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Grandma's Experiences May Be Making You Sick

Update Date: Jan 28, 2013 11:50 AM EST

A recent study has found that exposure to certain chemicals, like some of the ones found in plastics and in jet fuel, may cause genetic defects for generations afterward. The study adds fuel to the fire of the growing field based on epigenetics, which postulates that offspring do not simply inherit genes from their parents, but also minute differences about the way that genes operate.

The study, published in the journal PLoS One, examined the effects of two chemicals in laboratory rats. According to the BBC, one set of chemicals is called phthalates, which are found in certain kinds of plastics; the other, JP8, is found in jet fuel.

The researchers found that rats that were exposed to phthalates were significantly more likely to have children who suffered from kidney and prostate diseases. They were also more likely to have great-grandchildren who suffered from ovarian and testicular diseases as well as obesity. For the female rats exposed to JP8 during the time when their male fetuses were developing their testes, their offspring were similarly more likely to suffer from kidney and prostate problems. Their great-grandchildren were more likely to suffer from obesity, polycystic ovary disease and reproductive defects.

The researchers note that the results are not yet directly applicable to humans, because the rats received dosages of the chemicals that were far more concentrated than anything that humans would receive.

However, the study bolsters the area of epigenetics. Researchers had previously thought that these epigenetics were erased when the genes were passed on to offspring, but it appears that about 1 percent of these escape erasure and are inherited by children. Previous studies have found that various chemicals, like dioxin, fungicides, hydrocarbons and pesticides, have been connected to various health effects.

The Week also reports that stress has been demonstrated to cause severe health effects in offspring. For example, pregnant women who were stressed by the events of 9/11 were more likely to have had babies around that time who were significantly more likely to respond with stress and fear to loud noises and new foods.

The findings are yielding interesting medical therapies, like for cancer. One study fed mice a diet that made them fat, yellow and more susceptible to cancer and diabetes. Their offspring, who had the same gene, were nevertheless born slim, brown and healthy.

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