I have another book review for you today and I am really excited about this one! You Are What Your Grandparents Ate: What You Need to Know About Nutrition, Experience, Epigenetics & the Origins of Chronic Disease is written by author, and fellow Toronto resident, Judith Finlayson and it is absolutely fascinating.
Finlayson has previously written many cookbooks and has a long standing interest in nutrition, but she is not a scientist or researcher, nevertheless, she does a great job of using published data to back up her claims. Perhaps because she is not a scientist, she is able to present the information in a very accessible way to readers. Finlayson provides definitions to many of the scientific terms within chapters and also in a comprehensive glossary at the back.
The topic of this book is of great interest to me, not just because I too have a long standing interest in health and nutrition, but because genetics and epigenetics are things that are critical in my professional work as a fertility/infertility counsellor.
I am assuming most of you know what genes are, but you may not be familiar with epigenetics. Essentially, epigentics refers to changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself. In other words, how certain environmental or experiential factors can turn off or on particular genes.
Finlayson is skilled at telling a story so her background on the history of epigenetics will draw you in even if you do not think you are a 'sciency' person. One issue she covers is how your grandparents exposure to particular risk factors (malnutrition, toxins, etc.) can affect your health. The long and short of it is, prenatal nutrition and the prenatal environment is very important. For many of my clients this is a concern either because they are trying to become pregnant or they are using a surrogate or egg donor so they are wondering how the third party's lifestyle may affect their child's future health.
What is even more interesting is how adverse experiences affect our health. Adverse childhood experiences significantly increase a person's risk of physical and mental health issues. Stress during pregnancy from traumatic events can also have a massive impact on the future health of the child. But findings such as this need to be presented carefully. Women tend to already be highly anxious about doing what they can to get pregnant and have a healthy pregnancy. A huge proportion of my infertility clients are convinced (thanks to misinformation) that the cause of their infertility is their anxiety over the infertility, or because of their life stress. It is important to note that typical life stress is not the same as going through a massive trauma (like war, natural disaster, etc.).
Finlayson also points out that the chronic stress of poverty is a major determinent of health. Again, homelessness, living with food insecurity, etc. is different than the life stress that many of worry is toxic (i.e. parenting, jobs, finances, etc.) but really a normal part of life.
One thing that is exceptionally clear, in case you had any doubts, is smoking is terrible for your health, the health of your current and future children, and pretty much everyone around you. There is almost nothing worse for health in absolutely every way. I always tell my clients it is the one lifestyle factor we know, without a doubt, can compromise fertility for both men and women.
One thing that irks me is that most people don't realize that men play a part in fertility. Traditionally, people think the woman is responsible for absolutely everything about offspring's health and wellbeing. Just another mansifestation of misogyny my friends. Men are just as likely to be a heterosexual couple's cause of infertility as are women. I see it ALL THE TIME. So I was thrilled that Finlayson includes a section about the role of sperm in epigenetics.
One thing that I've noticed in my clinical experience is that clients seem to lose more male fetuses and babies than females. Finlayson explains why this is the case. (HINT: boys are more demanding!). Low birth weight is a significant predictor for both gender of future health problems.
The first 2 years of a person's life is critical in terms of nutrition and how this affects future health. This gives me comfort as those are about the only years of my 2 children's life where I had any control over what they ate. Now they eat a typically crappy diet like most North Americans and I can only hope that the example Adam and I set will eventually have an impact on their choices.
My friends always laugh when I tell them my theory when it comes to the obesity epidemic: It will never end. They think its funny that I am so cynical, but here is why I believe this. First, we are designed to exist in an environment of food scarcity that requires an active lifestyle. We live in an environment of food abundance that requires little to no physical activity. Most human brains are incapable of not adapting to this new environment. The environment has to change, meaning governments and industry have to force populations to change the way we live, but this is not realistic especially since too many people are profiting from keeping things the way they are. Also, when obese people have children, their children are already predisposed to obesity. This latter point is discussed by Finlayson.
Readers will like that Finlayson outlines nutrition requirements for pregnancy and for prevention of chronic illnesses. I like that she includes information about how critical exercise is to health.
The book is chock full of interesting information and I am very happy I got the chance to read it. Already, I have mentioned it a bunch of times in various client sessions when we have been discussing fertility and health, etc.
So do I recommend this book? Absolutely!!
Disclosure: I was sent this book to review but all opinions on this blog are my own.