It’s no longer any surprise that your health can be impaired by eating the modern diet of fast food – high in calories and low in nutrients. But did you realise that what you eat may negatively affect the adult health status and lifespans of not only your unborn children, but also your unborn grandchildren? And this is not just scaremongering, it’s based on rigorous multi-species research.
In his excellent book “Fast Food Genocide: How Processed Food Is Killing Us and What We Can Do about It” 1 , Dr Joel Fuhrman explains how evidence is accumulating that: “an unhealthful diet, excess body weight, and especially overeating protein create adverse consequences that are imprinted on genes and passed on to future generations. 2 ”
And it’s not just the maternal line that’s involved; the paternal line is also implicated. This means that your diet and lifestyle, as a potential mother or father, can significantly affect not only the infant health but also the adult health of your children and grandchildren, as well as play a part in determining how long they will live. If you’re a parent and/or grandparent, your children’s and grandchildren’s lives will already be influenced (via a processed referred to as ‘transgenerational phenotypic effects’) by the diet and lifestyle choices you made before they were even conceived. This paternal influence is supported both by robust animal experiments 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 and detailed reviews of human observational studies 10 .
A 2014 review 11 concluded that the studies they looked at: “…demonstrate transgenerational associations between grandpaternal/paternal exposures and health outcomes that are most unlikely to be due to ‘cultural’ inheritance/social patterning or genetic inheritance in isolation.”
Pause for thought
There are plenty of studies 12 13 14 15 that look at the complex issue of the precise epigenetic 16 mechanisms involved in causing parental and grandparental influences. However, setting those aside for the purposes of this particular blog, what perhaps should give us considerable pause for thought when we, as adults and, perhaps even more importantly, when our offspring, as they progress through their childhoods, repeatedly consume foods that can have a profound effect, not only on our own health and lifespan, but on the expected health and lifespan of each person’s descendants.
The Överkalix study
On page 130 of Fast Food Genocide, Dr Fuhrman refers to a fascinating study 17) of the grandchildren of people born in Överkalix, Sweden. They also looked at historical records of harvests, food prices, and other information to establish food availability through the generations. Data from a number of previous studies 18 19 20 21 22 were included in the latter research project. These are outlined in the table below along with a brief summary of each study’s findings.
Transgenerational Studies from Överkalix, Sweden Research
The take-away finding
The take-away finding from all this is that a generation’s diet had health effects on three generations. Two groups of people were compared: those who had lived through a period of overabundance of meat and those who had lived through a period of food scarcity. Those who ate a lot of meat in their childhoods produced children and grandchildren who were: “…significantly more likely to develop cardiovascular disease as adults“. On the other hand, those who grew up during periods of relative food scarcity (that is, low meat consumption) had grandchildren who lived considerably longer. And we’re not talking about just a few months longer: “Those people who ate the most meat produced children and grandchildren whose life spans were cut decades short.”
It’s not just junk food – it’s the animal protein
Don’t you find this shocking? And it wasn’t the modern fast-food that was responsible; rather, it was simply eating too much animal protein. We’ve already looked at some of the harm associated with animal protein 23 24 25 , but this puts a whole new multi-generational spin on the damage it can do when eaten to excess – something that is happening pretty much everywhere that the SAD (standard American diet) reaches 26 27 – even if you are a rat on a diet of burger and fries 28 .
It doesn’t make sense…or does it?
It doesn’t seem intuitively obvious why getting lots of meaty protein would be a bad thing for you and your descendants. However, when it’s looked at from an the perspective of evolutionary systematics 29 , it makes perfect sense.
To understand this we need to look at the inextricable relationship between the relative sizes of predator and prey populations.
As Dr Fuhrman states: “Predators and their prey coexist in a circle of interdependence; what happens to one, affects the other. Nature allots a certain amount of each prey to each predator because if predators ate too many of their prey, they would exhaust their food supply and could eat themselves and their prey into extinction.”
Canadian Lynx & snowshoe hare populations
A good example of this is research 30 that looked at how the number of Canadian lynx within a specific area is related to the number of snowshoe hare (which are, more or less, only prey they have in their subarctic environment). Every ten years, there’s a population explosion of hare, which always follows a period of decline in the lynx population. The latter decline in lynx numbers always occurs after the former period of population explosion in their prey.
That is, just after the particular generation of lynx has been able to feast on an overabundance of animal protein (from the hare population explosion), lynx numbers drop – thereby allowing the by-then depleted hare population to recover. The idea that a predator’s life expectancy is shortened by excessive consumption is supported by other research 31 .
Nature protects against extinction.
During the period when a particular prey is low in numbers, it would not be beneficial to predator or prey if that species went extinct – that is, if there were still lots of predators decimating the remaining reduced prey population. So, Nature has engineered it so that too much protein causes changes to the DNA of the predators, causing their life spans AND the life spans of two subsequent generations to be shortened, thereby allowing prey numbers to recover. If the predator numbers recovered too quickly (let’s say in one generation) then they could: “…eat themselves into extinction…This example shows that nature maintains ecological equilibrium by diet-induced DNA changes that alter the expression of predator DNA in response to how much food the predator eats.” 32
Protein-mediated longevity relates to humans as well
It’s not just studies on lynx that show strong evidence for the evolutionarily conserved nature of protein-mediated longevity. There’s extremely strong evidence from other studies 33 that the same mechanism is at play within species ranging from invertebrates to humans. This is a perfect example of the individual being sacrificed for the collective.
Paleo proponents beware
When too much food is available to any predatory species, that species will eat too much food. We don’t normally think of ourselves as predatory, but when we consume meat, that’s exactly what our genes think we are.
Since our modern dietary lifestyle (with the constant availability of pre-packaged meat) is so utterly and uniquely unnatural when viewed from a wider historical perspective, it’s possible to see why those who eat more animal protein have more diseases and die younger – and rather shockingly now to you, perhaps – why their children and their grandchildren will also have more diseases and die younger. Research 34 that looked at Palaeolithic human skeletons showed that few of them survived beyond middle age. And when/where humans did become apex predators – eating most of their calories from hunted animals – the evidence suggests that they died even younger.
Eat plants and live longer
The foregoing covers a field of research that’s evolving and uncovering more about both the evolutionary systems involved in and the human implications of our current over-consumption of animal protein. And remember, we’re not just talking about big slabs of beef; almost all modern processed foods (except those specifically labelled as being vegan) will contain some animal protein – be it from dairy, fish, insect, mammal or bird origin. Just look at the ingredients on a handful of prepared foods at your local supermarket to get an idea…
Even if we remain sceptical about the above – so that we can continue to indulge in animal protein, irrespective of the potential damage to our health – surely replacing some meat with plants in our and our children’s diets is a sensible thing to do for the health of our descendants.
If you are interested in listening to Dr Fuhrman explain in his own words why certain modern dietary practices are described as a ‘genocide’, I have included a a detailed (1 hour 40 minute) video 41 of one of his lectures from The Truth About Health conference 42 .
Joel Fuhrman Lecture at The truth About Health Conference
- Fast Food Genocide: How Processed Food Is Killing Us and What We Can Do about It 2017 by Dr Joel Fuhrman MD and Robert Phillips.
- Acta Biotheor. 2001 Mar;49(1):53-9. Longevity determined by paternal ancestors’ nutrition during their slow growth period. Bygren LO1, Kaati G, Edvinsson S.
- Anway MD, Cupp AS, Uzumcu M, Skinner MK. Epigenetic transgenerational actions of endocrine disruptors and male fertility. Science (New York, NY) 2005;308:1466–9
- Franklin TB, Russig H, Weiss IC, Graff J, Linder N, Michalon A, Vizi S, Mansuy IM. Epigenetic Transmission of the Impact of Early Stress Across Generations. Biol Psychiatry 2010;68:408–15
- Ng SF, Lin RC, Laybutt DR, Barres R, Owens JA, Morris MJ. Chronic high-fat diet in fathers programs beta-cell dysfunction in female rat offspring. Nature 2010;467:963–6
- Burdge GC, Slater-Jefferies J, Torrens C, Phillips ES, Hanson MA, Lillycrop KA. Dietary protein restriction of pregnant rats in the F0 generation induces altered methylation of hepatic gene promoters in the adult male offspring in the F1 and F2 generations. Br J Nutr 2007;97:435–9
- Carone BR, Fauquier L, Habib N, Shea JM, Hart CE, Li R, Bock C, Li C, Gu H, Zamore PD, Meissner A, Weng Z, Hofmann HA, Friedman N, Rando OJ. Paternally induced transgenerational environmental reprogramming of metabolic gene expression in mammals. Cell 2010;143:1084–96
- Daxinger L, Whitelaw E. Understanding transgenerational epigenetic inheritance via the gametes in mammals. Nat Rev 2012;13:153–62
- Dias BG, Ressler KJ. Parental olfactory experience influences behavior and neural structure in subsequent generations. Nat Neurosci 2014;17:89–96
- Pembrey ME, Bygren LO, Golding J. The nature of human transgenerational responses. In: Jirtle HJ, Tyson FL, editors. , ed. Environmental Epigenomics in Health and Disease Epigenetics and Disease Origins. Heidelberg: Springer, 2013:257–1
- J Med Genet. 2014 Sep; 51(9): 563–572. Human transgenerational responses to early-life experience: potential impact on development, health and biomedical research. Marcus Pembrey, Richard Saffery, Lars Olov Bygren, and Network in Epigenetic Epidemiology.
- Front Genet. 2016; 7: 182. Published online 2016 Oct 24. Nutritional Influence on Epigenetic Marks and Effect on Livestock Production. Brenda M. Murdoch, Gordon K. Murdoch, Sabrina Greenwood, and Stephanie McKay.
- The interaction between epigenetics, nutrition and the development of cancer. Bishop KS, Ferguson LR. Nutrients. 2015 Jan 30;7(2):922-47. doi: 10.3390/nu7020922. Review. PMID: 25647662.
- Sciencedirect: Epigenetics of Aging and Longevity. Translational Epigenetics Vol 4. A volume in Translational Epigenetics. 2018, Pages 229–250. Chapter 11 – Early Nutrition, Epigenetics, and Human Health. Simon C. Langley-Evans, Beverly S. Muhlhausler.
- Nature: Epigenetics: The sins of the father. The roots of inheritance may extend beyond the genome, but the mechanisms remain a puzzle. Virginia Hughes.
- Wikipedia: Epigenetics.
- Cardiovascular and diabetes mortality determined by nutrition during parents’ and grandparents’ slow growth period. G Kaati, LO Bygren & S Edvinsson.
European Journal of Human Genetics volume 10, pages 682–688 (2002
- Bygren LO, Kaati G, Edvinsson S. Longevity determined by paternal ancestors’ nutrition during their slow growth period. Acta Biotheor 2001;49:53–9
- Kaati G, Bygren LO, Edvinsson S. Cardiovascular and diabetes mortality determined by nutrition during parents’ and grandparents’ slow growth period. Eur J Hum Genet 2002;10:682–8
- Bygren LO, Kaati G, Edvinsson S, Pembrey ME. Reply to senn. Eur J Hum Genet 2006;14:1149–50
- Senn S. Epigenetics or ephemeral genetics? Eur J Hum Genet 2006;14:1149; author reply 49–50
- Pembrey ME, Bygren LO, Kaati G, Edvinsson S, Northstone K, Sjostrom M, Golding J, Team AS. Sex-specific, male-line transgenerational responses in humans. Eur J Hum Genet 2006;14:159–66
- Animal Foods Are The Smoking Gun
- Want Heart Failure? Try the Atkins Diet…
- Animal Protein & Your Kidneys
- nutritionfacts.org article: Standard American Diet
- The Sad ‘Standard American Diet’ Is Taking Over the World by Tove Danovich.
- Scand J Pain. 2017 Oct;17:316-324. doi: 10.1016/j.sjpain.2017.08.009. Epub 2017 Sep 18. The impact of the Standard American Diet in rats: Effects on behavior, physiology and recovery from inflammatory injury.
Totsch SK, Quinn TL, Strath LJ, McMeekin LJ, Cowell RM, Gower BA, Sorge RE.
- Wikipedia: Evolutionary Systematics or Evolutionary Taxonomy.
- FUNCTIONAL RESPONSES OF COYOTES AND LYNX TO THE SNOWSHOE HARE CYCLE. Mark O’Donoghue Stan Boutin Charles J. Krebs Gustavo Zuleta Dennis L. Murray Elizabeth J. Hofer
First published: 01 June 1998 https://doi.org/10.1890/0012-9658(1998)079[1193:FROCAL]2.0.CO;2
- Constant Predator-Prey Ratios: An Arithmetical Artifact? G. Closs, G. A. Watterson and P. J. Donnelly. Ecology Vol. 74, No. 1 (Jan., 1993), pp. 238-243. Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Ecological Society of America. DOI: 10.2307/1939518.
- Fast Food Genocide: How Processed Food Is Killing Us and What We Can Do about It 2017 by Dr Joel Fuhrman MD and Robert Phillips. pp130-1.
- Cell Metab. 2014 Mar 4; 19(3): 407–417. Low Protein Intake is Associated with a Major Reduction in IGF-1, Cancer, and Overall Mortality in the 65 and Younger but Not Older Population. Morgan E. Levine, Jorge A. Suarez, Sebastian Brandhorst, Priya Balasubramanian, Chia-Wei Cheng, Federica Madia, Luigi Fontana, Mario G. Mirisola, Jaime Guevara-Aguirre,j Junxiang Wan, Giuseppe Passarino,f Brian K. Kennedy, Pinchas Cohen, Eileen M. Crimmins, and Valter D. Longo.
- J Natl Med Assoc. 1963 Mar;55:100-6.
Human paleopathology. GOLDSTEIN MS.
- Wikipedia: IGF-1, Insulin-like growth factor 1
- Arch Intern Med. 2001 Jul 9;161(13):1645-52. Ten years of life: Is it a matter of choice? Fraser GE1, Shavlik DJ.
- JAMA Intern Med. 2016 Oct 1;176(10):1453-1463. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.4182. Association of Animal and Plant Protein Intake With All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality. Song M, Fung TT, Hu FB, Willett WC, Longo VD, Chan AT, Giovannucci EL.
- Arch Intern Med. 2012 Apr 9; 172(7): 555–563. Red Meat Consumption and Mortality: Results from Two Prospective Cohort Studies. An Pan, PhD, Qi Sun, MD, ScD, Adam M. Bernstein, MD, ScD, Matthias B. Schulze, DrPH, JoAnn E. Manson, MD, DrPH, Meir J. Stampfer, MD, DrPH, Walter C. Willett, MD, DrPH, and Frank B. Hu, MD, PhD.
- Arch Intern Med. 2009 Mar 23;169(6):562-71. doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2009.6. Meat intake and mortality: a prospective study of over half a million people. Sinha R, Cross AJ, Graubard BI, Leitzmann MF, Schatzkin A.
- BMC Med. 2013 Mar 7;11:63. doi: 10.1186/1741-7015-11-63. Meat consumption and mortality–results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. Rohrmann S, Overvad K, Bueno-de-Mesquita HB, Jakobsen MU, Egeberg R, Tjønneland A, Nailler L, Boutron-Ruault MC, Clavel-Chapelon F, Krogh V, Palli D, Panico S, Tumino R, Ricceri F, Bergmann MM, Boeing H, Li K, Kaaks R, Khaw KT, Wareham NJ, Crowe FL, Key TJ, Naska A, Trichopoulou A, Trichopoulos D, Leenders M, Peeters PH, Engeset D, Parr CL, Skeie G, Jakszyn P, Sánchez MJ, Huerta JM, Redondo ML, Barricarte A, Amiano P, Drake I, Sonestedt E, Hallmans G, Johansson I, Fedirko V, Romieux I, Ferrari P, Norat T, Vergnaud AC, Riboli E, Linseisen J.
- Joel Fuhrman Video: Fast Food Genocide – Our Nutritional Heritage leading us to Health Tragedies
- The Truth About Health Conference 2018