Lead Exposure in Mothers can Affect Future Generations

A human girl develops their eggs while in the womb. A mother not only holds her daughter but the eggs of her grandchildren…

A team of researchers at Wayne State University have discovered that mothers with high levels of lead in their blood not only affect the fetal cells of their unborn children, but also their grandchildren. Their study, Multigenerational epigenetic inheritance in humans: DNA methylation changes associated with maternal exposure to lead can be transmitted to the grandchildren, was published online this week in Scientific Reports.

Source: Lead exposure in mothers can affect future generations

Lead-based paint and leaded gasoline weren’t banned until the late 1980s and still pose a significant health risk to many vulnerable populations (e.g. young children). Interestingly, leaded gasoline was actually phased out because it was causing the newly invented catalytic converters to get clogged. It wasn’t until after leaded gasoline was banned that people made the connection between high blood lead levels and leaded gasoline use.

Lead mostly poses a health risk to minorities and low-income residents though. Areas where homes are still coated with untreated lead-based paint that has now began to peel off and contaminate the soil. Children that are crawling on the floor/ground will get lead on their hands and later put their fingers in their mouths–this is the most common way.

Lead poses a unique risk to women (and children) due to the fact that lead is stored in the bones. During pregnancy, lead becomes agitated and will re-enter the bloodstream and be passed on to the child.

Today, researchers still have not found a toxicity threshold for lead, which essentially means that any amount of lead will have adverse health effects. Low-level lead poisoning negatively effects cognitive functioning and can cause individuals to exhibit lower IQs.

Bonus Time!

The Thrifty Phenotype (AKA Barker Hypothesis) – intergenerational disease risk in an elegant little bundle. First documented in Dutch children born in times of famine during WWII I think it was, but recognized all over now.  You could use known week of conception and a chart showing just when citrus became hard to come by in a given region to predict weight or head-to-waist circumference ratio at birth. And while that’s cool on its own, you could also use similar info to predict an individual’s risk for heart disease or or diabetes in adulthood.

“Mocha” Was a Place, Is a Flavor, and May Be a Scientific Innovation

Have you ordered a mocha lately? Do you realize that “mocha” shouldn’t actually mean “chocolate-flavored-coffee,” and instead should mean really, really expensive coffee? And that someday, it could mean the best decaffeinated coffee in the world?

Source: “Mocha” Was a Place, Is a Flavor, and May Be a Scientific Innovation

Meaning changes over time, like how “literally” is sometimes socially accepted to mean “figuratively”.

Potential Test for Endometrial Cancer

Endometrial cancer, which affects the inner lining of the uterus, accounts for six percent of all cancers among women and is the “most common gynecologic malignancy in the United States,” according to the National Cancer Institute. But unlike breast or cervical cancers, there’s no easy or effective way to screen for the disease.

That could soon change, says Jamie Bakkum-Gamez, whose team used everyday tampons to pick up tumor DNA. She notes in a release that though a 2004 study showed that women with endometrial cancer left some signs of cancerous cells on tampons, nobody had tried to use the results to improve cancer screening techniques. Her team took up the challenge, obtaining samples from 38 women with endometrial cancer and 28 without. They analyzed ordinary tampons used by the women and isolated DNA from the samples.

Source: How Tampons Might One Day Help Detect Cancer

While this seems useful, endometrial cancer is much more common in post-menopausal women.  That’s not to say that this doesn’t have its uses if someone is showing symptoms.  There’s nothing in the article about how the test works to know if it’s specific to the tampon, or if the test would work on a menstrual/diva cup.

Don’t Flush Your Tampons

Flushing tampons is just one of several no-nos that ensure that plumbers will never be out of business. Ditto for personal wipes, baby wipes and, if you can believe it, dental floss.

Exercise Changes the Expression of Your DNA

We all know that exercise can make us fitter and reduce our risk for illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. But just how, from start to finish, a run or a bike ride might translate into a healthier life has remained baffling.

Now new research reports that the answer may lie, in part, in our DNA. Exercise, a new study finds, changes the shape and functioning of our genes, an important stop on the way to improved health and fitness.

Source: How Exercise Changes Our DNA

We know that exercise has an effect on the body, just as we know that exercising increases concentrations of growth hormones, anti-inflammatory responses, and metabolic rate adjusting factors. We also know these adjustments are made through methylation patterns over enhancers/promoters…

Methylation covalently (stably) alters DNA. Effectively creating a different nucleotide, one that is recognized by the cell as different from the original. This could result in germ cell (ie, heritable) changes.  There is no data to suggest that this particular set of methylation events has anything to do with reproduction or reproductive fitness, but mechanically – it’s possible.

The adjustments made to the exercised cells are reactive to the exercise, rather than proactive as the summary suggests.