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Changing Epigenetic Expression

Jul 30, 2015 09:42AM
Empowering Parents to Make Their Children Turn Out Well
by Dr. Chas Gant

The bestselling book by Judith Rich Harris, The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do, has been published in at least 20 languages and was a 1999 Pulitzer Prize finalist. This landmark book challenges the assumption that parenting matters very much, as long as overt emotional, sexual or physical abuse does not occur.

Studies summarized in this book suggest that the influence of peers matters significantly more than parenting, so parents are advised to focus on their children’s peer relationships if they desire to have their children mature into responsible, loving adults. However, studies which scrutinize outcomes on identical twins who are separated at birth suggest that the most important predetermining factor, by far, in how children turn out, is their “nature” or genetic makeup.

The arguments for and against the “nature vs nurture” conflict can be solved by this simple article. Harris makes a convincing argument, based on legitimate peer-reviewed studies that the adult personality does not depend much on parenting influences. Most parents with multiple children recognize that, from the beginning of life, their children can be quite different, and that those personality traits persist regardless of their parenting skills or their children’s experiences.

If aggressive parents seem to produce aggressive children, it’s likely not due to “role modeling,” because if those children are adopted by nonaggressive adoptive parents, they remain just as aggressive as their siblings who are raised by their biological parents. Adopted children show little personality correlation to their adoptive parents and correlate strongly with their biological parents.

Many notable social scientists and psychologists promote a far less science-backed notion which suggests that parents do matter, and so the “nature vs nurture” argument rages on. Rather than take sides in argument, perhaps it is better to propose a synthesis—that is, the solution.

Beginning with the assumption that the amassed research suggesting that genes matter the most in how children turn out is correct—this begs a simple question; how can parents take control of their children’s genetic expression? Genetic, or properly called, epigenetic expression, can now be altered significantly. For more than a decade, patients and healthcare professionals alike have learned about the importance of testing one’s unique genetic makeup and proceeding to modify it in a positive way.

It is been proven true so many times that if the doctor didn’t test, he or she has guessed. Parents (and physicians) need to make a decision—do they want to guess about how their children turn out or take control of it?

What steps can be taken? First, a significant number of the quirky, common, important substitutions in each person’s genetic makeup, known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), are modifiable through nutritional and lifestyle changes. For instance, the hypomethylation SNPs are very common as they confer some advantages (like assertiveness/aggressiveness) in certain situations, yet are modifiable by taking various nutritional supplements. Furthermore, the degree to which a change in genetic expression is achieved can be measured through functional medicine testing. Measuring the positive outcomes of genetic modification, or the lack thereof, with psychological testing, should be a routine practice.

Besides formal and, now very inexpensive, genetic testing and interventions that should be routinely performed in every doctor’s office, studies have overwhelmingly proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that parents can change the epigenetic expression of their children by simple changes in lifestyle and diet. Each child’s brain’s epigenetic expression is benefited by: clearing out processed foods, especially carbohydrates and sweets from the diet; eliminating pesticide-laden foods which are not organically grown; incorporating regular exercise; drinking enough purified water; getting enough sleep and beginning some spirituality training which teaches self-responsibility for one’s thoughts, feelings and behavior and civic responsibility for others.

In fact, everything that is experienced, even the reading of this article, changes one’s adaptive epigenetic expression. That expression is even more profoundly altered when an emotional charge accompanies experience. A parent may be excited, and therefore epigenetically altered, to learn that the conclusions of The Nurture Assumption are both right and wrong. Yes, genetic expression is very likely to be, far and away, the most important issue in how a child turns out and no, it’s no longer about hopelessly waiting to see how this deterministic process plays out.

Welcome to the age of genomic medicine. Parent should now feel empowered to change the genetic expression of their children in ways that only a few years ago were thought to be impossible.

Dr. Chas Gant, M.D., Ph.D., is an author, physician and educator, specializing in functional medicine, molecular health and healing. For more information, call 202-237-7000 or visit


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