Epigenetic mechanisms are affected by several factors and processes including development in utero and in childhood, environmental chemicals, drugs and pharmaceuticals, aging, and diet. DNA methylation is what occurs when methyl groups, an epigenetic factor found in some dietary sources, can tag DNA and activate or repress genes. Credit: National Institutes of Health

We have all heard the saying, you are what you eat. But what if you are affected by what your ancestors ate as well.

If you have not thought about this before, you might consider doing it. Science now indicates that your grandmothers early eating habits may play a role in your present health.

As there certainly is an increasing awareness of diets and what we all eat in general. That poor eating habits do not only affect overweight and obesity but can lead to cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

But according to this new study on a relatively new field of science called inheritance epigenetics, to maximize your health you should hope your ancestors ate healthy as well. As it is not enough if you yourself live healthy if your ancestors did not. What your grandmother ate while being young, affects your health at present time.


Epigenetics is the study of heritable changes in gene activity that are not caused by changes in the DNA sequence. It describes how your genes may be expressed differently depending on which genes are turned on or off.

The gene expression can be controlled through the action of repressor proteins that attach to silencer regions of the DNA. Environmental factors have been shown to turn genes on or off, such as diet, stress, physical activity, drugs etc.

Inheritance epigenetics is a relatively new area of research with few human studies, but with several mice studies. One such study made later generations of mice inherit fear associated with a certain smell that was linked to weak electric shocks. The mice pups also showed sensitivity to the smell, even though never having experienced it before.

Bad Harvests 200 Years Ago Affects Swedes Today

The British/Swedish study Change in paternal grandmothers´ early food supply influenced cardiovascular mortality of the female grandchildren has been published in BMC Genetics. For which the researchers have studied residents in a northern village in Sweden.

This village was very isolated during the 19th century with a very fluctuating food supply as a result. The villagers, therefore, relied heavily on their own production and good harvests were essential.

The years 1799-1800, 1876-1877 and 1880-1881, were all good harvest but were then followed by bad ones between 1812-1813 and 1821-1822.

The researchers found a remarkable connection between those grandchildren (daughters) with heart disease and grandmothers who grew up during these periods of variable food supply and bad harvests.

As heart disease in women was strongly linked to sharp changes in food supply suffered by their paternal grandmothers before they were 12 years old.

According to the research team; “If the paternal grandmother up to puberty lived through a sharp change in food supply from one year to next, her sons’ daughters had an excess risk of cardiovascular mortality,”.

Oddly enough, though, only the granddaughters related via their father’s mothers seems to be affected. This could be explained by how the diet only affected the X chromosome, and since women has two X chromosomes, and men one, the inheritance differs as you are unable to inherit an X-chromosome from your father.

And the reason to why the effect seems to have skipped a generation to the grandchildren is what often happens when chromosomes exchange parts with each other which imply that many properties skip a generation.

Inheritance epigenetics is still a new field of science and it is still unclear how these mechanisms work in detail. But what genetics indites is that we humans are more adaptable than we have ever thought.

Change in paternal grandmothers´ early food supply influenced cardiovascular mortality of the female grandchildren