathic Doctor. She runs a private practice in Folsom, California where she specializes in treating and preventing chronic disease states through a personalized lifestyle approach including nutrition, exercise, botanical medicine, and homeopathy.
In addition to private practice, she consults with nutritional supplement companies and integrative medical clinics on case studies, professional consultations and educational program development. Dr. Garilli is a member of the faculty at Hawthorn University and a founding board member for the CA Chapter of the Children’s Heart Foundation. Dr. Garilli lives in Northern California with her husband, children, and four backyard chickens.
- Oshanksky SJ, et al. A Potential Decline in Life Expectancy in the United States in the 21st Century. N Engl J Med 2005; 352:1138-1145
- Guerrero-Bosagna C, Jensen P. Globalization, climate change, and transgenerational epigenetic inheritance: will our descendants be at risk? Clinical Epigenetics 2015, 7:8.
- Learn Genetics. Epigenetics and Inheritance. http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/epigenetics/inheritance/
- Niculescu MD. Epigenetic transgenerational inheritance: Should obesity- prevention policies be reconsidered? Synesis. 2011_2_G18-26.