By Celeste Yarnall, Ph.D
Can children inherit cravings for junk food? As we examine this issue it becomes apparent that this is actually an epigenetic question. In biology, epigenetics is defined as “the study of heritable changes in gene expression or cellular phenotype caused by mechanisms other than changes in the underlying DNA sequence – hence the name epi- (Greek: over, above, outer) -genetics. It refers to functionally relevant modifications to the genome that do not involve a change in the nucleotide sequence.” (source: Wikipedia)
Epigenetics is a fascinating, albeit very new, area of scientific exploration.
A recent study offers us the opportunity to consider the validity of the epigenetic question of whether or not children can inherit cravings for junk food as a result of what their mother ate during her pregnancy. In Sue Gerhardt’s book entitled, Why Love Matters: How Affection Shapes a Baby’s Brain, we learn that the fetal nervous system records womb experiences. By the time a baby is born, it has received emotional information that has been downloaded directly from the mother’s experiences, which have already shaped half of that brand new baby’s entire personality.
What about what the pregnant mother ate?
Of course nutrition is extremely significant and we are going to explore this subject here, but keep in mind that epigenetically speaking, nutrition isn’t the only thing a mother provides for her fetus. According to Bruce Lipton and Steve Bhaerman in their landmark book, Spontaneous Evolution, we learn that a complex chemistry of maternal emotional signals, hormones, and stress factors also cross the placental barrier and influence fetal physiology and development. When Mom is happy, so is her fetus; when Mom is in fear, so is her fetus. When Mom thinks thoughts of rejection towards her fetus, the fetus’ nervous system programs itself with the emotion of rejection. Basically, everything that occurs during pregnancy is being “downloaded” to the fetal tissue, but then what happens for the first 12 years of a child’s life after the umbilical cord is cut?
We see that from birth through age six, the most influential perception programming of the subconscious mind occurs, as the child learns complex motor programs for speech and all the physical activity babies perform as they download massive amounts of information about the world. These programs, which they acquire by age six, are shaping their character in the present and for the future. They are in the act of being and becoming, simultaneously.
Keeping all this in mind, let’s connect the dots to a blog by Jon Barron, who posted this intriguing piece to his Baseline of Health Foundation’s website entitled “Children Inherit the Taste for Junk Food.”
Barron reminds us of the “biblical quote that says that the sins of the parents shall be visited upon their children — even unto the third and fourth generation.” If we continue to connect our dots up to a study done between 1932 and 1942 conducted by Francis M. Pottenger, Jr., MD which came to be known as The Pottenger Cat Study, we find that the importance of raw food vs. cooked food over multiple generations itself was clearly demonstrated in this 10 year feeding study, as it became evident that cats fed diets that included any cooked meat food could not reproduce by the third generation — a perfect example of passing dietary sins along the generational lines until the lines died out.
Rat chow or junk food and sweets?
Barron also references another animal study, conducted in Britain and reported by the BBC, that found that a mother’s diet during pregnancy, and even when breastfeeding, can affect her unborn child’s taste for foods.
The female rats used in this research were either given a so called balanced diet of “rat chow” – which was unappealing to the rats and of course what the researchers deemed as a reasonably healthy diet vs. access to as many donuts, biscuits (cookies), muffins, sweets and “crisps” (potato chips) as they could consume.