7/9/2012 6 Comments
You Think What You Eat: Link between malnutrition, DNA, and mental health - Week 1
You may have heard of the double burden of disease and malnutrition. This describes the co-existence of both undernutrition and overnutrition which leads to the rise in noncommunicable diseases. For example, numerous developing countries are undergoing a shift towards Westernized fast food or packaged foods, which are cheaper and more available to people of low socioeconomic status. Such countries who have traditionally suffered from malnutrition and infectious diseases are now experiencing incredible rates of metabolic syndrome (obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases) at the same time.
Sometimes, in a vicious cycle of disease burden, under- and overnutrition can happen in the same person. A child who has been perinatally or developmentally malnourished is not only more susceptible to infection; his or her body has been adaptively "reworked" for a nutrient-poor environment--which doesn't work in our cheap, greasy, refined-carb environment today. The early lack of nutrients leads to poor child development and puts the child at higher
risk of having chronic metabolic syndrome and low SES as an adult. I am passionate about these issues, having witnessed people living in a social construct where they are almost socially and biologically programmed to fail during my health internship in Belize last summer and in my frequent visits to the Philippines.
This summer will be drastically different from my last, and I'm excited for the balance and new perspective. The Barbados Nutrition Study is a 40-year longitudinal study conducted by Dr. Galler and her team. Since the 1970s, they've been following the same group of malnourished people from the time they were one year old to present day—and now they are studying their children as well! Dr. Galler has published a ton of papers examining the effects of extreme child malnutrition on school performance and adult health. She even has studies linking malnutrition with maternal depression, breast feeding attitudes, child abuse, and more. For the last 40 years, she's been prolific to say the least. But an interesting focus--which I've never really considered before--has been the link between child malnutrition and autism, ADHD, and other mental disorders. There's so little research on that association, and Dr. Galler was one of the first to write and give evidence for it. Whoa.
And that's where I come in. What are the mechanisms that cause mental disorders and metabolic syndrome in previously malnourished kids? Recently, we've turned to epigenetics. Epigenetics refer to the environmental changes that affect what genes are turned "on" or "off" without actually changing the DNA sequence. So maybe you shouldn't blame your genes, but perhaps your environment--or your mother's or even grandmother's environment. Research shows that women pregnant during a famine gave birth to children with higher obesity and disease rates, giving evidence of transgenerational inheritance. So far I've been doing intensive literature reviews, looking for genes shown to be down or up-regulated in the frontal cortex and linked to mental diseases and/or malnutrition. Previously, Dr. Galler's epigenetics team examined how stress and malnutrition affected the regulation of different genes in rat brains. I took the ones with the highest changes and, interestingly enough, found some associations to schizophrenia, Alzheimer's disease, and other mental disorders (jackpot!). Soon I will divide my time at the office at JBCC with going to their actual epigenetics lab at UMass Medical School in Worcester. Hopefully this will be where some of the genes I've reported will be focused on when examining the newly harvested rat brains (yes, they do have to sacrifice the rats). The two-hour commute will be rough, but well worth the experience.
Well, that's my story in a nutshell. I look forward to
writing more soon. Hope you're surviving the heat wave!
7/10/2012 08:32:31 am
Very wonderfully written!!! Congratulations !!! I know you have the makings of a good doctor!!
10/4/2012 12:50:35 am
It is great to have a program to train people about the Earthquake. People will have an idea as to what they should do in such a situation.
10/4/2012 06:47:06 pm
“Story time” might not be famous as “Yellow Submarine” but still this is another highly influential film that reflected the explosion of creativity in Animation. Terry Gillian is a genius and his works are amazing.
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The Lab Journal
Welcome to the summer internship series of 2012! Follow 9 Scientista bloggers through their summer internships to catch a glimpse of what it is like to be a scientista^TM.
- India Presents: A "New World Symphony"
- Through The Lens: The Intricacies Of Diabetes
- Do Nanoparticles Glow?
- Using Unusual Animals to Study Human Disease
- Using the Hubble Telescope
- You Think What You Eat
- Experimenting With the Life of a Scientist(a)
- 18.085: My Summer at MIT
- Science Heals: A Summer of Global Health Research
Amy Beth Prager
The Network for Pre-Professional Women in Science and Engineering
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