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Have Neck Pain? The Cause Is Something That May Surprise You

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Most neck pain is psychosomatic. In order to understand this, though, it is first necessary to debunk the myth that spinal degeneration or tissue damage is the primary culprit.

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A degeneration problem that causes physical pain in the neck is a convenient and easy diagnosis for many doctors to make, because images of spinal degeneration can often be pointed to on an X-ray or MRI and named as the cause for pain. However, research has proven that degeneration problems are not the cause of most neck pain. The Orthopedic Clinics of North America published a study in July of 2005 that stated that degenerative disorders of the cervical spine (neck) do not usually cause any symptoms.(1)

Confusion persists about this topic, because many times degeneration problems are found in conjunction with neck and other spinal pain issues, making doctors assume that they are the source of discomfort. This type of thinking has been around for so long and is so prevalent that it is hard to change the mentality of most doctors about what causes neck pain.

Simply perusing the medical advice Web sites for the search term “neck pain” can show examples of this. For example: Web MD states that the cause of neck pain is “abnormalities in the bone or joints, trauma, poor posture, degenerative diseases, tumors, muscle strain.”—no mention of mental stress.(2) This contrasts with a study published in the Journal of Rheumatology in December of 1991, stating: “Our findings show that neuroticism [mental stress] is a more powerful determinant of neck pain than radiological signs of disc degeneration or OA [osteoarthritis] in the general population.”(3)

Even the well-respected Mayo Clinic Web site fails to mention that mental stress can cause neck pain, giving only muscle strains, worn joints, nerve compression, injuries, etc., as possible causes.(4)

The Mayo Clinic’s information is contradicted by a study published in the medical journal Spine in January of 2003, concluding, “. . . there is no difference in reported pain and disability levels between those with and those without evidence of cervical spine [neck] degeneration.”(5)

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Tissue Damage?

neck_pain_skeletonAnother myth that is prevalent among doctors and the general public is that some sort of tissue damage has to occur in order for pain to exist in muscles.

The fact is, no tissue damage has to occur for muscles to send a pain signal. The book Muscle Pain: Understanding Its Nature, Diagnosis, and Treatment (recommended by the New England Journal of Medicine for doctors dealing with muscle pain),(6) states, “The stimulus intensity required for activating a muscle nociceptor [nerve cell that sends a pain signal] is usually lower than that for causing persistent tissue damage.”(7)

In other words, you can feel pain in a muscle without any tissue damage occurring.

So what is the physical source of your neck pain if doctors are usually wrong about degeneration and persistent tissue damage being the cause?

Cells Are People Too

The muscles and tissues in your neck are made up of cells. These cells have a whole life of their own, just like your body. They eat and breathe just like you do. You could think of cells in your body as miniature people. These tiny people need to breathe oxygen in order to function correctly. If they are deprived of oxygen, then their normal function is impaired and a pain signal may be sent to the brain as a result. This is known as tissue hypoxia.

If you have ever gone from a low elevation to a very high elevation, you understand the dynamics of oxygen deprivation.

I went into the mountains on a ski trip once, and I was reminded of what low oxygen feels like. As I was moving my luggage into where I was staying, I began huffing and puffing as if I had just run a marathon. My body was not acclimated to the lower oxygen levels at the higher elevation of the mountains. This created a reaction in my body that caused me to breathe heavily, trying to get more oxygen into my system, even though I was only moving small carry-on bags.

Just like I was huffing and puffing in the mountains, your cells have a reaction from low oxygen levels. But instead of “huffing and puffing,” cells actually have a chemical reaction that tells your nerves to send a pain signal to your brain.

Dr. Majid Ali states in his article “The Oxygen View of Pain,” “[I]t is important to recognize that oxygen drives chronic pain pathways primarily by its absence.”(8)

According to the neuroscientific journal Neurologija, “In the chronic muscle pain syndrome . . . the most likely cause of the pain is a combination of muscle tension and muscle hypoxia [low oxygen levels]. This conclusion is supported by the finding of a pathological distribution of tissue oxygen pressure in painful muscles. . . .”(9)

This lack of oxygen causing pain in muscles is seen in many studies across several disciplines, conducted by a variety of doctors and scientific organizations.

Why?  

Why is your autonomic nervous system not making sure that your muscles are supplied with adequate oxygen?

The central control for your autonomic nervous system is the non-conscious mind. It’s also known as the unconscious mind, but I’m going to refer to it as the non-conscious because the word “unconscious” is usually used to mean something like passed out or asleep.

I call it the non-conscious mind because you’re not mentally aware of all the decisions it’s making for your body. It tells your digestive system, kidneys, liver, etc., what to do without your having to think about it. Your body is running on automatic, controlled by your non-conscious mind.

Autonomic nerves go from your brain out to your body and tell all of your body systems what to do without your being aware of it. You might feel the results of what your non-conscious mind is telling your body—for example, when you are nervous and your heart races—but you are not consciously controlling those physical reactions. Your non-conscious mind sends out signals to your body, and your body responds to these signals with physical reactions, as in the case of lowered oxygen levels that cause pain.

Why would your non-conscious mind want to cause you to have neck pain?

Dr. John Sarno, a pioneer in information therapy for musculoskeletal problems, says that the non-conscious mind causes the body pain in order to distract a person so that repressed emotions like anger don’t surface.(10) I don’t agree with everything Dr. Sarno says, but I strongly agree with this assessment.

Protecting You With Pain

The non-conscious mind decreases the oxygen supply to muscles in your neck and causes you to have pain in order to keep you from acting in an anti-survival or anti-self-ideal way by distracting you.

When you have a stressful thought, you might be compelled to act contrary to socially acceptable behavior (anti-survival) or against your idea of who you think you are (anti-self-ideal). You might yell at your boss, for example, or act out your anger against a loved one. Yelling at your boss could be interpreted as anti-survival, and yelling at your loved one might go against your idea that you are a nice person.

Even though you consciously believe that you are not going to do anything outrageous, your non-conscious mind does not believe this, so it tries to protect you by distracting you from strong repressed emotions with pain—causing you to focus on your body instead of your anger. If you are focused on your neck pain then you are not feeling the anger or rage that might make you behave in a socially unacceptable way.

You might think that there is no way the non-conscious mind would try to hurt you. And that’s right. Remember the information from earlier—that no tissue damage has to occur for pain to be felt in the muscles? The non-conscious mind can use this aspect of pain receptors in muscle tissue to its advantage and create pain without damaging any tissue.

Since life can be stressful and many people don’t wish to act in anti-survival or anti-self-ideal ways, neck pain remains rampant in our society. The solution is making effective mind-body therapies widely available to the general public.

By Bruce R. King, D.C.

Sources:

1. Orthopedic Clinics of North America, vol. 36, issue 3,July 2005, pp. 255–62.

2. Retrieved April 15, 2012, from http://www.webmd.com/pain-management/guide/neck-shoulder.

3. Journal of Rheumatology 18(12), December 1991, pp. 1884–89.

4. Retrieved April 15, 2012, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/neck-pain/DS00542/DSECTION=causes.

5. Spine, 28(2), January 15, 2003, pp. 129–33.

6. Retrieved April 15, 2012, from http://www.amazon.com/Muscle-Pain-Understanding-Diagnosis-Treatment/dp/0683059289 (see editorial review of book at this web address).

7. Siegfried Mense and Robert D. Gerwin,

Muscle Pain: Understanding Its Nature, Diagnosis and Treatment (Philadelphia, PA) :Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2000), p. 54.

8. Retrieved April 15, 2012, from http://www.majidali.com/the_oxygen_view_of_pain.htm.

9. Neurologija 38(3), 1989, pp. 213–21.

10. John Sarno, M.D., The Mindbody Prescription: Healing the Body, Healing the Pain (New York, NY : Warner Books, 1999) p. 18.

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Awareness

22 Out Of 25 Popular Burger Chains Just Failed Their Antibiotic Use Report

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    A recent study was done examining how well top fast food chains actually implemented their antibiotic use policies in their beef. 22 of 25 failed including McDonald's, Sonic, Burger King and In-N-Out.

  • Reflect On:

    Do you still eat fast food? If so, why do you find yourself doing so? What healthier choices can be made instead? If we want to see a healthier world, population and animal kingdom, we have to choose what we support more wisely.

The modern-day food industry seems to pay no attention to health. Thankfully, global consciousness is shifting in several ways including how we live as humans, view our health, our economy, education, politics, and the environment. You could say that humanity is going through one MASSIVE change.

Today, billions of animals in the United States alone are raised, tortured, and slaughtered for human consumption. This reckless production and consumption, in turn, has created enormous environmental and health problems that continue to accelerate. That being said, awareness on this issue (food) in particular, has come along way. We are seeing changes in the food guide, a shift towards plant-based diets, and more corporations catering to new choices people are making around food and health. This is a good thing!

One common trend helping to create change is the continues ‘bad press’ unhealthy players in the food industry are getting.

The latest news to come out regarding food quality within fast food comes from a report recently released by six major consumer and environmental groups. They graded America’s 25 largest burger chains and their use of antibiotics in their beef supply.

22 popular fast food restaurants completely failed, including giants like McDonald’s, Burger King, Sonic and In-N-Out.  The evaluation looked at each chain’s antibiotic use policies and whether these policies were truly implemented in their product. They also examined how transparent the chains were with their antibiotic use.

See the full list below.

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The Problem With Antibiotic Use

Antibiotics given to farm animals can lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, among other things. This is actually one of the top threats to global public health, which is exemplified by the fact that each year, more than 2 million Americans alone suffer from these infections.

In September 1999, Albrecht and Schutte published “Homeopathy Versus Antibiotics in Metaphylaxis of Infectious Diseases: A Clinical Study in Pig Fattening and Its Significance to Consumers” in Alternative Therapies. The study compared outcomes for four randomly assigned groups of pigs that were given placebo, homeopathic treatment, a standard blend of antibiotics and other conventional drugs in a routine low prophylactic dose, or conventional drugs in a high therapeutic dose.

There were 1440 pigs involved in the study, which took place at an intensive livestock farm in Germany. The primary outcome measured was the incidence of respiratory disease, a common problem for pigs on such farms.

The results were astounding.

Homeopathic treatment was far superior to prophylactic doses of antibiotics in preventing respiratory disease. The prophylactic antibiotic treatment made it only 11 percent less likely (than placebo) that the pigs would become sick. But homeopathic remedies made it 40 percent less likely. When the antibiotics were raised to therapeutic levels, meaning a level that is only given when people or an animal was sick, it became 70 percent less likely that the pigs would become diseased.

The significance of this is that homeopathic treatment on animals would already be better than routine antibiotic treatment. When an animal is actually sick, the farmer would then have the choice to increase homeopathic or use a legitimately high-level dose of antibiotics. This, significantly less cost and significantly fewer antibiotics in meat.

The Takeaway

Simple, avoid fast food. There are many out there who seem to believe that people will always consume this food, but we fail to recognize that it’s not just our choice. The “food” these corporations offer is highly addictive to people, and that’s done on purpose.

If we can connect with caring about our health, quality of life and well-being of animals and the planet, these are places you must steer away from. In general, eating meat does not support the health and wellbeing of us nor animals, but this is a choice we each make.

Recommended Articles

A Native American Perspective On Veganism

Plant-Based Protein VS. Protein From Meat: Which One Is Better For You? 

Doctor Explains How Humans Have A “Strict” Vegan Physiology

Vegan Activist James Aspey Beautifully Shows How To Consciously Inform People

9 Things That Happen When You Stop Eating Meat

Internal Medicine Physician Shares What Happens To Your Body When You Stop Eating Meat

Animals – Why Do We Love One But Eat The Other? 

The Heart Disease Rates of Meat-Eaters Versus Vegetarians & Vegans

Were Those Who Roamed The Earth Before US Nearly All Vegetarian?

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In order to stay truly independent, we need your help. We are not going to put up paywalls on this website, as we want to get our info out far and wide. For as little as $3 a month, you can help keep CE alive!

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Alternative News

Consider This Before Indulging In Legal Cannabis In Canada

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Cannabis is now legal in Canada for recreational and medicinal use.

  • Reflect On:

    Will the legalization of cannabis change our relationship and habits with cannabis? Should it?

For some Canadians, October 17th is a day they have been anticipating for a long time. For others, it may pass by without much notice. Yet, one thing is for sure. Eventually, virtually all Canadians will be impacted in one way or another by Canada’s decision to legalize cannabis. Parents. Children. Regular Users. Non-users. Teenagers. The Elderly. Those of all ages suffering from illnesses of all kinds.

And not only will this impact the everyday lives of people in Canada, most Canadian institutions will be going through a learning curve and devoting attention to this new phenomenon. The government. Law Enforcement Agencies. Growers and farms. Wholesalers and retailers. Advertisers and marketers. Who in Canada will be able to say they have not been touched by this one way or another, once the intoxicating and healing powers of cannabis become more accessible even than alcohol?

What Will Change

Some changes will happen immediately, some changes will evolve over time. Some people argue that Canada is not yet ready for all the implications of legalizing cannabis at this point, but the prevailing attitude is that things will sort themselves out in an orderly fashion over the next 1-3 years.

Law enforcement: The change in the criminal code means that limited possession of cannabis is no longer a crime, though people who are currently in jail for possession of cannabis are not being automatically let out of jail. Much of law enforcement rhetoric focuses on preventing youth from indulging in cannabis, in a fashion similar to the restrictions on alcohol. More likely, the majority of funds and manpower will be diverted to combating black market enterprises, given that the government now stands to gain $675 million per year in tax revenues from the sale of legal cannabis. Regulations for impaired driving as a result of cannabis consumption look to evolve over time as technologies for measuring impairment like alcohol ‘breathalizers’ improve.

Home Growing: Individuals will be permitted to grow up to four plants for their own use. While the sale of edibles (baked goods, drinks, etc) will not be allowed initially, individuals can make edibles at home for their own use.

Marketing and Retail: The way in which legal cannabis is promoted and sold to the public will likely go through a push-pull transition between advertising regulations and the way wholesalers and retailers will try to get around those regulations to sell their products. The same can probably be said for the business chain as a whole from growth to consumption.

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Usage in General: Usage in Canada is bound to increase, simply due to an increase in the availability for those who have not actively sought it out in the past, and the removal of the stigma of its illegality, as well as the social acceptance of the consumption of cannabis which is bound to grow over the next couple of years.

What Will Not Change

There are two things that will not change when cannabis is made legal in Canada on October 17th: cannabis and you.

Cannabis itself is not suddenly safer or better for you than it was before just because it has become legalized. The same decisions you were making on whether or not to indulge in the past still pretty much apply, so ubiquitous was its use despite being illegal. Will regulation make the quality of cannabis you receive better? Not necessarily. It may become more consistent, if less potent, if the quality controls in place are reliable. But remember, black market dealers and sellers had an intrinsic investment in the quality of their product if they were to hope to have regular customers.

By ‘you,’ I am referring to your deepest, truest sense of self, the person you are and who you want to be in the highest vision of yourself. This does not change with any change of regulation in the outer world, and certainly you have to be wary if this change of regulation arbitrarily changes the choices you make and impacts your habits, goals, and dreams.

What To Watch Out For

You may be one who will be inclined to be more open to the personal recreational use of cannabis once it becomes legal. With this comes the possibility of gradually developing a dependence, facilitated by a greater legal and social acceptability. It is important to take notice if recreational use begins to devolve into a catch-all means of escaping from the stress and discomfort of real-life problems, in ways that you get out of the habit of confronting problems and discomfort at their source.

The same can be said about the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. No doubt, cannabis and CBD oil will be marketed as the healthy sedative for physical ailments and will also be touted as a curative agent for certain types of diseases. While this may be true in some particular cases, you have to be cautious about the claims made by sellers and marketers of the product, whose job is to sell rather than research and diagnose exactly what conditions will benefit from cannabis treatment, and even more particularly what strains of cannabis will work for given conditions.

There is a body of research about the curative effects of cannabis made from an Eastern holistic perspective, which treats each individual case not based on outward symptoms, as Western medicine does, but in terms the particular physiological, emotional and spiritual conditions an individual is in which seen to be at the root of the individual’s ailment. Hence, being wary of marketing practices does not mean avoid cannabis or CBD oil as medicinal treatment for a particular condition, but try to do so in consultation with an unbiased and trusted practitioner/researcher whose motives are healing your particular condition rather than making profits selling cannabis.

The Takeaway

The consumption of cannabis has the potential to be both consciousness-expanding and consciousness-numbing. It does have healing properties but you really have to do your due diligence and use it in a very disciplined way in order to truly gain healing benefits from it rather than getting into the habit of simply escaping from pains and difficulties that are part of a normal life. It is an exciting time for Canadians in that we are now more free to choose something that never should have been illegal to begin with. Let’s make sure this newfound freedom serves us in the best ways as individuals and as a community.

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In order to stay truly independent, we need your help. We are not going to put up paywalls on this website, as we want to get our info out far and wide. For as little as $3 a month, you can help keep CE alive!

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Awareness

Epigenetic Memories Are Passed Down 14 Successive Generations, Game-Changing Research Reveals

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    It's amazing how much information can be passed on to our offspring. Scientist have discovered that our DNA has memories, and these can also be passed down. We are talking about thoughts, feelings, emotions and perceptions.

  • Reflect On:

    Biological changes are shaped by our environment, as well as our thoughts, feelings, emotions and reaction to that environment. Our DNA can be changed with belief, the placebo is a great example. Thoughts feelings and emotions are huge in biology.

This article was written by the Greenmedinfo research group, from Greenmedinfo.com. Posted here with permission.

Until recently, it was believed that our genes dictate our destiny. That we are slated for the diseases that will ultimately beset us based upon the pre-wired indecipherable code written in stone in our genetic material. The burgeoning field of epigenetics, however, is overturning these tenets, and ushering in a school of thought where nurture, not nature, is seen to be the predominant influence when it comes to genetic expression and our freedom from or affliction by chronic disease.

Epigenetics: The Demise of Biological Determinism

Epigenetics, or the study of the physiological mechanisms that silence or activate genes, encompasses processes which alter gene function without changing the sequence of nucleotide base pairs in our DNA. Translated literally to mean “in addition to changes in genetic sequence,” epigenetics includes processes such as methylation, acetylation, phosphorylation, sumolyation, and ubiquitylation which can be transmitted to daughter cells upon cell division (1). Methylation, for example, is the attachment of simple methyl group tags to DNA molecules, which can repress transcription of a gene when it occurs in the region of a gene promoter. This simple methyl group, or a carbon bound to three hydrogen molecules, effectively turns the gene off.

Post-translational modifications of histone proteins is another epigenetic process. Histones help to package and condense the DNA double helix into the cell nucleus in a complex called chromatin, which can be modified by enzymes, acetyl groups, and forms of RNA called small interfering RNAs and microRNAs (1). These chemical modifications of chromatin influence its three-dimensional structure, which in turn governs its accessibility for DNA transcription and dictates whether genes are expressed or not.

We inherit one allele, or variant, of each gene from our mother and the other from our father. If the result of epigenetic processes is imprinting, a phenomenon where one of the two alleles of a gene pair is turned off, this can generate a deleterious health outcome if the expressed allele is defective or increases our susceptibility to infections or toxicants (1). Studies link cancers of nearly all types, neurobehavioral and cognitive dysfunction, respiratory illnessesautoimmune disorders, reproductive anomalies, and cardiovascular disease to epigenetic mechanisms (1). For example, the cardiac antiarrhythmic drug procainamide and the antihypertensive agent hydralazine can cause lupus in some people by causing aberrant patterns of DNA methylation and disrupting signalling pathways (1).

Genes Load the Gun, Environment Pulls the Trigger

Pharmaceuticals, however, are not the only agents that can induce epigenetic disturbances. Whether you were born via vaginal birth or Cesarean section, breastfed or bottle-fed, raised with a pet in the house, or infected with certain childhood illnesses all influence your epigenetic expression. Whether you are sedentary, pray, smoke, mediate, do yoga, have an extensive network of social support or are alienated from your community—all of your lifestyle choices play into your risk for disease operating through mechanisms of epigenetics.

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In fact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that genetics account for only 10% of disease, with the remaining 90% owing to environmental variables (2). An article published in the Public Library of Science One (PLoS One) entitled “Genetic factors are not the major causes of chronic diseases” echoes these claims, citing that chronic disease is only 16.4% genetic, and 84.6% environmental (3). These concepts make sense in light of research on the exposome, the cumulative measure of all the environmental insults an individual incurs during their life course that determines susceptibility to disease (4)

In delineating the totality of exposures to which an individual is subjected over their lifetime, the exposome can be subdivided into three overlapping and intertwined domains. One segment of the exposome called the internal environment is comprised of processes innate to the body which impinge on the cellular milieu. This encompasses hormones and other cellular messengers, oxidative stress, inflammation, lipid peroxidation, bodily morphology, the gut microbiotaaging and biochemical stress (5).

Another portion of the exposome, the specific external environment, consists of exposures including pathogens, radiation, chemical contaminants and pollutants, and medical interventions, as well as dietary, lifestyle, and occupational elements (5). At an even broader sociocultural and ecological level is the segment of the exposome called the general external environment, which may circumscribe factors such as psychological stress, socioeconomic status, geopolitical variables, educational attainment, urban or rural residence, and climate (5).

Transgenerational Inheritance of Epigenetic Change: Endocrine Disruptors Trigger Infertility in Future Generations

Scientists formerly speculated that epigenetic changes disappear with each new generation during gametogenesis, the formation of sperm and ovum, and after fertilization. However, this theory was first challenged by research published in the journal Science which demonstrated that transient exposure of pregnant rats to the insecticide methoxychlor, an estrogenic compound, or the fungicide vinclozolin, an antiandrogenic compound, resulted in increased incidence of male infertility and decreased sperm production and viability in 90% of the males of four subsequent generations that were tracked (1).

Most notably, these reproductive effects were associated with derangements in DNA methylation patterns in the germ line, suggesting that epigenetic changes are passed on to future generations. The authors concluded, “The ability of an environmental factor (for example, endocrine disruptor) to reprogram the germ line and to promote a transgenerational disease state has significant implications for evolutionary biology and disease etiology” (6, p. 1466). This may suggest that the endocrine-disrupting, fragrance-laden personal care products and commercial cleaning supplies to which we are all exposed may trigger fertility problems in multiple future generations.

Transgenerational Inheritance of Traumatic Episodes: Parental Experience Shapes Traits of Offspring

In addition, traumatic experiences may be transmitted to future generations via epigenetics as a way to inform progeny about salient information needed for their survival (7). In one study, researchers wafted the cherry-like chemical acetophenone into the chambers of mice while administering electric shocks, conditioning the mice to fear the scent (7). This reaction was passed onto two successive generations, which shuddered significantly more in the presence of acetophenone despite never having encountered it compared to descendants of mice that had not received this conditioning (7).

The study suggests that certain characteristics of the parental sensory environment experienced before conception can remodel the sensory nervous system and neuroanatomy in subsequently conceived generations (7). Alterations in brain structures that process olfactory stimuli were observed, as well as enhanced representation of the receptor that perceives the odor compared to control mice and their progeny (7). These changes were conveyed by epigenetic mechanisms, as illustrated by evidence that the acetophenone-sensing genes in fearful mice were hypomethylated, which may have enhanced expression of odorant-receptor genes during development leading to acetophenone sensitivity (7).

The Human Experience of Famine and Tragedy Spans Generations

The mouse study, which illustrates how germ cells (egg and sperm) exhibit dynamic plasticity and adaptability in response to environmental signals, is mirrored by human studies. For instance, exposures to certain stressors such as starvation during the gestational period are associated with poor health outcomes for offspring. Women who undergo famine before conception of her offspring have been demonstrated to give birth to children with lower self-reported mental health and quality of life, for example (8).

Studies similarly highlight that, “Maternal famine exposure around the time of conception has been related to prevalence of major affective disorders, antisocial personality disorders, schizophrenia, decreased intracranial volume, and congenital abnormalities of the central nervous system” (8). Gestational exposure to the Dutch Famine of the mid-twentieth century is also associated with lower perceived health (9), as well as enhanced incidence of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and obesity in offspring (8). Maternal undernourishment during pregnancy leads to neonatal adiposity, which is a predictor of future obesity (10), in the grandchildren (11).

The impact of epigenetics is also exemplified by research on the intergenerational effects of trauma, which illuminates that descendants of people who survived the Holocaust exhibit abnormal stresshormone profiles, and low cortisol production in particular (12). Because of their impaired cortisol response and altered stress reactivity, children of Holocaust survivors are often at enhanced risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression (13).

Intrauterine exposure to maternal stress in the form of intimate partner violence during pregnancy can also lead to changes in the methylation status of the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) of their adolescent offspring (14). These studies suggest that an individual’s experience of trauma can predispose their descendants to mental illness, behavioral problems, and psychological abnormalities due to “transgenerational epigenetic programming of genes operating in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis,” a complex set of interactions among endocrine glands which determine stress response and resilience (14).

Body Cells Pass Genetic Information Directly Into Sperm Cells

Not only that, but studies are illuminating that genetic information can be transferred through the germ line cells of a species in real time. These paradigm-shifting findings overturn conventional logic which postulates that genetic change occurs over the protracted time scale of hundreds of thousands or even millions of years. In a relatively recent study, exosomes were found to be the medium through which information was transferred from somatic cells to gametes.

This experiment entailed xenotransplantation, a process where living cells from one species are grafted into a recipient of another species. Specifically, human melanoma tumor cells genetically engineered to express genes for a fluorescent tracer enzyme called EGFP-encoding plasmid were transplanted into mice. The experimenters found that information-containing molecules containing the EGFP tracer were released into the animals’ blood (15). Exosomes, or “specialized membranous nano-sized vesicles derived from endocytic compartments that are released by many cell types” were found among the EGFP trackable molecules (16, p. 447).

Exosomes, which are synthesized by all plant and animal cells, contain distinct protein repertoires and are created when inward budding occurs from the membrane of multivesicular bodies (MVBs), a type of organelle that serves as a membrane-bound sorting compartment within eukaryotic cells (16). Exosomes contain microRNA (miRNA) and small RNA, types of non-coding RNA involved in regulating gene expression (16). In this study, exosomes delivered RNAs to mature sperm cells (spermatozoa) and remained stored there (15).

The researchers highlight that this kind of RNA can behave as a “transgenerational determinant of inheritable epigenetic variations and that spermatozoal RNA can carry and deliver information that cause phenotypic variations in the progeny” (15). In other words, the RNA carried to sperm cells by exosomes can preside over gene expression in a way that changes the observable traits and disease risk of the offspring as well as its morphology, development, and physiology.

This study was the first to elucidate RNA-mediated transfer of information from somatic to germ cells, which fundamentally overturns what is known as the Weisman barrier, a principle which states that the movement of hereditary information from genes to body cells is unidirectional, and that the information transmitted by egg and sperm to future generations remains independent of somatic cells and parental experience (15).

Further, this may bear implications for cancer risk, as exosomes contain vast amounts of genetic information which can be source of lateral gene transfer (17) and are abundantly liberated from tumor cells (18). This can be reconciled with the fact that exosome-resembling vesicles have been observed in various mammals (15), including humans, in close proximity to sperm in anatomical structures such as the epididymis as well as in seminal fluid (19). These exosomes may thereafter be propagated to future generations with fertilization and augment cancer risk in the offspring (20).

The researchers concluded that sperm cells can act as the final repositories of somatic cell-derived information, which suggests that epigenetic insults to our body cells can be relayed to future generations. This notion is confirmatory of the evolutionary theory of “soft inheritance” proposed by French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, whereby characteristics acquired over the life of an organism are transmitted to offspring, a concept which modern genetics previously rejected before the epigenetics arrived on the scene. In this way, the sperm are able to spontaneously assimilate exogenous DNA and RNA molecules, behaving both as vector of their native genome and of extrachromosomal foreign genetic material which is “then delivered to oocytes at fertilization with the ensuing generation of phenotypically modified animals” (15).

Epigenetic Changes Endure Longer Than Ever Predicted

In a recent study, nematode worms were manipulated to harbor a transgene for a fluorescent protein, which made the worms glow under ultraviolet light when the gene was activated (21). When the worms were incubated under the ambient temperature of 20° Celsius (68° Fahrenheit), negligible glowing was observed, indicating low activity of the transgene (21). However, transferring the worms to a warmer climate of 25°C (77° F) stimulated expression of the gene, as the worms glowed brightly (21).

In addition, this temperature-induced alteration in gene expression was found to persist for at least 14 generations, representing the preservation of epigenetic memories of environmental change across an unprecedented number of generations (21). In other words, the worms transmitted memories of past environmental conditions to their descendants, through the vehicle of epigenetic change, as a way to prepare their offspring for prevailing environmental conditions and ensure their survivability.

Future Directions: Where Do We Go From Here?

Taken cumulatively, the aforementioned research challenges traditional Mendelian laws of genetics, which postulate that genetic inheritance occurs exclusively through sexual reproduction and that traits are passed to offspring through the chromosomes contained in germ line cells, and never through somatic (bodily) cells. Effectively, this proves the existence of non-Mendelian transgenerational inheritance, where traits separate from chromosomal genes are transmitted to progeny, resulting in persistent phenotypes that endure across generations (22).

This research imparts new meaning to the principle of seven generation stewardship taught by Native Americans, which mandates that we consider the welfare of seven generations to come in each of our decisions. Not only should we embody this approach in practices of environmental sustainability, but we would be wise to consider how the conditions to which we subject our bodies—the pollution and toxicants which permeate the landscape and pervade our bodies, the nutrient-devoid soil that engenders micronutrient-poor food, the disruptions to our circadian rhythm due to the ubiquity of electronic devices, our divorce from nature and the demise of our tribal affiliations—may translate into ill health effects and diminished quality of life for a previously unfathomed number of subsequent generations.

Hazards of modern agriculture, the industrial revolution, and contemporary living are the “known or suspected drivers behind epigenetic processes…including heavy metals, pesticides, diesel exhaust, tobacco smoke, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, hormones, radioactivity, viruses, bacteria, and basic nutrients” (1, p. A160). Serendipitously, however, many inputs such as exercise, mindfulness, and bioactive components in fruits and vegetables such as sulforaphane in cruciferous vegetables, resveratrol from red grapes, genistein from soy, diallyl sulphide from garlic, curcumin from turmeric, betaine from beets, and green tea catechin can favorably modify epigenetic phenomena “either by directly inhibiting enzymes that catalyze DNA methylation or histone modifications, or by altering the availability of substrates necessary for those enzymatic reactions” (23, p. 8).

This quintessentially underscores that the air we breathe, the food we eat, the thoughts we allow, the toxins to which we are exposed, and the experiences we undergo may persevere in our descendants and remain in our progeny long after we are gone. We must be cognizant of the effects of our actions, as they elicit a ripple effect through the proverbial sands of time.

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References

1. Weinhold, B. (2006). Epigenetics: The Science of Change. Environmental Health Perspectives, 114(3), A160-A167.

2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Exposome and Exposomics. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/exposome/

3. Rappaport, S.M. (2016). Genetic factors are not the major causes of chronic diseases. PLoS One, 11(4), e0154387.

4. Vrijheid, M. (2014). The exposome: a new paradigm to study the impact of environment on health. Thorax, 69(9), 876-878. doi: 10.1136/thoraxjnl-2013-204949.

5. Wild, C.P. (2012). The exposome: from concept to utility. International Journal of Epidemiology, 41, 24–32. doi:10.1093/ije/dyr236

6. Anway, M.D. et al. (2005). Epigenetic transgenerational actions of endocrine disruptors and male fertility. Science, 308(5727), 1466-1469.

7. Dias, B.G., & Ressler, K.J. (2014). Parental olfactory experience influences behavior and neural structure in subsequent generations. Nature Neuroscience, 17(1), 89-98.

8. Stein, A.D. et al. (2009). Maternal exposure to the Dutch Famine before conception and during pregnancy: quality of life and depressive symptoms in adult offspring. Epidemiology, 20(6), doi:  10.1097/EDE.0b013e3181b5f227.

9. Roseboom, T.J. et al. (2003). Perceived health of adults after prenatal exposure to the Dutch famine. Paediatrics Perinatal Epidemiology, 17, 391–397.

10. Badon, S.E. et al. (2014). Gestational Weight Gain and Neonatal Adiposity in the Hyperglycemia and Adverse Pregnancy Outcome Study-North American Region. Obesity (Silver Spring), 22(7), 1731–1738.

11. Veenendaal, M.V. et al. (2013). Transgenerational effects of prenatal exposure to the 1944-45 Dutch famine. BJOG, 120(5), 548-53. doi: 10.1111/1471-0528.

12. Yehuda, R., & Bierer, L.M. (2008). Transgenerational transmission of cortisol and PTSD risk. Progress in Brain Research, 167, 121-135.

13. Aviad-Wilcheck, Y. et al. (2013). The effects of the survival characteristics of parent Holocaust survivors on offsprings’ anxiety and depression symptoms. The Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences, 50(3), 210-216.

14. Radke, K.M. et al. (2011). Transgenerational impact of intimate partner violence on methylation in the promoter of the glucocorticoid receptor. Translational Psychiatry, 1, e21. doi: 10.1038/tp.2011.21.

15. Cossetti, C. et al. (2014). Soma-to-Germline Transmission of RNA in Mice Xenografted with Human Tumour Cells: Possible Transport by Exosomes. PLoS One, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0101629.

16. Zomer, A. et al. (2010). Exosomes: Fit to deliver small RNA. Communicative and Integrative Biology, 3(5), 447–450.

17. Balaj, L. et al. (2011) Tumour microvesicles contain retrotransposon elements and amplified oncogene sequences. Natural Communications, 2, 180.

18. Azmi, A.S., Bao, B., & Sarkar, F.H. (2013). Exosomes in cancer development, metastasis, and drug resistance: a comprehensive review. Cancer Metastasis Review, 32, 623-643

19. Poliakov, A. et al. (2009). Structural heterogeneity and protein composition of exosomes-like vesicles (prostasomes) in human semen. Prostate, 69, 159-167.

20. Cheng, R.Y. et al. (2004) Epigenetic and gene expression changes related to transgenerational carcinogenesis. Molecular Carcinogenesis, 40, 1–11.

21. Klosin, A. et al. (2017). Transgenerational transmission of environmental information in C. elegans. Science, 356(6335).

22. Lim, J.P., & Brunet, A. (2013). Bridging the transgenerational gap with epigenetic memory. Trends in Genetics, 29(3), 176-186. doi: 10.1016/j.tig.2012.12.008

23. Choi, S.-W., & Friso, S. (2010). Epigenetics: A New Bridge between Nutrition and Health Advances in Nutrition: An International Review Journal, 1(1), 8-16. doi:10.3945/an.110.1004.

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