You may have heard the term “Epigenetics” circulating about lately, especially if you are a client of ours here at the Midwives of New Jersey. But you may not know is exactly what it is or why it should matter to you.
Most of us are familiar with the age-old nature vs. nurture debate and the correlation to health and wellness. For most of the 20th century, it was believed that nature (genes) were solely responsible for inherited traits and that changes to genes could only occur through random mutation or natural selection.
Epigenetics bridges the gap between nature and nurture and scientists are now discovering that while genes play a part in how we turn out, environment also plays a very significant role.
The primary concept behind Epigenetics is that a person’s environment (diet, lifestyle, stress levels) can directly affect how genes behave, by either turning genes on (expressed) or off. Think of DNA as a light switch and epigenetic markers as a hand physically flipping the switch on or off– the markers determine when the switch turns on or off.
And even more exciting is that we now know that epigenetics takes place in the womb! Experiences the mother has can negatively or positively affect the baby’s development. And even after birth, epigenetics continues to be at work.